Food Snob: Ferndale…Detroit’s Best Breakfast Scene
My boyfriend doesn’t know this, but I made him move to Ferndale for the breakfast scene. The Toast vs Fly Trap debate was raging through the Twitter/Facebook/Blogosphere, as well as in the bellies of our mutual friends. Every time we looked at a bungalow to rent, I saw homemade French toast dancing in the bedroom, smelled the scent of organic thick-cut bacon in the kitchen, washed my hands with fresh-squeezed orange juice in the sink. I imagined myself on Saturday afternoons, belly swollen with lemongrass pho or tomato and basil omelette, sprawled out on a yet-unpurchased couch. I was ready to become a Ferndale breakfast snob.
But something happened. Of course, we went out Friday nights. And the wait on those late Saturday mornings became interminable…30 min, 40 min, ohmigod, I’m so hungry, I can’t take it anymore. I don’t blame Toast or the Fly Trap for tasting like goodness; just like I can’t blame the cult of breakfast lovers from worshipping at their respective altars on the weekends. I just got too hungry for my weekend Communion.
So I’ve found some amazing breakfast alternatives to Toast and the Fly Trap. These dark horses of the petit dejeuner may not have the notoriety of the top guns. But through frequent visits, I can attest to their quality and quantity of hot, delicious, fattening hangover food. Not to mention, there’s rarely a wait.
The Hilton Road Cafe: Anyone’s who lived in Ferndale will tell you that there are two Ferndales: Fashionable Ferndale (aka “Fabulous Ferndale”) is home to the bars, the bar stars, the great shops, and the high-priced rents. “Family Ferndale,” located east of downtown, begins at Hilton and runs to I-75. It definitely lacks the downtown allure of the 9-Mile and Woodward epicenter, but there are some great breakfast joints lurking amidst the office buildings and bungalows.
The Hilton Road Cafe (3150 Hilton, Ferndale) is certainly the most famous sunrise stop in “Family Ferndale”. Maybe it’s because they serve homemade baked goods and biscuits, including a bread of the day. Or the crispy breakfast potatoes, which are oily and rich and cooked in an iron skillet for that unmistakeable texture. It’s an intimate little cafe with maybe 25 seats and a short counter. The HRC is open for breakfast and lunch, but breakfast is best. Try the homemade gravy with light, fluffy white biscuits. They’re seared on an iron breakfast skillet, adding a rustic Southern flavor. Or the mountain of breakfast nachos, served with spicy salsa and jalapenos with a kick, are heightened with the use of tangy black beans and fresh scrambled eggs. Other favorites include the breakfast skillets, buttermilk pancakes, and potato pancakes with sour cream and applesauce. You’ll be hard pressed to find any meal priced over $7.95, and the quality is evident in every single delightful bite. The waitresses and owners are quick to make conversation or recognize a return guest. And geez, I mean, they make homemade pies.
The good: Great value. And if you’ve ever wanted Cheer-style banter with your coffee, well, welcome home.
The shrug: The tiny restaurant’s rooster motif could go. Cock-a-doodle-don’t.
The Omega Hawg and Dawg Deli (2100 Hilton, Ferndale): It turns out you don’t need to hit the open road to find a truck stop. Kidding! The Omega diner nails the blue collar spirit, but the food is down-home delicious and the price is lower than right. Customers camp out in the Formica booths with newspapers, smokes, and coffee, so you might be better off at the counter. The building isn’t much to look at (checkered floor, cinderblocks), but the Omega employs a cook with one heck of a light hand. Omelettes are light, thin, fluffy, and stretch from one end of the platter to the other. For Hungry Man appetites, the corned beef hash is fresh, savory, salty, and hot as the dickens. Upping the wow factor, this joint serves up sliders and coney dogs BY THE DOZEN. You heard that right. Hot sauce is always served on the side. There’s a $2.99 weekday special (before 11am). And it’s quick–the weekend waitress is the hardest-working server in town. She won’t talk to you much either if you seem hungover, which I appreciate. Because, sometimes, honestly, you don’t want a “compote of the day,” and you wish you could ask for American cheese instead of the Gouda. When you’re ready to escape the yuppie breakfast scene, the Hawg & Dawg is waiting for you, baby.
The Good: Omelettes the size of your arm.
The Shrug: There aren’t any yuppies, but there aren’t a lot of teeth, either.
Pete’s Place (1225 Woodward Heights): Start spreadin’ the news… Remember your drama nerd friend in high school who always busted out show tunes in public? He or she must be the target audience of Pete’s Place , a full-scale restaurant with a Great White Way motif–and some terrific food. Pete’s Place is the perfect neighborhood eatery, the kind of restaurant that hovers between a diner and a bistro. The food is more ambitious and less greasy, but they lack the pretensions or liquor license of a more serious eatery. And there’s posters and Broadway playbills all over the walls. Did we mention the theater-nerd decor? But aside from the posters, there are tiny cafe tables and comfortable banquettes.
If you’re not a musical person, dig into the meals. Applewood-smoked bacon is cut as thick as Christmas ham, cooked just to the edge of crunchy. Croissants are a welcome change to the regular toast offerings, as are the side of sweet carmelized apples, warmed to taste, on most plates. In lieu of fried hash browns, the roasted potatoes deliver texture and spice without the usual grease, and this friendly little restaurant whipped up the best Hollandaise sauce I’ve had since Detroit’s Twingo’s closed in 2007. With only nine breakfasty meals, plenty of diners choose great-looking salads or sandwiches. The Prime Rib sandwich with skinny steak frites was an awesome choice.
The good: Emphasis on the freshest quality ingredients in town.
The shrug: Okay, so it’s actually pretty cute inside. We are just really not into musicals, man.
Club Bart (22728 Woodward Avenue ): If Pete’s Place is for the drama-nerd in you, brunch at Club Bart is for that burnout rockout who used to smoke grass back behind the gym after 3rd period. Okay, okay, we’re kidding. Right on Woodward, this jazz joint jukes up one of Ferndale’s tastiest breakfasts on the weekends. The appreciative crowd is a nice mix of aging hipsters with babies, young hipsters with piercings, cool old people from the suburbs, and…well..I’ll stop typecasting people now.
The wry attitude of the servers is appreciated, as are the cocktails served up after noon on Sundays. Don’t miss about ten cups of their insanely addictive coffee, which is filled up at super-rapid speed despite the size of the dining room. The three-page brunch menu means that everyone has plenty of options, whether you’re a vegetarian, meat-lover, or lunch-eater. Heaping platters of food are handed off quickly to hungry diners, including a pile of huevos rancheros loaded with melted cheese and served with warm flour tortillas. Weirdly enough, the sausage gravy was overwhelmingly flavored with oregano. But our other portions were hot, tasty, and huge enough to take home for a late lunch. The rockin’ soundtrack, courtesy of the bar’s jukebox, is just one more reason to stop by.
The good: Rad music, tons of options
The shrug: If you don’t like cigarette smoke or babies with faux-hawks, this may not be for you. (I, on the other hand, enjoy both immensely).
What’s your favorite breakfast joint? Leave your pick here!