Tuesday, December 16, 2008

On Location: Paper City Progressive Breakfast

Looking back on my experience walking through the wet, icy streets of Westbrook's culinary corridor last Friday morning for what I've dubbed the Paper City Progressive Breakfast (Thomas Friedman's got nothing on me when it comes to coining catchy phrases), I am now thankful for what I was not doing.

I mean, it wasn't exactly enjoyable getting waterlogged while slushing from one Main Street breakfast spot to another under the shower of water above and atop the sheet of ice below. But at least I wasn't soaking to my bones while shoveling water out of my flooding basement.

Nor was I thrilled with the fact that my lack of preparation and forethought forced me to inhale deeply and accept the $2.00 surcharge the Bank of America charges non-customers at its ATM. But at least my haphazard nature wasn't indulged by a last-minute (and ultimately unsuccessful) run to the hardware store for that precious last generator.

In other words, I'm ashamed to say that while others strained in the cold, wet environs of their powerless homes, I was gorging on the breakfast offerings of River's Edge Deli, Guidi's Diner, Freaky Bean, and Mister Bagel.

River's Edge Deli
When I stomped my slush-covered boots on River's Edge Deli's wooden deck, the clock read 6:31a and the sky was charcoal. My walk down Rochester and along Main Street had been marked with strewn tree branches glittering with ice and an occasional pop in the distance signaling yet another wooden casualty. Inside, though, the air was toasty and the exterior chorus of snapping limbs and rumbling plow trucks had been replaced with the low muttering of the River's Edgers gathered in the deli's cramped dining area. The regulars chewed on familiar topics, but the primary topic of conversation--as it was everywhere else that morning--was the ice storm and everyone's status of power (each new entrant into the deli inevitably heralded the latest news, including one exasperated report that it was "darker than a pocket" in Portland). After munching on a plain cruller River's Edge imports from Tony's Donuts, sipping my coffee, and flipping through that morning's edition of the Press Herald, I left and began trekking to Guidi's Diner.

Guidi's Diner
Guidi's was full but, as some breakfast spots can be for the irregulars, solitary. So, between bellying up to the counter and waiting for my Hamlett and grilled blueberry muffin, I decided to psychoanalyze the diner's menu, if such a thing is even possible.

Anyway, here's what I decided: The Main Street is the only special that includes an endless cup of coffee because its namesake supplies an endless run of America's other lifeblood, the automobile. And the French Town's inclusion of French toast is a gimme, but its inclusion of Mafia French toast is even more telling, especially when you consider the Brown Street area is Westbrook's, um, most notorious neighborhood. On the other hand, the Duck Pond features fruit-topped waffles (or is it pancakes?) because Westbrook's cultured folk evidently live in the city's hinterlands (if memory serves me correctly, "Bustlin'" Bill Baker's March remarks about how Martinis explain some of the disconnect in Westbrook were aimed at some of the exurban portions of Westbrook). And, finally, the 6-ounce sirloin steak's prominent placement in The Stroudwater refers to the Randalls' beef farm and the rural nature of that neighborhood.

For the life of me, though, I've yet to decide what breakfast fare will be included under The Stroudwater banner once Stroudwater Place is built.

Freaky Bean
It was about 7:45a by the time I arrived in the relatively swanky confines of Freaky Bean. Cheery Christmas jingles danced in the air, the topic of banter was--of course--the status of everyone's power, and, if you listened closely, you could hear the threads of my pants button slowly splinter. I had one more destination on the to-do list, so there was no way anything but a hot apple cider would be consumed at the coffee shop. But, since I believe Freaky Bean is the only place along the Culinary Corridor where a fresh copy of the New York Times can be found, I hung out a for a little bit and people-watched (or more accurately, commuter-watched) those puttering along Main Street.

Mr. Bagel
You've certainly heard of a sports bar, but have you heard of a sports breakfast cafe? Well, if you haven't, you have now. A jumbo flat-screen television tuned to ESPN's Sports Center was perched before the store's front windows (so much for commuter-watching) and the din around the half-full dining room consisted of more talk about fantasy football than regret about those fantasy generators. Too bad the Celtics don't have any 7a games on the schedule.

As for the last leg of this epicurious adventure, well, let's just say I felt a lot like Chet Ripley (John Candy) when he tries to polish off gristle and fat from the "Ole 96er" in The Great Outdoors. Except, unlike Ripley, I still had a wet, icy waddle ahead of me.

- John C.L. Morgan

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