Breakfast of champions

Lifelong Richmond resident and Pearl Harbor survivor Paul Brittenham passed away last October at the ripe old age of 94, but his legacy lives on at the popular northside diner he founded back in 1948.

Paulee Restaurant in Richmond’s historic Depot District


Brittenham opened Paulee Restaurant several years after returning home from his military service tour. A businessman first and foremost, he knew his profits depended on frequent turnover. With just 10 seats to work with, the crusty Brittenham discouraged dawdling, often telling customers to “eat and get out!” His loyal patrons didn’t mind, and the good food and fair prices kept them coming back. The restaurant still draws crowds of devoted regulars, some who’ve been known to come in for breakfast and return a few hours later for lunch.

An on-site fixture for decades, Brittenham retired just a few years ago at age 89, passing the torch to Jenny Orbik, a loyal employee who had worked for him for 20 years and didn’t want to see the restaurant close.

my dear old dad, fitting right in at Paulee’s


Not much has changed at Paulee through the years, except perhaps for the addition of some nifty murals on the exteriors of the neighborhood buildings. There are still just 10 seats in the whole place and the joint still serves the same straight-up-good, no-nonsense food in a nostalgic diner atmosphere, much as it did when it opened decades ago.

a basic breakfast at Paulee’s

If you’re in the mood for a hearty basic breakfast, this is the place to go. Eggs come any way you want alongside toast and meat choices that include bacon, fresh or smoked sausage, ham, chopped steak, pork chop and even tenderloin.

B&G at Paulee’s


Biscuits and gravy fans take note – the recipe at Paulee is top-notch, and available in one, two and three biscuit portions. The three-egg omelets are another popular breakfast choice, and if you need a sweet fix, Paulee carries donuts and Danishes from local bakeries.

For lunch, Paulee offers a lineup of classic burgers, sandwiches and soups, along with an old-fashioned daily special along the lines of cabbage rolls, tuna casserole or green beans stewed with sausage and potatoes.

Today, Paulee Restaurant finds itself ideally sited amid prime real estate in Richmond’s emerging Historic Depot District. Neighborhood improvements, the renovation of the depot itself, and the addition of new businesses are attracting a whole new generation of clientele to the area, many discovering Paulee for the first time.

Paulee’s menu board


Open for breakfast and lunch Monday through Saturday, Paulee’s prices are more than reasonable for the amount and quality of food you get. Just don’t forget to hit the ATM first, this cash-only diner doesn’t accept credit cards.

420 N. 8th St.
Richmond, Ind.
(765) 962-5621

Watch and learn

The breakfast quest continues… Hubby’s been going into work at noon on Wednesdays, a schedule that lends itself nicely to a weekly breakfast date. This morning’s destination? First Watch, a newly opened breakfast/brunch/lunch joint on 86th Street just across from Keystone at the Crossing.

First Watch exterior

Part of a Florida-based franchise, First Watch roosts in the corner spot of the strip mall, on the end near Shanghai Lil. This is the company’s first foray into Indiana, and plans for several additional locations are in the works around town.

We arrived mid-morning mid-week, and the place was doing a fairly brisk business. It’s bigger than I expected with tall ceilings, a black chalkboard on the wall for specials, semi-retro booths and table seating including a tall eight-top with tall stools in the corner, and cheery details like colorful albeit generic art of coffee cups. Imagine a cross between Denny’s and Panera and you’re on the right track. The orange tulip-ish light fixtures and the rectangular vases filled with tall grasses anchored in beds of coffee beans were interesting touches.

The menu covers the usual breakfast bases — eggs, omelets, several varieties of hash, pancakes, some healthy items, and variations on something called a “crepegg.” Quite a few ingredients and recipes, though, are a step up from ordinary bacon, eggs and cheese. For instance, omelet selections include any number of elevated fillings along the lines of chorizo, avocado, spicy chicken, crimini mushrooms and roasted zucchini. First Watch seem to hit a lot of Americanized international flavors; I counted Mexican, Cajun, Greek, French and Italian themed choices among the omelets alone. There are also nods to First Watch’s Florida roots in names like the Floridian French Toast and the Siesta Key Cocktail yogurt parfait.

We started off with coffee, which was your meh standard drip served in a carafe. Hubby drinks his black with a little sugar, but I need some dairy to mellow mine out. Alas, I had to resort to the single-serving non-refrigerated creamers from a small bowl on the table. I’m sure they’re cost-efficient for restaurants, but these things should be outlawed in my opinion. Dairy that doesn’t need refrigeration is disturbing, and it tastes like crap. This is without a doubt my biggest dining-out-for-breakfast pet peeve. I suppose I could have asked for some fresh milk or Half and Half, but I hate having to. Restaurants that sweat the small details should just automatically serve it, or at least ask diners if they’d like fresh creamer.

Via Veneto omelet

Anyhoo, hubby ordered the Via Veneto omelet. Curious, I asked for a Key West Crepegg. The food arrived hot and promptly. Serving sizes were good, not ginormous but certainly generous. Hubby loved the flavorful Italian sausage in his omelet, and the roasted red peppers, tomatoes, herbs and cheese all played very nicely together in their egg wrapper. A complaint, though — hubby HATES onions. (I believe I might have mentioned this once or twice?) When he ordered his omelet, he specifically asked whether or not it contained onions, and the server said no. We’ve learned the hard way it’s always good to double-check. However, when his plate arrived, the accompanying cubed potatoes were peppered through with — you guessed it — onions. You’d think maybe the server might have picked up on this and said something when he was ordering??? Sigh. This happens to us a lot. You wouldn’t believe how often. Why reassure him there are no onions in the main dish if you’re only going to stealth-bomb him with the little suckers in a side or on a salad? He doesn’t like onions, people. I don’t know why this is so hard to understand and get right.

My Key West Crepegg (pronounced “crepe egg” FYI) was tasty. Honestly, I’d forgotten it was a crepe at all. It arrived at the table looking like a flat omelet, and it wasn’t until I dug in that I remembered it was a crepe. A thick, eggy, slightly sweet crepe that made a good foil for the turkey, avocado, bacon, cheese and tomato housed within. It was also topped with sour cream and served with a little ramekin of housemade salsa that I loved. There’s really nothing about this omelet that screams “Key West,” though. When you say Florida Keys, I automatically think of key limes, coconuts, seafood and rum runners. I also got a side of the same cubed potatoes with onions, as well as a basic English muffin.

Key West crepegg

Other than the onion hiccup, service was attentive and friendly. Almost too much so. I can appreciate that this is a new restaurant and the staff is working hard to make a good impression, but at a couple points, I felt like we were being watched like a hawk for any opportunity to swoop in and ask if we needed anything. Still, I suppose this is much better than being ignored and having to flag someone down.

So, while we had a decent meal at First Watch, I can’t say there was anything about it that really knocked my socks off. I may go back and try it again for lunch sometime. Prices are pretty much in line with Denny’s or IHOP; our bill for two was right under $30. Always nice to have another breakfast option in town, but Café Patachou and Taste are still holding rank at the top of my list.

For more information:

First Watch on Urbanspoon

Wise cracks

Indy seems to be experiencing an influx of new breakfast/brunch joints. To do our part in supporting this morning meal movement, hubby and I ventured north today to Carmel to scope out Eggshell Bistro.

I could probably go vegetarian without much fuss, but eggs are something I simply cannot live without. I actually tend to eat eggs more for lunch and dinner than for breakfast; egg salad sandwiches and microwave-poached eggs atop a salad are typical lunchtime fare in my house, and omelets loaded with cheese and veggies are a standard dinner go-to. So when I first caught wind of a bistro that focused pretty much entirely on elevating the humble egg, I immediately put it on my radar.

Eggshell Bistro in Carmel City Center

I’d read a couple of enticing reviews beforehand, but Eggshell Bistro was still surprising in quite a few ways. First of all, it’s much smaller than I expected, tucked away on the north side of Carmel City Center under an awning that could be considered subtle if it weren’t for the “Eggshell” emblazoned across it.

Eggshell Bistro interior

Inside, the décor is charming as can be, calling to mind a tiny upscale French-themed café with interesting antiques, funky metal chairs that look like they came from a quaint porch but I’m sure cost a mint, and nicely restrained jazz wafting through the background. I was impressed right off the bat with the handsome we-mean-business Gaggia espresso apparatus adorning the counter. After sampling top-shelf coffees all over Europe, hubby can be something of a coffee snob when it comes to watery American drip, and who can blame him? I’m thrilled to say Eggshell Bistro really delivers on the a.m. beverages with SerendipiTeas, tisanes, Blue Bottle Coffee in a variety of blends, and a Kyoto cold drip set-up that looks like a mad science experiment. (Like the absinthe at Libertine, I was itching for someone to order one just so I could see how it worked. Alas, the place was pretty empty during our Tuesday morning visit, and the customers that were there didn’t look overly adventurous when it comes to their java.)

whole latte love

Hubby pronounced his Americano spot-on and my latte was nothing short of a work of art, each cup accompanied by a couple of chocolate-covered pomegranate seeds in our demitasse spoons. Sugars and sweeteners are delivered to each table in metal coffee tins. Enchanted, we were off to a good start.

Like the place itself, the menu isn’t large, and pretty much every dish highlights eggs in some shape or fashion. It’s a little on the fussy side, though, and our server spent a LOT of time detailing each item for us. I usually like my fare more straightforward, but some of these items do beg for further explanation. Which is fine, I suppose, but seems like a lot of unnecessary pomp and circumstance to me. Our server was obviously well trained and well versed in the menu, and that’s always reassuring to see.

The half dozen or so main breakfast offerings range from open-faced crostini and brioche layered with sous vide-poached eggs, cheese, pancetta and asparagus to a decadent-sounding brioche French toast with blueberry fig chutney and toasted pecans. Heartier options take in quiche, frittata and a sweet potato hash. You could also easily assemble an a la carte meal from the side items — more eggs, toast, grits and a selection of Smoking Goose bacons and sausages. For diners who want something more continental, a tempting display window of housemade scones and baked items greets customers as they walk in the door.

the Chinese herbal tea egg

Based on the reviews I’d read, I knew I wanted to taste the Chinese herbal tea egg, and ordered that first as a “starter,” if you will. I love hard-boiled eggs, and this one looked and sounded particularly intriguing. After boiling, the eggshell is cracked and the whole thing pickles overnight in an herbal tea infused with cinnamon, cloves and star anise. It arrives at the table in a glass egg cup with a beautiful marbled surface and a heady scent. Lovely to look at, for sure, but when I cut into it, I realized it suffered the fatal flaw of overcooking. The white carried the spiced tea flavor nicely, but the yolk had an unpleasant dark ring. Although it was perfectly fine to eat, I just couldn’t get past the yolk’s appearance and left it behind.

For such a small menu, it took us a long time to make our selections. In the end, hubby ordered the mixed heirloom potato frittata with garlic, spinach and Capriole Farms goat cheese (anything with poached eggs or onions was automatically out of the question for him and helped narrow down his choices more quickly than mine). I seriously considered the truffled egg brioche with fontina cheese and asparagus as well as the Parisian toast, but ultimately opted for the daily special — a strata with roasted tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and basil.

mixed heirloom potato frittata

The presentation on both our “entrees” was fantastic, although at first glance, we wondered if the servings weren’t a little on the small side. Admittedly, this is the unfortunate effect of eating at places like IHOP and Waffle House that have brainwashed us into thinking more is more and too much is never enough with their over-the-top, super-sized servings that leave you feeling like a beached whale for the rest of the day. When we dug in, we found both plates deceptively filling (especially the strata), and realized we definitely didn’t need the servings to be any bigger than they were. I’d much rather have a smaller but still plenty satisfying portion of something like this made with high-quality gourmet ingredients than load up on a huge plate of something that’s just meh.

A couple very small criticisms — hubby likes his potatoes soft, and the few pieces in his frittata were fairly al dente, but he loved the goat cheese and the applewood- smoked bacon he’d ordered on the side was perfectly cooked and full of flavor.

roasted tomato strata

My strata was rich and delicious, but could have used a tiny sprinkling of crunchy salt and there is none offered on the tables here. Hubby thinks I’m a salt-aholic, so this probably wouldn’t even be an issue for most people. The roasted tomatoes were a great ingredient, but I would have liked more basil in the mix or even a little pesto; I think I detected two small leaves and that was it. No matter. We still cleaned our plates. My strata also came with a small fruit cup of fresh berries and Satsuma orange sections that hubby made short work of.

Food here isn’t cheap – with tip, our breakfast bill came to just shy of $45. Still, for a special occasion or a once-in-awhile splurge, we’d definitely revisit. Hubby says he’d bike back up just for the coffee alone.

If you come by after 11 a.m., Eggshell Bistro serves several sandwiches, salads and soups by way of lunch options. Our server said dinner service in the works, but they’re still mastering the art of breakfast, lunch and brunch before branching out.

The web site could use a little updating, but for basic info:

Eggshell Bistro on Urbanspoon

Nashville nosh

I graduated from Indiana University in the early 1990s, and Bloomington will always hold a special place in my heart, but I never really spent any time in nearby Nashville or Brown County except for an occasional drive-through on trips back home when I felt like taking the country route. When you consider how crazy scenic and charming the whole area is, this seems downright disrespectful. Last weekend, I had the opportunity to right my wrong.

beautiful Brown County State Park

Between stints of walking through the adorable shops of Nashville proper, horseback riding, journeying the annual artist studio and gardens tour through some of the most outerlying rural terrain, and an overnight stay at Abe Martin Lodge on the grounds of gorgeous Brown County State Park, I enjoyed some tasty meals.

Words that come to mind when I think of Nashville and Brown County: cute, small-town, old-fashioned, country, charming. Cutting-edge cuisine? Nope. But that’s perfectly ok. If you’re looking for fancy four-star meals full of frills and garnishes, keep on driving. If you’re in the mood for the kind of nostalgic, old-school eats you’ve probably grown up on (if you were born and raised in Indiana, that is), you’ve come to the right place.

Case in point — Hob Nob Corner is about as old-school as you can get in this neck of the woods. Literally. It’s housed in the Taggart Building at the corner of Main and Van Buren, the oldest commercial building in town and dating back to 1873 (the restaurant’s been operating here since 1973).

Hob Nob Corner Restaurant

These days, visitors flock for down-home breakfasts along the lines of eggs, bacon, sausage, hash, oatmeal and French toast. (I was surprised to see huevos rancheros on the menu, it was the only nod to ethnic food I noticed anywhere the entire weekend.) And of course, you can’t call yourself a real-deal breakfast joint in Indiana without serving classic biscuits and gravy. I’ll bet it’s good here, although I opted for the pancakes with bacon on the side.

Hob Nob pancakes

Hubby filled up on the basic breakfast of two eggs, toast and bacon, and added on a slice of country ham to boot cause that’s how he rolls.  (Hubby wants me to mention that he had just biked 70 miles from Indy to Nashville the day prior, and that’s why he needed the extra protein…) Everything was down-home delicious.

hubby’s Hob Nob brekkie

Hobnob Corner on Urbanspoon

For dinner, we visited Brown County’s hometown microbrewery, Big Woods Brewing Company. If we lived down here, I have a feeling this place would claim a lot of our time and money. Like most places in Nashville, the décor is all rustic wood lodge with high beamed ceilings. Big Woods is newer than most, open just since November 2009. The vibe feels a little like Thr3e Wise Men here in Indy, except Big Woods isn’t kid-friendly. The clientele is strictly 21 and up.

The food at Big Woods is probably the most new-fangled of any I saw in town. On the menu — a half dozen or so housemade microbrews (the refreshing Six-Foot Blonde was just our speed), along with a selection of pizzas, sandwiches and apps.

Big Woods Six Foot Blonde Ale

The spinach artichoke dip and Emily’s Garden veggie pizza we shared both arrived piping hot and loaded with super-fresh ingredients. Highly recommend.

Emily’s Garden pizza at Big Woods Brewing Company

Big Woods Brewing Company on Urbanspoon

As an IU grad, several people told me I HAD to make sure I visited that sandwich place… I thought they were speaking non-specifically, but no. The name of the restaurant is actually That Sandwich Place, and anyone with any amount of interest in IU basketball needs to put lunch or breakfast here on their Brown County itinerary.

Visiting this eatery is like worshipping at the church of Bobby Knight. The walls, counters, columns, ceilings — every possible surface is covered with memorabilia, some items ranging back as far as the early 1970s. Seems the restaurant opened around the same time Knight arrived in Bloomington and the owner remains a personal friend. Love him or hate him, Knight is an undeniably charismatic figure that demands attention. An oversized General doll in a glass case holds court (get it???) over the restaurant from its post by the register.

all hail, the General

Down a short flight of stairs, subterranean That Sandwich Place serves simple greasy-spoon breakfast and lunch fare. There’s not a ton of stuff to choose from, just a handful of sandwiches complemented by fries, cole slaw and deviled eggs, and a hi-calorie salad laden with ham, cheese and sunflower seeds. No joke, that’s what it’s called. They are not messing around with any diet food here. At least they’re upfront about it.

tenderloin platter at That Sandwich Place

Hubby and I split a Piggy Wiggy tenderloin platter. The thin crispy pork patty was obviously pre-formed, and reminded me of the kind of sandwich I grew up eating at the local drive-ins in Richmond. Good fries, too.

We ate with wide-eyed wonder, taking in the ambiance. Indiana, oh Indiana, we ARE all for you.

That Sandwich Place on Urbanspoon

Bon appetit, Brown County!

For more info:

(Can’t find a web site for That Sandwich Place. Guess you’ll just have to go there and see it for yourself.)

One hot Mama

I was recently asked for the 18th time, “ Have you been to the new Mama Carolla’s breakfast place yet?” And up until this morning, the answer had always been no. By a happy accident, I have now been initiated.

My friend Katie and I had planned to meet at Zest at 9:30 this morning to partake of the signature crème brulee French toast and copious amounts of coffee, but when I pulled into the suspiciously empty parking lot, I knew something had gone awry. The sign on the door said it didn’t open until 10 a.m. Huh? A breakfast/lunch/brunch café? Seems to me they’re missing out on some primetime morning traffic, but whatever.

With two small daughters in tow, I knew Katie wouldn’t be able to wait out another half an hour before getting food, so a change of plan steered us in the direction of Taste instead. Until I remembered Good Morning Mama’s as I passed it on 54th St. going west.

An offshoot of the ever-popular Mama Carolla’s Italian restaurant just half a block away, Good Morning Mama’s opened last November and has been enjoying a steady word-of-mouth buzz ever since.

To say this place is shiny and happy is an understatement. It’s sort of a cross between a kitschy 1950s-style diner (complete with jukebox) and Oz, painted in cheery yellow with blue trim. It’s almost too cheery. Like, if you were hungover, headachy and nauseated, it might be a little more than you could handle. Bluebirds appear to be the Good Morning Mama’s mascot; they’re painted on the exterior and flying across banners hanging from the ceiling. I half-expected Snow White to float out of the kitchen to take our order. (No disrespect to our server Barb, who was very friendly and efficient.)

This is not to say the owners don’t have a sense of humor – there is a poster of Michelangelo’s David sculpture on one wall, advertising “sausage sandwiches” by way of a very strategically placed ribbon. Another tongue-in-cheek poster promotes meatballs with two very ample specimens on a platter directly in front of a woman’s bosom.

I ordered a cup of coffee while I waited for Katie to arrive, which proved to be a minor disappointment. To be fair, Mama isn’t a café or coffee shop per se, but I really expected a better cup of Joe from an Italian-themed establishment. Can’t knock them for serving mimosas, but a latte or cappuccino would have been a nice option. And, here’s one of my biggest breakfast joint pet peeves — I HATE it when restaurants expect you to serve yourself creamer from those horrid little half and half packets on the table instead of bringing a little tiny pitcher of something cold and fresh. God knows how long those things sit out every day, and I’m always suspicious of “dairy” products that don’t require refrigeration.

Katie soon rolled in with her adorable entourage of her two-year-old Olivia and infant Audrey, looking the very picture of competent motherhood. After some chair/booster seat arranging, we were settled in and ready to get down to the business of ordering.

Mama’s menu is fairly straightforward – eggs, toast, sausage, pancakes and other traditional breakfast fare, but with an Italian flair. Several items intrigued me, particularly the “eggs in purgatory” simmered in pomodoro sauce with fresh basil, and the “pasta mama” – whole-wheat pasta with scrambled eggs, Parmesan Reggiano and pancetta. Hm. I had a hard time deciding.

I make a ton of omelets and scrambled eggs at home, so I try to order something different when I go out for breakfast or brunch. The java French toast caught my eye; Kahlua-spiked batter and toasted pecans sounded particularly yummy. Realizing I hadn’t eaten biscuits and gravy in God knows how long, that’s what I opted for in the end, with a side of breakfast potatoes and an orange juice. Katie got the plain ol’ French toast (not slagging – that’s what it’s actually called on the menu!), and talked me into sharing an order of the Italian fried biscuits, although to be fair, she didn’t have to do much convincing.

The four golf ball-sized biscuits arrived first, comfortingly warm. If you’ve ever been to one of the speedway suites during the Indy 500 and enjoyed the fried biscuits that Jugg’s Catering serves there, these were very nearly the same thing except rolled in cinnamon sugar. There’s even apple butter in one of the plastic jam/jelly jars on each table for dipping. In short, they were a hit, especially with Olivia, who kept requesting more after every bite.

Our meals followed soon after. My choice was a hearty serving of two fluffy buttermilk biscuits split and drenched with the heavily sausage-studded creamy gravy. It was tasty, but so filling, I couldn’t finish it all. The potatoes were sliced thin and fried crisp with, dare I say it, a hint of onion. Katie and Olivia both seemed to enjoy the French toast.

The place never got crowded while we were there, but there was a steady trickle of customers the entire time. I can imagine it fills up pretty fast on the weekends. The girls were good as gold, and Katie and I were able to enjoy a fairly relaxed and leisurely hour chatting about the joys and perils of mommyhood.

My total bill was a very reasonable $10.90, good value for the amount and quality of food I received. I’ll definitely be back to give it another whirl, and to try that java French toast.

A good morning for mamas, indeed.

Good Morning Mama's Cafe on Urbanspoon

An apple(sauce) a day…

My fabulous friend Laura has recently hired me to cater some continental business breakfasts. For this morning’s event, I wanted to give her something a little more special and seasonal than boring old fruit cups and bagels. After some recipe surfing, I came up with the idea to do pumpkin chocolate chip mini-muffins (told you I was on a pumpkin kick!), and cups of chunky spiced ginger applesauce.

The muffins weren’t any problem, but the applesauce caused a little drama in my kitchen last night. I bought the wrong kind of apples, because once they simmered. they completely dissolved into an unattractive brown mush.

Off to the store to buy more apples, and some beer for hubby. I must have looked a little odd in the 15-items-or-less lane with my bag of green apples and a six-pack of Shinerbock. The guy in line behind me wondered what the heck I was doing with these unlikely ingredients. When I pondered the idea of combining the two into some sort of dessert — baked apples with a reduced sweet beer syrup, he said “Geez, if it were me, I’d just eat the apples and drink the beer!” Pfft. Neanderthal.

Granny Smiths proved the correct choice second time around. I cooked them just until softened along with some dried cranberries, fresh ginger, brown sugar and spices. It was like a chewable mulled cider; if I could only have added a little rum and flamed it, I would have!

I stirred the new apples into the previous mush and it all came together to create just the right degree of chunk. To serve, I put a big scoop of apples in the bottom of clear plastic cups, spread a thin layer of creamy vanilla yogurt over and scattered some toasted chopped pecans on top for crunch. I must say, they looked lovely in the end – like a healthy breakfast sundae, although if you replaced the yogurt with frozen custard or ice cream, it would make a great fall dessert now that I think about it…

See for yourself!

Spicy Applesauce Yogurt Parfaits

Spicy Applesauce Yogurt Parfaits

the single-serving size

the single-serving size

Tiptoe, through the Tulip…

For several weeks now, my friend Alison has been raving about and recommending I try this new cafe called Tulip Noir on 86th Street. When another friend said she’d been there this week and it was great, I decided I’d waited long enough. Hubby and I finally made it up for lunch the other day and I’m pleased to report it IS all that.

The cafe is located in an old My Favorite Muffin joint, but it bears no resemblance to anything so pedestrian or cookie-cutter now. The place has been gutted and is now dressed in shades of calming blues and greens. It’s so clean, it almost feels sterile. Not that this is a bad thing when you’re in a dining establishment. It’s more clean and pristine in a Japanese Zen kind of way – not exactly cozy, but still very soothing and comfortable at the same time.

Tulip Noir is only open for breakfast and lunch. There’s not a ton of seating, so I figured it might be hard to get a table after a rave review published in the current issue of Indianapolis Monthly, but we got there around 1 p.m. and were led to a table immediately, no waiting. They were also very gracious about accommodating us with a high chair, as we had baby in tow.

The first thing my husband noticed was that he was the only man in the place. There definitely is a feminine vibe here; it’s a perfect place for ladies who lunch, especially rich, Carmelite ladies judging from the looks of the clientele. (I predict this place will be packed to the gills on Mother’s Day…)

The owner of Tulip Noir, a former interior designer, has obviously put a lot of thought and creativity into her cafe, and the menu choices reflect her careful attention to detail as much as the decor does. The menu changes seasonally, and all items are organic with a health-conscious spin. This is not to say there is any skimpage on flavor. Au contraire, mon frere. Think Omega-3 egg omelets with spinach, tomato, salsa and cumin; rosemary pepper bacon strips; mini whole-wheat “pan-cakeys” with almonds, bananas, powdered sugar and honey; and a breakfast salad with greens, strawberries and pecans in a citrus vinaigrette. And that’s just the breakfast menu. For lunch, you can choose from soups and salads (every last bite made in-house right down to the fresh dressings); grilled paninis, salads and a whole-wheat veggie quesadilla with avocado sauce.

I was tempted to try to the asparagus mushroom crepe with goat cheese, and the broccoli cauliflower fritters with gorgonzola creme fraiche also caught my eye, but I couldn’t resist ordering the grilled peanut butter sandwich on whole wheat with apple slices and crystallized ginger. It arrived all melty and gooey, as any good grilled sandwich should, with peanut butter oozing out the sides at every bite. It was good, but it could have used a little heavier hand with the apple and ginger. Most bites, all I could taste was P.B. I also got a little bit of mixed green salad alongside my sandwich. I thought fruit might have gone better with the peanut butter, but I wasn’t unhappy with the greens – they were very fresh and the slightly sweet acidic vinaigrette actually cut through the heaviness of the peanut butter quite nicely.

Hubby ordered the lemon garlic chicken ciabatta sandwich with dill, provolone cheese, tomato and avocado sauce; and a side of the same salad that I got. He pronounced it all very tasty.

To drink, we ordered off the fairly extensive tea menu, which breaks down options by caffeine content. There’s also a small selection of coffees, along with spritzers, smoothies and lemonade. I chose a Relaxation Blend tisane, a caffeine-free mix of chamomile and mint leaves that’s steeped just like a tea. In a terribly anti-Irish move, hubby ordered the Old Black Magic coffee, but I promise not to tell his family back home.

Again, no detail is forgotten here. We each received a small taste of the tea of the day – the tropical fruity “I Dream of Maui” – in tiny ceramic cups. When the tea and coffee were delivered to the table, each still brewing in its own small pot and French press respectively, the server also dropped off a ticking electronic egg timer so we’d know exactly when our quaffs had reached the optimal degree of flavor before pouring. Nice. Very nice.

There’s also a really cool tea bar (not a coffee bar, a TEA bar) that looks like something out of Star Trek – a funky modern halfmoon of seats where diners can be fussed over as they watch the mystical concoctions being prepared before their very eyes.

Throughout the meal, our server struck just the right chord – friendly and welcoming without being oversolicitous or insincere.

I wished we’d saved room for dessert. Next time. And there definitely will be a next time.

Tulip Noir,

The chicken and the egg

We have certainly enjoyed some frickin’ fantastic food in the past few days – and homecooked, none the less!

Hubby and I have been trying to cut back on our spending and eat chez dollhouse apartment more often this week. This involves a daily shopping excursion.  The French culture does not dictate stocking up on groceries a week at a time at the nearest Walmart Supercenter or Costco. In fact, les Francais would probably be horrified at such an idea. Here, it’s all about buying what’s freshest and most beautiful from a series of local vendors on any given day. Case in point, this afternoon while shopping for tonight’s dinner, I stopped into no less than four different stores. Each a small specialty vendor and conveniently all on the same stretch of street, it actually makes for a pleasant little shopping experience. Plus, this sneaky way of building more physical activity into the day is one of the reasons I’ve been able to enjoy pastries and cafe cremes every morning of this trip and still feel my pants loosening around the waist. 

First up on my list of stops — the supermarche, as much as it can be called one here, it’s really more like a glorified quick-stop mart. There, I bought toothpaste, baby food and a bottle of wine. The wine shopping here is really kinda ridiculous, in the best possible way. There are the specialty wine vendors up and down the streets who I’m sure sell nice wines, better than supermarket quality in any case. If we lived here, I would seek one out and build a relationship with him, asking his personal advice on what to buy for any given occasion or meal. However, I have had absolutely no problem with the supermarket wines I’ve had here whatsoever. We’re talking about wines on par with anything you’d get back home for more than a tenner and up. Only here, they cost about $3 or $4 a bottle. NICE. 

Next stop was the butcher for one of those aromatic temptress rotisserie chickens we’ve been admiring since we got here. At 10 euros a pop, this bird was a little pricier than the rotisserie chickens you’d get back home, but whatever. We couldn’t spend two weeks here and not try one. Then came a jaunt into the fresh produce corner stand for some super-skinny haricot verts (petite green beans), which set me back about $2. A final run into the boulangerie for the evening’s baguette (about a dollar) and a big slice of mouthwatering pear charlotte cake for hubby and I to split for our dessert. Et voila. The evening meal. It may get old shopping this way every single day, but for now, it’s really quite interesting, educational and fun.

When I got home and unpacked the groceries, hubby and I decided to walk out with the baby for a pre-dinner beverage at Cafe Rempart on the corner. Hubby’s been here a couple times lately and is becoming something of a regular. The guys who work there recognize him now and are jovial and friendly to us, a comforting bonus in a city legendary for its rudeness. I’m always sort of surprised when the locals aren’t complete jerks to us, but then again, we are making an effort to speak the language. From what I can tell, it’s all about your attitude. Paris is a perfect place to fake it ’til you make it. Even if you’re not in the inner circle, if you can act like you belong there just as much as anyone else, chances are you’ll do just fine. 

After two glasses of wine for me (my first white of the trip – a fragrant light Sancerre) and a couple beers for hubby, we returned to the apartment where I heated up the chicken, boiled the green beans for a few minutes until tender and topped them with a small spoonful of butter and a light sprinkling of salt, sliced some baguette and cheese and threw it all onto the tiny table. Delicious. The chicken was every bit as juicy and tasty as we’d imagined it would be, and the green beans succulent, cooked just to al dente.


me cooking in the dollhouse kitchen!

me cooking in the dollhouse kitchen!


Again, the French culture seems to dictate that less is more in these instances. When you start out with quality ingredients right from the get-go, they are already so delicious that they really don’t need much, if any, adornment to maximize their full potential.


who'd eat KFC when you could have this??

who'd eat KFC when you could have this??


Last night’s dinner was another example. Hubby did the shopping and came home with some farm fresh eggs and ham for an omelet. (With the requisite baguette, of course. Natch). With only two small temperamental electric burners on the cooktop, one big-ass pan and no spatula to work with, I must admit I was a little nervous about how it would all work out. I had some mushroom and zucchini left over from our pasta dinner the night before, so I sauteed it all up with some ham and shredded some lovely Emmentaler cheese for the omelet. The eggs themselves were huge with gorgeous bright sunshiny yellow yolks. I cracked four into a bowl with just the lightest splash of milk and whipped it all together. 

Having discovered that the best way to work the cooktop is to crank both burners up to high and hope for the best, I got the pan as close as I could to steaming, then dumped in the eggs. They cooked slowly, but seemed to set up just fine and by the time I scattered on the fillings and folded the whole concoction in two steps, the omelet looked great! I was thrilled. The end result – YUM. 

I don’t know if it’s the French methods of cultivation or what, but simple food items are so much more flavorful than the same versions back home. The eggs and the chicken are perfect examples. They both are so flavorful, I don’t know how to describe it. It’s like they are a much more authentic version of themselves. I’m sure mass production and FDA requirements take something away from the end product in America, as well as our penchant for drowning foods in salt, butter, ketchup, gravy and whatever else we can get our hands on. All I know is that the eggs here in France are the most delicious I’ve ever had. Hubby and I have agreed to try the omelet again this weekend with a little cheese as the only accompaniment. Again, I have no doubt that simple is the way to go to ensure a stellar result.

Paris, part deux

Last night’s dinner came courtesy of a bistro right next door to Miss Manon (alas, I was remiss and forgot to note the name. Duh.) It was a dark, cozy little place. Really, all Parisian bistros are dark, cozy little places… Little being a key word. People here must not dine out with their kids very often. In fact, I haven’t seen any in the past few nights that I can recall. Hence the lack of stroller parking space. We wedged the baby in a tiny spot next to our table, the poor man behind us couldn’t have gotten out if he’d wanted to.

Fortunately, what the bistro lacked in space, it more than made up for in cuisine. Hubby proclaimed he wasn’t very hungry and ordered a tomato mozzarella salad, which turned out to be very generous in size. I was pretty famished and ordered half a roast chicken that came drenched in a delicious oniony jus. It also entailed a side of crispy and perfect pomme frites (that’s fries to you and me).  

Hubby did his best to balance baby-wrangling and eating dinner, and did a fairly good job. I’m sure he was ready to call it quits as soon as I finished, but I couldn’t resist dessert and requested a creme brulee. Hubby swears he doesn’t like sweets and could care less about creme brulee, but even he pronounced it tasty. It was an ideal version – a crunchy crust of burnt sugar that belied a deceptively light custard beneath. Even the baby got a taste, and quickly opened his mouth again as soon as he’d swallowed, anticipating more.

Hubby took off early this morning on an overnight business trip to Norway, leaving baby and I to fend for ourselves today. We slept in until 8:15, then made our way back to Miss Manon for a repeat of yesterday’s petit dejeuner. I figure, why mess with a good thing?

I braved a visit to the produce stand on the way back to the apartment, purchasing tomatoes, apples and some gorgeously ripe strawberries to round out the stash of baguette, cheese and yogurt back home. Lunch ended up being a bowlful of said berries and a small yogurt-ish hazelnut mousse hubby had stocked in the fridge from a previous shop.

The afternoon consisted of walking, walking, and more walking. Nearly two hours worth nonstop to be exact. I got a little lost on the way back, but knew I was headed in the right direction and eventually found my way back into familiar territory. Paris is really not that hard to find your way around. Sooner or later, you either run into the Seine, or come across a convenient arrow pointing you toward a major attraction. 

At dinner time, I ventured round the corner to see what I could find on the Place de Bastille, having gone only the other direction thus far. The first cross street I came to served up Cafe des Phares, looking busy and vibrant.

I snagged a perch just inside the door in the corner and was supremely proud I managed to handle the entire transaction in French (including asking if they had space to accommodate the stroller – right on!) The crowd at the outdoor tables looked fairly young, but at the table next to me, I eavesdropped on a sexy shaggy gray-haired man having some sort of business meeting with a quiet, polite Japanese man, conducted in English. Turns out shaggy is a pianist (I had gathered he was some sort of musician based on the conversation), a native of Denmark living in Paris, but moving soon to Los Angeles. The manager of the cafe also stopped by my table to flirt with the baby, and we ended up having a nice little chat about the American and European economies. God, I was grateful to have not one but two actual conversations with the locals that centered on something other than ordering food! 

Speaking of the food, my dinner at Cafe des Phares was a glass of red wine, a small complementary dish of black olives dusted with what appeared to be herbes de provence, two hot-off-the-grill crepes filled with ham and cheese, and a small mixed lettuce salad. All tasty and just the right amount of food.

No sooner had I placed my order than a suspicious odor wafted my way from the stroller. Baby has had a hard time adjusting to the French food or the French water or something. In any case, I realized he’d just shit himself for the fourth time today. Seeing as how I was there by myself and didn’t want to leave my belongings unattended, I had no idea where the restroom was or if it would even accommodate a diaper change, and I was starving, I was a bad mommy. I simply covered baby up with his blanket to muffle the smell and hope the nice gentlemen next to us wouldn’t notice. 

On the way back, I made a quick pit stop into the boulangerie for a treat. After roughly three total hours of walking today, I figure I’ve earned one, and I wanted to get a croissant for breakfast tomorrow. The selections were all tempting, but I finally chose a small chocolate tart that looked positively sinful. It was so rich, I could only eat half of it.  

People visit their local boulangers here pretty much daily to stock up on fresh bread and pastries. You’ll see folks of all ages and social status toting their baguettes under their arms throughout the day, readying for the next meal. And tonight, I was one of them!