It was as comforting a meal as one could imagine: breakfast with Fannie Farmer. The place was Berkeley, Calif., at a pretty new restaurant called Bridge Creek, which serves only breakfast, though the breakfast hour stretches to 3 p.m.
Marion Cunningham, as the author of the current Fannie Farmer cookbooks is known in real life, had been the menu and recipe consultant. And she was so excited about the project that she was bringing everyone she knew to taste the results.
What made Cunningham entranced with breakfast, she said, was that, "It is the only meal that doesn't have radicchio in it." Indeed, the menu she concocted for Bridge Creek avoids trendiness, doesn't in the least smack of brunch, has no dish that was invented since the beginning of the nouvelle cuisine era.
Fannie Farmer's idea of breakfast is buttermilk griddle cakes with blueberries, yeast-raised waffles with strawberries or pecans (because yeast-raised waffles are the lightest and crispest of all waffles), and simple omelets such as ham or cheese. For heavy eaters there is a fried pork tenderloin with cream biscuits and gravy. For the fiber-conscious there is four-grain toasted cereal with pecans and red bananas (which are small, flavorsome bananas that have immigrated to California from the tropics). And for the fast-food generation, which never learned that breakfast could be eaten with knife and fork, there is a grilled breakfast sandwich -- ham and cream cheese on dark and white bread.
Actually, Cunningham and John Hudspeth, the proprietor, did try a fanciful little breakfast modernity, a kind of souffle' called lemon zephyr, but the Bridge Creek public thus far has clearly preferred tradition.
Tradition with a fanatic devotion to detail, that is -- to the degree that the menu even lists a tea consultant. The jams are homemade, the hot chocolate is a creamy bittersweet Dutch brew served in huge white pottery cups. And the teas are blended to Hudspeth's specifications: Queen's Choice, Bridge Creek Breakfast, Peter Rabbit Herbal and a fragrant black tea infused with peach juice, all served in fat round pots covered with tea cozies and fitted with "hedgehogs" to strain the tea as it pours.
Hudspeth, who is from Portland, Ore., where his favorite restaurant was The Original Pancake House, brings the coffee from Oregon and the apple-smoked meats -- Canadian bacon sliced as thick as a pork chop, for instance -- from Santa Cruz down the coast. His flowers, sage and the tiny radishes that garnish each plate are grown by friends in the Berkeley hills. And he is seeking a sufficient supplier of free-range eggs; in the meantime, his come from chickens raised on organic feed. Hudspeth himself shops three times a week at Berkeley's Monterey market, which he says is "just teeming" with such luxuries as 40 kinds of melons, grapes as tiny as currants and berries galore.
Everything conceivable, from the double-height and very flaky biscuits to the sausage patties, is homemade. Or local. Of course Hudspeth has to bring in the maple syrup: "We don't have any maple trees in Berkeley."
It should come as no surprise that Bridge Creek is just down the block from Chez Panisse, the restaurant famously fanatic about its ingredients.
Hudspeth's zeal also encompasses the environment: the restaurant allows no smoking. It is a graceful, homey place, the tables decorated with garden flowers, the sugar bowls and butter dishes of pressed glass. Even the artificial sweeteners are in little handmade baskets. From the exterior (landscaped with flowering plants and cacti) to the entrance (a stunning contemporary stained glass and wood door) to the interior (a fireplace and ladderback chairs), Bridge Creek has been lavished with attention to gracious details.
All that is lovely, of course, but the most interesting thing about Bridge Creek is the old-fashioned all-American cooking. The johnny cake is an early American recipe revived by cookbook author Jane Salzfass Freiman: pouring a cup of heavy cream in the middle of a pan of very thin cornbread batter forms a layer of custard in the middle when it is baked. The Heavenly Hots -- dollar-size sour cream pancakes -- are extraordinary; with only three tablespoons of cake flour in them, their texture is a cross between pancakes and custard, and they melt on the tongue. The restaurant needs to work on its twice-fried Creek Bank Potatoes, and its omelets have been too firm, but once you taste the Heavenly Hots you'd hardly order an omelet anyway.
All this is leading Cunningham to do another cookbook, on breakfast of course. The seeds of it were sown in her last book, "The Fannie Farmer Baking Book" (Knopf, 1984), when she devised breakfast pies and breakfast cakes.
Restaurant-watchers know that breakfast is the fastest-growing part of the eating-out day, with more than 5 percent of upscale restaurants now serving breakfasts, and virtually all fast-food restaurants serving them. As Cunningham sees it, breakfast can readily concentrate on healthy ingredients and is not expensive in terms of ingredients or labor. The average check at Bridge Creek, she said, is $8 to $10. And within the first month it became necessary to make reservations for weekend breakfast.
As for me, I'd just as soon sleep late Saturday -- but I'd be glad to have my Heavenly Hots for dinner. Tabletalk
The talk in California this month has been of Alice Waters' wedding. The proprietor of Chez Panisse and spiritual mother of the California Cuisine movement was married not in a Pacific-coast artichoke field, but in New York, then went off to Italy for a month. San Francisco has carried the wine-by-the-glass service about as far as I expect to see it go. The Stanford Court Hotel offers 17 still wines and three champagnes by the glass even for room service. First there were restaurants that sounded like Dr. Seuss (The Quilted Giraffe). Now "Raiders of the Lost Ark" seems the inspiration. Los Angeles restaurateur Michael McCarty is joining with Jimmy Schmidt, the former chef of Detroit's London Chop House, to open The Rattlesnake Club in Denver; and San Francisco chef Mark Miller is moving to Santa Fe to open the Coyote Cafe. HEAVENLY HOTS (Makes about 75 pancakes)
1 pint sour cream
3 tablespoons cake flour
3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
Butter for griddle (preferably clarified)
All ingredients should be at room temperature. Put all ingredients except butter in the blender, mixing just until smooth. Heat griddle and lightly butter it. Spoon batter onto griddle to form pancakes about the size of a silver dollar. Brown on both sides and serve with maple syrup.