The Granola Bar

275 Post Rd EWestport, CT 06880 • (203) 349-5202
 

This place is too small for its own good, especially in light of the passing of Fliesher’s Kitchen and Neat (RIP). Now there’s no really great go-to breakfast option in the ‘Port. But if you’re willing to settle for good, look no further than yours truly, okay and Terrain, but mostly for the setting, let’s be honest.

Luckily granola bar is way more than granola. Especially since I think their granola is just eh. You can get far better at Le Pain Quotidien and even at the supermarket with Baked’s House Blend.

Where GB shines, however is in other places like the breakfast burrito, the bi bim bap, the burger and my personal fav, the blackened salmon wrap.

Regrettably, the very berry smoothie was also a bit of a letdown. But with the draught of b-fast options upon us, I’m willing to overlook the long wait, strip mall locale and the fact that they were out of the spicy Mexican hot chocolate. Tisk, tisk.

Thunder Grill

Union Station • 50 Massachusetts Ave. Washington, DC 20002 • (202) 898-0051 • arkrestaurants.com

Located in a corner near the front of Union Station, Thunder Grill is the go-to bar before hopping on a train. And by “go-to” I don’t mean reliable, but rather your only option unless you want to go a few blocks away.

As for the drinks, the Bloody Mary is more like a contusion, but they do make up for it with a half-decent spicy margarita. Their Stella on tap is also solid, but it’s pretty hard to screw that one up.

In terms of food stuffs, the salmon burger is just okay, crab cakes taste like mush- turning that “b” upside down. In other words “crap” for those who are reading this before their morning coffee. In all fairness though, it is a restaurant in a train station so I have to give it a little slack I suppose. Granted Agren in New York is also in a train station, so perhaps I don’t.

For better food head to Shake Shack or Le Pain Quotedien, but keep in mind you’ll be sacrificing the hooch if you do.

Her Name is Han

17 E 31st St. New York, NY 10016 (212) 779-9990 hernameishan.com

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Even though his name is Ferocious, I was pretty much set on at least three knives before I even had my first bite. Starting with the name alone, it’s just friggin’ cool and somehow already tells you that you’re not in for you’re typical Korean culinary experience. Then, once you enter, the setting manages to keep carrying that baton, done in a rustic-chic that sort of bridges the gap between a Le Pain Quotidien and ABC Kitchen. And as I write that I’m realizing that’s quite the chasm, but go and you’ll understand.

Also, once you get a looksy at the menu, I think you’ll come to the same conclusion as I did, you just instantly have to like the place. I mean everything looks good, so I threw a dart and partook in the spicy raw tuna bowl, which is essentially a nice twist on a bi bim bap, made with sashimi grade tuna, brown rice, poached egg, avocado, carrots, peppers, green onions and spicy sauce. Not only is it good. It’s good for you. And it’s good for your wallet, being that’ll probably set you back less than a sandwich and drink at Pret!

Looking forward to going back soon. But on the earlier side, because they don’t take reservations and they do make you wait.

3 teeth

Blue Dahlia Bistro

1115 E 11th St. Austin, TX 78702(512) 542-9542 • bluedahliabistro.com

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Just down the street from the painfully long line at Franklin’s Barbecue you’ll find a place that looks like it belongs in Berkley, CA with its granola vibe and granola-hipster patrons. Cozy, earthy, wood elements cover just about every surface with a large communal table in the middle, a la an LPQ (Le Pain Quotidien).

Unfortunately the food isn’t as good as an LPQ, which is disheartening that it can’t even best a global chain (granted a very good global chain), but Blue Dahlia isn’t a all-out miss per se, it just barely passes mustard. Speaking of which, the special frittata could’ve used some. Or habanero sauce, which is what I used to bring the gorgonzola, spinach, onion and peppers back from the dead. But even that wasn’t enough to mask the bad toast and lame salad they tried to pawn off with it.

The smoked salmon platter was also just okay, but I find it hard to fault a place in Texas for its lox when I’m coming from New York- #lowexpectations.

And the pomegranate lemonade, while also “just okay,” was not so okay because it was the compromise I was forced to make because they don’t have fresh squeezed juice. Not even the pseudo-fresh kind! We’re talking Tropicana! What kind of self-respecting, granola, Berkley-wannabe doesn’t have fresh juice?! I’ll tell you… The kind that’s “just okay.”

2 teeth

Pomme Palais

New York Palace Hotel • 30 E 51st St. New York, NY 10022(212) 888-7000 • http://www.lottenypalace.com/dining/pomme-palais

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Midtown has no shortage of great patisseries, but please add one more to the list, located inside the New York Palace Hotel, and loaded with some of the best eclairs (pictured), tarts and danishes one could ever hope to pork out on. Everything is so diet-cheating good, you will be 10,000 calories in the hole before you even know what hit your waistline. But things are not just a feast for the stomach, Pomme will have your eyes drooling as well, with treats so stunningly designed you almost feel guilty biting into them, like gnawing on the side of the Mona Lisa.

They also have a handsome array of savory options as well, and an assortment of interesting teas and coffee to wash them down with, but I can’t vouch for any of them, nor how deep the bench is here, but of the four desserts I did try, all were merveilleux! That’s apparently good according to Google Translate.

Even the store itself is a jewel, making you feel as if Louis Vuitton has gone into the restaurant business or something. So skip Paris Baguette and Le Pain Quotidien down the street and fork over the extra coin for something well worth it. In fact, I love this place so much I’ll probably be upping it to five knives soon, after a little more “research.” Mmmm… research…

4 teeth

 

Rue 57

60 W 57th St. New York, NY 10019 • (212) 307-5656 rue57.com

 

In midtown most of the options for a nice, sit-down breakfast/brunch are either crazy expensive or Ess-a-bagel. Fortunately, Rue fills this void rather nicely, otherwise you’d have to hop in cab to get your brunch on. Unless you consider Starbucks, Le Pain Quotidien or Paris Baguette as nice… or sit down.

I know a lot of people find the service to be rude and pretentious, but I’m just going to chalk that up to them being tourists. It is NYC after all. I have eaten here several times and don’t find the wait staff to be anything out of the norm for the city. And speaking of tourists, this place kinda begs for that clientele, being that it’s the size of most places that typically scream tourist trap, but even so, I personally find that they manage to keep the bistro vibe well in tact.

On the food front, while it is certainly nothing to run down 57th Street singing about, neither is Pastis (RIP) or Balthazar IMO. If you want transcendent morning grub try Norma’s, Clinton Street Baking Co., Cookshop or Upland. Rue, on the other hand, is solid, middle of the road eating. Same goes for lunch. Never been for dinner. So, if you are in the hood and can’t get in to some of the other brunch legends down the street, or simply don’t feel like paying over 50 bucks a person for breakfast, then Rue 57 is your place. The burger is nice and the fries are very good. The eggs dishes are all box checkers and so is the sweeter fare like pancakes and French Toast. The shocker of the menu, however, would be the sushi. Yes, this French named and styled bistro is actually Asian at its roots, so if you should happen to be craving a little raw fish in the wee hours, well, Rue has you covered there too.

3 teeth

Maison Kayser

921 Broadway New York, NY 10010(212) 979-1600 maisonkayserusa.com

Maison-Kayser

I’m not sure what it is about this chain, but I really want to like it more than I do. And I’ve tried. I really have. I’ve eaten there for breakfast once, lunch twice, even from their prepared foods and bakery. But everything falls just short for me.

Worse still is that it’s sort of like a lesser version of it’s fellow Parisian transplant next door neighbor, Le Pain Quotidien, only with white tiles instead of wood, waiters dressed like mimes (without the face paint) and no communal tables, which I’ll file under the plus column. So how they’ve managed to expand as they have is beyond me.

Of all the things I’ve had there, there are only two worth ordering. The nicoise salad holds its own pretty nicely and the pre-prepared Iberico sandwich with manchego, Iberico ham, mission figs and mustard is pretty solid as far as pre-made sammies go. MUCH better than the tragically recommended saucisson (Le Rosette). Not sure what the peeps over at Thrillist were smoking when they wrote up that one, but I can assure it was potent and laced. It’s basically cured sausage and cornichon on a baguette with a little butter. Nothing more. And I mean nothing. It’s almost like something you would throw together in a post-apocalyptic fallout shelter because these ingredients were all you had standing between you and starvation. And the pre-made Israeli couscous and wheat berry salads aren’t much better, lacking more flavor than melba toast. The plain kind. Without anything on it.

In the middle of the road, their truffled egg and asparagus tartine for breaky/brunch is neither here nor there nor anything I would ever order again… and neither is the fig, honey and goat cheese tartine on the lunch menu, because not only was it a big snore, it’s also no longer on the menu. Guess I wasn’t the only one. And that’s my issue with MK as a whole, serving up food you would never even think twice about again in your life, unless you had a cantankerous food blog where you reviewed restaurants and wanted to write a warning to people that the food sounds much better than it is. Wow, that was meta.

2 teeth

Rintintin

14 Spring St. New York, NY 10012(646) 666-0114rintintinnyc.com

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While the name is likely to evoke imagery of a German Shepherd, there is nothing German, nor Shepard-like about the restaurant. And being that I was a fan of Bon Marche, I was sad to see that it had been replaced. Well, I was sad until I tried the food, which is even better than its predecessor.  I’m guessing the space must’ve left some good juju for this newbie, because the good vibes were abundant from top to bottom.

First off, the decor is much more open. The space is still small and charming, with nice touches like giant palm leaf arrangements and cymbals as lighting fixtures. And the service, while being a one man show from bartender to host, and waiter in between, managed to outdo many who only have a third of the task.

For drinks we did the cucumber gimlet made with arak (anis arabic booze), which was very refreshing almost like the cucumber water you would get in a spa, only with alcohol in it. And the other cocktail was the spicy cucumber margarita. It was also good, but not as impressive as one would hope, granted I’m part dragon when it comes to my tolerance for heat.

For an appetizer we split a burrata special served with a colorful spectrum of heirloom tomatoes, garlic roasted eggplant and proscuitto. If you should be so lucky as to see it offered when you go, I highly recommend. The garlicky eggplant and the salty dried ham make the dish something special. Ask for extra bread as well. It’s a thin focaccia perfect for sopping up the oil and balsamic remnants. But try to show some restraint, because there is much ahead worth saving room for.

The best of which is the burger. An eclectic mix of flavors from its pita bread bun and harissa topping to a queso fresco option (which I recommend), cayenne aioli and ketchup. It was crazy messy and just as crazy good. As were the crinkled potatoes they serve them with.

Another winner was the quinoa salad with avocado and lemon. It’s light and refreshing, but nothing you can’t find at a Le Pain Quotidien.

The only miss we had was the chicken cilantro soup. It was woefully bland both in terms of salt and spice. Even after adding copious amounts of both it was still only just okay.

And now for the closer… The churros are churrmendous! Both in size and execution. Crispy on the outside, soft and nummy, nummy on the inside. Served with a caramel dipping sauce and vanilla ice cream, both of which need to be used in tandem in order to achieve the maximum effect. And by maximum effect I mean on your belt holes, because by the time you leave here you will be on the very last one.

4 teeth

Montmarte

158 8th Ave. New York, NY 10011(646) 596-8838 montmartrenyc.com

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After seeing the burger get rave reviews I had to taste it for myself (mainly because I have trust issues). And while it doesn’t quite make my “Ultimates” it is very impressive nonetheless.

First, it has all kinds of French going on. There’s creamed spinach and Bearnaise sauce and in lieu of a bun they use toast, which had me a touch skeptical I must concede, but the outcome was trés bon! Such terrific contrast in textures between the tender, perfectly medium rare meat and the hard, crunchy toast.

And the herbed frites that accompanied the burger weren’t too shabby either. Served with a airy mayo-like condiment instead of ketchup or Dijon, again, true to the bistro-like atmosphere.

Then, for dessert, we split the chocolate fondant, and this was a bit of a letdown I must say. Nothing worthy note. In fact, you can get a better one at Le Pain Quotidien.

The physical space is actually very small indoors, done up in the usual French bistro fashion with art all over the walls, dark wood and white. But with such a tiny dining room, the art starts to feel a bit all over the place thematically speaking. But I’ll let it slide, because you really shouldn’t be sitting inside anyways. The garden is the place to be. So much nicer and charming.

And service was very friendly, making it the most un-French-like attribute in the restaurant. KIDDING! I love the French. We kid with those we love.

But did I love Montmarte? Not yet. But let’s just say it’s a very strong like.

3 teeth

 

The Ultimate Granola (packaged)

Pumpkin-Spiced-Nutty-Granola

I don’t know about you, but I friggin’ love cereal in the morning. Granted I love all breakfast food- Okay so I love all food. Whatever. The point is this. Cereal is the only thing I can eat more than twice a week. So, considering I’ve lived roughly four and a half decades, you can do the math and assume that I’ve basically downed an assload of cereal in that time. And within those hordes of bowls, you can image I’ve tried my share of granolas, cereal at its best. So, here are my top 5 in descending order of greatness:

5. “House Blend” by Baked.

This granola is nuts. No seriously. It’s basically a bag of all sorts of nuts from hazel to almond with a sprig of granola and dried fruit thrown in. So, you’d think that I’d ding it for this, but somehow they pull it off. Granted I don’t know if I could hork down an entire bowl of this alone, but when mixed with other cereals (Kashi Blueberry Clusters & Trader Joe’s Frosted Maple Squares) it sings.

4. “Apple Crumble” by Love Crunch

Not sure I need to say much more than the name. I mean, who doesn’t love an apple crumble? Assholes. That’s who. So, assuming you are not an asshole and loves you some crumble, it’s a safe bet that you’re gonna love it just as much in a bowl with milk.

3. “Maple Pancake” by Paleonola

Okay, don’t get the wrong idea. I’m not the kind of guy who loves flavored cereals. For example, Cinnamon Toast Crunch is probably the most vile thing I’ve ever had in a bowl, and yes, that’s including dog food, but, this really is quite a treat. Like two breakfasts in one. Granted I’m not sure I could down an entire bowl of this stuff all by itself, but it definitely makes whatever else is in the bowl that much more delicious.

2 “Chocolate Cherry” by Food Emporium Trading Company

All right, I know it’s crazy. I know there are a TON of other chocolate granolas out there. I even know that they probably use better ingredients. But what they all lack is balance. They all take the chocolate thing too far and it starts to taste more like dessert than cereal. Granted I’m okay with that for the Apple Crumble for a very good reason. I’m human. So I’m allowed to contradict myself as much as the next schmuck. So where was I? Oh yes. The balance it perfect. The cherries aren’t sweetened, so they bring a touch of bitterness. The almonds add nuttiness. And the chocolate is just enough to let you know its there, but not enough to make you feel guilty.

2. “Fruit, Nut & Fiber Museli” by Dorset Cereals

Here is the zag. The copout. Not only could I not stick to 5 granolas by playing the “tied for second” card, but to make matters worse, it’s a museli! Sorry. But as far as I’m concerned they’re the same friggin’ thing. One’s a less crunchy version of the other, because it’s not mixed with some sort of congealing agent like honey or molasses. But it’s time the two came together as one and we broke down the Berlin wall of breakfast. But enough defensiveness. I stand by my nomination. This cereal has it all. Loaded with all sorts of ingredients that all seem to pop off your spoon. I can only assume it’s due to the quality of ingredients. Unfortunately, however, they make you pay handsomely for those mixings. And ever since they shrank the box by nearly 40% and kept the price the same, it’s a bit ridiculous. But I do still love it.

1. “Granola” by Le Pain Quotidien

While it’s not exactly the first place that comes to mind when you think granola, it should be. Sure they have great salads and pastries and tartines and coffee, but none of that is important. What is important is that this granola, like the museli above, has everything you could ever want. And all of it booms with flavor. For example the coconut shavings alone make this puppy sing. But I think the true secret behind its greatness lies in the honey. I’m guessing they use something pretty special to bond those beautiful clusters together. Whatever it is, I’m buying. Regardless of the absurd price.