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WQED TV producer and PITTSBURGH Magazine back-page writer writes about his current work and assorted other things.

Buckwheat pancakes all you can eat.

April 7th, 2010 · 3 Comments

Oh, there’s less than a week left to get yourself up to Cartwright’s Maple Tree Inn near Angelica, New York.

This is the unusual place that serves buckwheat pancakes three meals a day but only for 8 or 9 weeks a year.  The 2010 season ends this Sunday, April 11. The lines can be long, but as this video clip shows, you may meet some interesting characters while waiting.  (Kevin Conrad edited this clip with video shot by Bob Lubomski, audio by Glenn Syska and music by Buddy Nutt.)

We were there on the first weekend in March, and they weren’t making maple syrup in the basement yet, but we’re sure they’re cooking full tilt now. And Rhonda will still be making and serving pancakes. I say, Sit at the counter. The show is better there.

Back when we were there, we made a quick blog-video (edited by Glenn Syska with video and audio by Ryan Krumm) and you can watch that one again too!

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Helser’s and those beautiful Scotch eggs.

April 6th, 2010 · 4 Comments

On a Tuesday morning like this, I wish I were in Portland, probably at Helser’s on Alberta.   Yes, I wrote about our beautiful breakfasts there, but now Kevin Conrad has created this video taste of the place.

These guys know how to make some scrumptious Scotch eggs and some good looking food.  (And a big thanks to Gretchen, Alex Helser’s sister, for her proud-sibling comment on the original post!)

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Gritty video?

April 5th, 2010 · No Comments

I’ve already written a bit about our visit to Anson Mills in Columbia, South Carolina, but now we have some video back-up too.  It’s a “taste” of carefully produced heirloom grits.

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A cool Cuban café on a very old Florida street.

April 3rd, 2010 · 5 Comments

Sometimes I feel hopelessly behind in my blog.  Up till now, I haven’t written a thing about our one fine day in St Augustine, Florida, with Manny and Janett Herrero.   This was back on February 17, 2010.  It was a cool morning in northern Florida.

Now our hard-working editor Kevin Conrad has prepared a short segment that shows some of the footage we captured that day.   He’s been making these “tastes” of the various places for our website, and when Kevin gets them together, then Ryan Krumm makes the computer files that we need, then Jay Volk puts them up on the Breakfast Special website, and Mike Cuccaro uploads these clips to YouTube too.

So we had gone to St Augustine to check out the breakfast specials at this little Cuban café called La Herencia.  I found it on line and was instantly impressed by the very positive comments left by customers, regulars as well as tourists passing through the oldest city in North America.

Aviles Street claims to be the oldest street in America, and it is just off Plaza de la Constitución in the very heart of St Augustine.  La Herencia is at number 4 Aviles Street.  Impressive address.  Not hard to find.

We got to sample several dishes that day.  Manny creates all the wonderful food on tiny gas burners in he kitchen.  Janett makes the coffee, and several patrons that day told us that the café con leche  alone was worth stopping for.  We learned how true that was.

But we also were impressed with Manny’s Cuban-American breakfast creation that he calls the guajiro.  Cuban bread with egg on top, then black beans, chunks of pork, salsa and cheese.  Delicious, filling and unusual.  Just what we had hoped to find.

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A Bite of Beautiful Biscuits

March 24th, 2010 · 3 Comments

We’re back in Pittsburgh, and while we were away, clever editor Kevin Conrad has been busy reviewing footage and playing with our interviews and b-roll.  He makes the tantalizing “tastes” of the various stories that we’ve shot.

So suddenly he takes us back to Raleigh, North Carolina, to the kitchen at Big Ed’s City Market Restaurant.  Good grits.  Stupendous waitresses.  Red-eye gravy.  And beautiful biscuits.  Watch.

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Hawaiian style breakfast at Hawaiian Style Cafe

March 21st, 2010 · 9 Comments

If you’re here on the big island of Hawaii, driving through Waimea, you might not notice the Hawaiian Style Cafe.  It’s in a small shopping center right beside the road.

And the old fashioned door and storefront make it look as though it’s really tiny, but once you’re inside, it’s roomy, with a big U-shaped counter, booths along the side and tables in the back.   It’s unusual but homey.

We didn’t get there til about 9:3o, having had the 90-minute drive from Hilo, and a malasada or two on the way.  Once inside, Bob immediately loved the easy access of shooting from inside the counter, and we got to work.

Once again Beverly and James Rubio were our guides, and they ordered specials, a luau stew for Bev and a huge version of loco moco called a Moco-Saurus with hamburger, spam, chicken cutlet and kahlua pork fort James.  Oh, and two sunnyside-up eggs on top.  A giant’s breakfast.  James seems very happy.

We love James and Pam because, being bloggers, they, like me, take pictures of their food before they chow down.

And the food here at Hawaiian Cafe is BIG and tasty.  “Ono” they say here in Hawaii.  Really good.  Created and assembled by a crew of mighty cooks.

Everyone here, from the owners Guy Kao’o and his sister Jan to the waitresses and even the customers makes the point that there are no rules about what Hawaiians can have for breakfast.  This cafe is open from 7 am till 1:30 pm, but you can order anything on the menu at any of those hours.  They make us a Hawaiian plate which is one of their specialties.

What’s on the Hawaiian plate?  Take a closer look.

If you start with the spinach-y looking green stuff at the bottom, that’s “laulau,” a pork and fish combo wrapped in taro leaves and slow cooked till it’s fall-apart wonderful.  Then there’s a little section of slippery translucent noodles with vegetables and spices and chicken known as “chicken long rice.”  Then, the stuff that looks like salsa is “lomi lomi salmon” which is small chunks of salmon mixed (or the Hawaiians would say “massaged”) with tomatoes and onions.  Yummy.  The section to the right is filled with “poi” the classic Hawaiian paste or concoction made from crushed taro root.  It’s not strongly flavored but tasty, and you can eat it with spoon, fork or fingers, or use it as a sort of sauce.  It goes well with the laulau.  Finally, there’s a section of “kalua pork,” a modern version of a traditional sort of slow-cooked pig that has always been a big part of a luau.  It’s wonderful pulled pork.  All this makes for a hearty breakfast.  Or lunch here at the cafe.

We are also impressed with the Korean style beef short ribs called “kalbi” that you can get here with eggs.  This was one man’s breakfast in the backroom.  After he finished a big plate of pancakes.  I love they way they perched the egs on top of the balls of rice.

I’ve also come to understand that a comfortable, casual atmosphere is essential in most breakfast places.  You want to feel like you’re at home or in the home of friends.  The Hawaiian Style Cafe has that here in Waimea.  (But it may be a common characteristic of all the places we’ve visited for this show.)

A big thanks to all the great people here, but especially to Jan Kao’o who helped set up our “invasion” of the place.  I think she didn’t know exactly what to do with us at first, but by the bend of the day, we were all great friends.

And I didn’t even tell you about “da tita mok” they made for us.  It’s another BIG variation on a loco moco, with multiple meats, eggs, and gravy.  A primo burger patty (perhaps as great as a Tessaro’s burger for us Pittsburghers.) It’s the dish that got James to bring us here.  Read about it on his blog!

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I love the taste of malasadas in the morning.

March 20th, 2010 · 2 Comments

Friday morning at 7 am, we meet James and Beverly Rubio in the lobby of our hotel.  They’re going to lead us to one of James’s favorite breakfast spots for loco moco on the Big Island:  the Hawaiian style cafe called Hawaiian Style Cafe in Waimea which is up in the north central part of the island, about 60 miles from here.  We follow them through Hilo and north along Hawaii Route 19 (also known as the Hawaii Belt Road or better yet as the Mamalahoa Highway.)

A few miles north of Hilo, they pull off at a roadside bakery (!) to get some malasadas to fortify us on this breakfast journey.

Malasadas are Portuguese donuts, usually rolled in sugar, big fried balls of eggy-yellow dough, brought to Hawaii by Portuguese people who came here to work.

These breakfast sweets are widely available in the islands, but we pulled in at Baker Tom’s roadside place in what’s apparently Papaikou, HI. I went up and met Baker Tom, explained what we are doing, asked if we could shoot James and Beverly here as they get some malasadas.  Tom said he was OK with it.

So Bob and Glenn shift into work mode and start shooting the scene.  At some point, I taste one of the malasadas, and I’m dumbstruck.  They look as if they might be heavy, doughy treats, but they are instead airy light, hot and amazing.  James ordered a variety, some traditional (just the incredible dough) and other filled with fruit.  My first is an apple-filled.  I am in doughnut heaven.

Baker Tom also makes savory malasadas.  He tells me the Canadian-bacon-and-cheddar is the one that got his business started.  His nephew (who is working in the kitchen) said that the pizza-pepperoni ones (popular with surfers and other young people says Tom) are the best, and Tom says he’s sorry that his Jalapeno malasadas (a variation on jalapeno poppers) aren’t ready yet.  James testifies that they are maybe his favorites.

These are world-class breakfast treats, but you have to get to Baker Tom’s early because when he’s sold out every morning, there are no more.  It’s not yet 8 o’clock but already he’s sold out of his biggest sellers:  the peanut-butter-and-jelly ones.  They are just reasons to try and get back here one day.

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A bowl of loco moco at Ken’s House Of Pancakes

March 19th, 2010 · 3 Comments

Oh, a good day today.  Ken’s House Of Pancakes is a landmark here in Hilo, an institution that stays open 24 hours a day, and everybody loves the food, the portions, the local specialties, and the loco moco.

Loco moco is a sizable bowl of rice with a hamburger patty (traditionally), covered with gravy, and then two eggs on top.  Several folks today refer to it as a breakfast of champions!  There are now many variations, replacing the hamburger patty with things like corned beef hash, Portuguese sausage, mahi mahi, even chili and cheese!

Our guides on this story are Beverly and James Rubio who live here in Hilo.  Together they run a wonderful wedding photo business here on the big island of Hawaii, but James also has a fun and frank food blog about local food and restaurants. It’s called “Big Island Grinds.”

I found him through that blog where he’d written with some passion and clarity about loco moco.  He tells me today that when he started, he thought the blog would be only about loco moco, but then he decided to keep the blog lively and smart, and he’d allow himself to cover a bigger variety of eateries and dishes.

We do several interviews, including one with Carlene, a busy and saucy server who’s been working at Ken’s for 15 years.  She must have started when she was ten years old!  Here she is ready to serve up some of the place’s namesake pancakes.  They’re probably banana pancakes.

All the folks at Ken’s couldn’t have been kinder and more cooperative.  We had to ask them to turn off their music for the day, and when you eliminate some regular part of the scene like that,  it feels odd and empty for a while, but then its absence is not a big factor.  Everybody keeps eating.

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Hello Hilo!

March 18th, 2010 · No Comments

Wednesday, March 17, 2010.  It’s St.Patrick’s Day.  I get up at 4 am to be ready to leave the hotel in San Francisco at 6 am.  I have to get everything squeezed back in my suitcase and my two carry-ons.  I have to check us out of the hotel, and I have to go and get the van out of the adjacent parking garage.  We each have our jobs to make the process smoother.

We travel all day.  First a big, long, 5-hour-and-40-minute flight from San Francisco to Honolulu.  (They show UP IN THE AIR as the in-flight movie.  Nice.  I fall asleep several times, not because of the movie but because I am so comfortable and relaxed.)

The plane is not packed like Pringles.  We each have our own row.

Bob is two rows behind me.  Glen is by the window in the row right behind me.  My seat is reclined.  Snooze easy.

We get a two-hour layover in Honolulu.  (In one little kiosk, I see a kind of Crocs that I’ve never seen before.  I splurge and buy them.)

We grab a delicious roast chicken and pork lunch in the Hawaiian box-lunch style.

Then a 53-minute flight to Hilo.  This plane is chock full o’ people.

We are here in Hilo to find out about loco moco.  We’re shooting tomorrow morning at Ken’s House of Pancakes.  The last time we were here in Hilo (4 years ago?) we shot a story about the Hilo Farmers’ Market, a busy and beautiful market that makes getting here seem worthwhile.  Here’s the story we made back then:

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Leon Slotin talks of Tybee and The Breakfast Club

March 17th, 2010 · 3 Comments

While Bob Lubomski and Glenn Syska and I are on the road out west here, gathering new fresh video, our clever editor Kevin Conrad is in the editing room, putting together new tasty clips from our recent shoots.  Here’s just a bit of the story we got about The Breakfast Club on Tybee Island in the state of Georgia back in mid-February.

Check out the earlier Who Dat? blog posting too:


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