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

We went. Worth it.

April 28th, 2010 · 4 Comments

Everywhere we’ve gone to shoot stories for this upcoming BREAKFAST SPECIAL, I’ve tried to ask all the people we’ve interviewed if they have a “Best Breakfast” of their lives. “Was there one morning or one special food or some special place where you had a superlative breakfast?” The answers are often fascinating and sometimes very specific. Many responses have involved hotels in various places around the world.

All along, I’ve thought that if I were asked the same question, I’d say “I remember a breakfast at this beautiful old historic hotel on the coast of New Hampshire. I had lobster hash with poached eggs. Hollandaise on the side. An amazing meal. Unexpected. The best.” I have this picture from that morning back in May 2006. (Yes, I was taking pictures of food even back then.)

I was at this huge old hotel called Wentworth By The Sea with my mother then because we were on a week-long road trip around New England. It was my present to her for her birthday that year. Here’s Mom at that same breakfast. She had coffee and a croissant. Not a big eater that Peg.

My sister Nisey had suggested we include a stop at this grand hotel because she had always loved it since she first saw it decades ago when she was a Girl Scout camp counselor in New Hampshire, and she often bicycled by the crumbling old place (then in terrible shape.) Then she heard that it had been restored and re-opened in 2004, and she wanted us to see it.

It is a glorious place, built in 1874, and it’s been the scene of historic events, historic visits and some pretty great breakfasts. It’s a beautiful structure, a destination, a truly memorable getaway, a romantic seaside escape, and now a deluxe Marriott Hotel & Spa.

So, since I had maybe the best breakfast of my life there, I want to come back and find out about and taste again the lobster hash that captivated me so.

Camera guy Bob Lubomski, audio man Glenn Syska and I drove from Pittsburgh to the Wentworth on Thursday April 22 2010. It goes like this. We meet at WQED at 7 am. Hit the highway before 8, heading northeast. 630 miles. Lunch in Wilkes Barre PA. Dinner in Hampton NH. We get to the hotel about 9:30, unload the van and go to our rooms. We’re supposed to be in the kitchen tomorrow morning at 6 am. When you make a show about breakfasts, you have to get up early.

We met executive sous chef Matt Louis (on the right above) and a.m. supervisor Chris Burnett (on left) the next morning in the hotel’s sizable kitchen. We began by doing an interview with Matt about his background, hotel breakfasts and the best things to order here at the Wentworth. When we started to talk about making the hash, he brought in Chris to help, and they had prepped ingredients to show us how they put together an order of the lobster treat. We started them and stopped them. Then started them again. We asked a few questions. Matt seemed totally comfortable on camera. He chopped a lot of yellow and red bell peppers.

Eventually we would see the hash plated and presented in the dining room. You eat breakfast in one of the most beautiful spots in the hotel. Domed ceiling with vintage cherubs, lots of nice morning light.

I think the serving of hash looks bigger than it did four years ago. The presentation is slightly more formal, and the skewer of square-cut fruits is a good touch.

The basil hollandaise was excellent, making the scrumptious dish even richer and more complex. I’m happy to say that it held up to my expectations. It’s a phenomenally good breakfast.

The chefs told us however that they probably sell more Eggs Wentworth (above) than lobster hash. Eggs Wentworth is an Eggs Benedict variation with an English muffin, slices of tomato and then slices of butter-poached lobster with poached eggs and hollandaise. Served with hash browns. I like the little pieces of claw meat that they set on the side.

Did I mention that the local Red Hat Ladies came to the restaurant this morning because it was National Red Hat Day, and they make an annual pilgrimage to the Wentworth for breakfast?

Their entry with big blasts of bright colors was a wonderful addition to the morning scene. It was somewhat Fellini-esque. Some of them opted for the grand breakfast buffet but many ordered Eggs Wentworth and perhaps a plate of lobster hash or two?

Did I say that this stately historic hotel is only a mile or so from the Maine border? All of these lobster breakfasts are all made with the world’s best Maine lobsters, but we enjoyed them nonetheless in New Hampshire.

When you’re in such regal surroundings, you expect to be well fed, and the Wentworth kitchen doesn’t disappoint. I was obviously impressed when I first came here four years ago, and I based my decision to come back here solely on my own impressions. But after I was there for a while in the kitchen, I realized that these people really care about the food, the service, the quality of the whole experience, and after seeing some of the ratings sheets on the bulletin board, I found out that Wentworth By The Sea is regularly recognized (on a weekly basis!) as the best breakfast and the best overall food in any Marriott facility. This place is widely recognized as a great spot for a morning meal! I wasn’t crazy to want to include it in the program. I need to send my sister there so she can see it now.

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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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