Back when I was young: In Montreal breakfast was an art, and the spud was the canvas

They say that one of the signs you’re getting old is that you find yourself, more and more often, using phrases such as: When I was a boy/girl, Back when I was young, In my day, When I was a kid. Well, you get the idea. Rather than fight this tendency I’ve decided to embrace it by posting, on occasion, blog entries the title of which will begin with “Back when I was Young”.

I welcome others to post similar pieces and let me know so I can link to them here.

Back when I was young Montreal was awash with breakfast restaurants. Not the chains that have taken over the niche recently and serve cookie-cutter meals, but one-off restaurants that put a bit of a spin on their breakfast fare, then served lunch and dinner.

There was the Cock ‘n’ Bull (Sunday’s only and they called it brunch so it may not qualify) and Lentzos at the corner of Guy and St. Catherine (I know, there was another one in Plattsburgh, NY but that still doesn’t add up to a chain), Cosmo’s on Sherbrooke Street which is still going strong and many hotels had breakfast buffets that were affordable.

If we analyze the meal itself, we find that the key to a great breakfast out isn’t the eggs or the bacon (and certainly not the window dressing wilted lettuce leaf and sliced fruit – if I’m about to ingest a week’s worth of cholesterol, I’d rather you didn’t try to fool me into thinking it’s a healthy meal, just let me enjoy it).

With the possible exception of poached, anyone can do eggs – fry or scramble them, over easy or sunny side up; not a great challenge. No, the true test of a breakfast out is the potatoes, or home fries, which, given where you’re eating them should be restaurant fries (and oddly some of the best I ever had were at the Morning Star Restaurant in New York City), but I digress.

The restaurant chains serve pre-fab fries; virtually uniform in shape and size – and often taste, they are delivered in huge plastic bags from some central “kitchen” and thrown on the grill as needed. Some are clearly real potatoes but others look like something you can find in the freezer section of a grocery store with the word “Tots” in the product name.

Real home fries come from real taters. Prepared from scratch and grilled with a varying variety of spices, herbs and the odd tomato thrown in – whatever is to hand. Breakfast cooks are artists and the initial bland, starchy potato is their canvas with which they can be creative, really go to town – the spud is their oyster, as it were. No two servings from the same place should be identical; similar yes, but not identical. Allow for some imagination; Cajun spice or shallots, mushrooms once in a while even a bit of garlic.

Chains of breakfast restaurants serving pre-fab home fries; what have we come to? There ought to be a law

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Published by DCMontreal

DCMontreal - Deegan Charles Stubbs - is a Montreal writer born and raised who likes to establish balance and juxtapositions; a bit of this and a bit of that, a dash of Yin and a soupçon of Yang, some Peaks and an occasional Frean and maybe a bit of a sting in the tail! Please follow DCMontreal on Twitter and on Facebook, and add him on Google+

5 thoughts on “Back when I was young: In Montreal breakfast was an art, and the spud was the canvas

  1. I’m wondering when Lentzos was around — do you think as far back as 1975? I only remember it from 1980 on…

  2. I’m glad to know it’s an international phenomenon. We still have a lot of breakfast places, little diners that are open from around 6 in the morning until midday. One, in the middle of town, aptly named “Mom’s” is an old Worcester dining car. And original. But great breakfasts with lots of potatoes. It is the best smelling place in town!

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