Monday, June 13, 2005


Acidman and Dax have been waxing poetic about a Great American Institution: the Southern Breakfast. As a Northerner-by-birth who has been happily transplanted to the South and who has lived everywhere from New York, New Joisey, Connecticut, Texas, and Georgia, I feel qualified to throw my own two cents’ worth in on the subject.

Anyone can make pancakes, waffles, and all that crap – but what makes a Southern breakfast magnificent? Even if you don’t love the wonderful Porky Products like country ham, thick-sliced bacon, and sausage (I do, but I generally avoid them for any number of reasons), you have grits and biscuits.

If the Southern contribution to American gastronomy stopped cold at grits and biscuits, dayyenu: It would have been enough. There is almost nothing as heavenly as a hot buttermilk biscuit slathered with sweet butter. But you also have cornbread in all its wondrous forms, including hoe-cakes cooked in a heavy iron skillet. And, of course, the aforementioned Meatstuffs. Red-eye gravy!

Grits. Many unfortunate Northerners just don’t understand grits. They get ’em all confused with crap like farina and try to sweeten ’em up. But I learned about this Quintessential Southern Breakfast Food from my Daddy, who may have grown up in Brooklyn but who discovered grits in the Army. A little salt and pepper is all you need to make grits palatable – and cheese makes them downright upright.

I have my own Breakfast Traditions that are, in their own way, every bit as pleasurable as the Southern Breakfast.

One of my earliest Breakfast Memories is of my grandmother making scrambled eggs and onions for me. She would slice up a yellow onion and throw it in a skillet with some butter. Once it was a nice, dark, caramelized brown, she would add in a few eggs and scramble the whole mess together. Damn, but those were some fine eggs. Last Saturday, She Who Must Be Obeyed cooked me up some of those fine oniony eggs, and I will tell you that Grandma Shirley must have been smiling down on her as she did it.

But when I want to get serious about breakfast, Smoked Fish will inevitably come into play.

Back in my runny-nose days, a favorite Sunday breakfast treat was bagels and lox. The Old Man – Eli, his own self – would go down to what was called the “appetizing store” and get a sack full of fresh, warm bagels and bialys. Sesame seed, poppy seed, garlic, pumpernickel, egg, and plain: those were the flavors. None of those Johnny-come-lately flavors like cinnamon raisin or Asiago cheese: these were real bagels, with a glossy crust and just the right amount of “tooth.” And the fish. Ohhhh, the fish. Salty, translucent slices of belly lox. The less salty, darker-colored Nova Scotia smoked salmon. Sometimes, tubs of pickled herring filets with oniony cream sauce, or the more exotic pickled lox – cubes of salmon, pickled in the same sauce. Kippered salmon, oily and flavorful. Sable, even more oily – for the most dedicated Smoked Fish lovers. And when it was time to splurge, maybe even a few slices of smoked sturgeon.

A little schmear of cream cheese for lubrication, and you were good to go. Heaven!

I’m lucky in that I live only a mile from the Local Bagel and Smoked Fish Emporium, and I can eat this kind of stuff as often as I want to – subject, of course, to the limitations of the Household Budget. I’ve backed way off on the bagels and similar breadstuffs – like as not, I’ll get a mini “everything” bagel and have the insides scooped out of it – but that fish is irresistible.

How fortunate are we to live in a country with such diverse and pleasurable Food Traditions! Who the hell needs cold cereal, anyway? Now: what’s fer breakfast at your place?

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