By Robert St. John
DELPHI, GREECE – Breakfast is my favorite meal of the day. Back home, I have several options.
There is my “Daddy Breakfast,” the go-to morning meal I make at home at the request of the children. It’s the same every time – Allan Benton’s bacon cooked in my cast-iron skillet, hash browns cooked crisp in the grease once the bacon is cooked, eggs (scrambled light), biscuits and my grandmother’s pancakes.
If it’s just me, at home early in the morning, having breakfast before work and before anyone is awake; I have oatmeal with protein powder and orange juice.
Three or four times a week I go to my favorite bagel place downtown and have a couple of toasted bagels – either whole wheat or cinnamon raisin – and dip them in my stash of Sicilian extra virgin olive oil I keep hidden behind the counter. Bagels, extra virgin olive oil and salt were my staple for a year before I left.
I occasionally eat at a bakery operated by a Frenchman across the street from my office, and if I have a breakfast meeting there are a couple of restaurants I frequent.
In a nutshell, I’ve got breakfast covered.
So far, breakfasts in Europe have been more style over substance. We are almost four weeks into this year-long trip. I have eaten breakfasts in Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Austria, Italy, Greece, many of the Greek Isles, and Turkey.
I have eaten breakfast in both hotels and independent out-of-the-way cafes. So far, no breakfast meal has blown me away. Many of the items are foreign to me (pun intended) in the morning – baked tomatoes, baked beans, luncheon meats, strange cereals, salad, foodstuffs in toothpaste tubes, and all manner of other oddities, some that I can’t even decipher. No matter which country, the bacon is undercooked, the scrambled eggs are overcooked and don’t even taste like eggs. The bread has been pretty good, but man can’t live on breakfast bread alone.
After the first week, I resorted to an old standby breakfast I ate as a kid – and once or twice a month as an adult – soft-boiled eggs. Every hotel and restaurant can cook an egg for three minutes. I usually crack the eggs into a bowl, scrape out the white, crumble pieces of toast or a croissant into the bowl with the eggs, add a little salt and pepper, and I’m on my way.
Beginning in October, we’ll be spending two months in villas throughout Italy while I work on the new cookbook. I’ll be shopping in markets and making breakfast daily. We hit France in February, and I plan to visit a different patisserie every morning. There is hope over the horizon.
Actually, horizons have not been a problem. The settings and locations during meals have been spectacular – German pastries at dawn in a medieval village, gorgeous sunrises over Greek islands, and lunches in town squares and on benches beside picturesque canals in Copenhagen. Yesterday morning we ate soft-boiled eggs in Athens with an amazing view of The Temple of Zeus in front of us and the Acropolis in the distance.
The food in Greece has been underwhelming, but the settings have been impressive. Last night’s dinner might have been the quintessential scenic-dining view.
On the recommendation of the hotel clerk here in Delphi, we ate at a small but charming restaurant across the street. At Epikouros Tavern, we might have enjoyed the best view from a restaurant dining table I have ever witnessed. I have eaten a lot of meals in a lot of restaurants over the Past 25 years, but the view last night is probably the most beautiful and dramatic I have experienced.
We are in the mountains in an area that becomes a ski resort in winter (Greece is much more mountainous than I anticipated). Our table had an amazing view of the Pliestos Valley with the Corinthian Gulf to the south, and the Phaedriades mountain range to our west. We were seated at sunset, and I polled the family to see if anyone could remember a more spectacular view.
I have eaten lunch 10,000 feet above sea level on top of a mountain in Aspen, Colo., with miles of Rocky Mountains in the distance. I’ve had an early morning breakfast in the breaking fog of the Smoky Mountain foothills at Blackberry Farm, Tenn., and eaten amazing ceviche under a palapa while watching a beautiful sunset in Isla Mujeres, Mexico. Watching last night’s Grecian sun drop behind the mountains might top them all.
The food, however, was crap. An informal poll on my Facebook page determined more people would rather have a great view than eat good food. I don’t think I’m with the majority on that one. Though I wouldn’t trade some of these views we’ve experienced for a free meal at anywhere. Where do you side in the food vs. view debate? I’m about to go ask the Oracle.
As for breakfasts, I’m headed to Vienna and then Italy in the next few weeks. Things are looking up. Though, if I were you, I’d be heading to the bagel place in downtown Hattiesburg to take advantage of the last bit of Sicilian extra virgin olive oil I left stashed behind the counter.
Robert St.John is a restaurateur, chef and author of numerous books.