Smith Street Diner (Greensboro NC)

When Glenn and I moved to Greensboro, we wasted no time finding our favorite greasy spoon. Smith Street Diner’s meat/starch/carb breakfast combos and bottomless cups of coffee were our Sunday morning savior after many a long Saturday night. We raved about it so much that friends would insist that we take them to “the giant biscuit place” when they visited.

Smith Street Diner is a popular breakfast joint located in downtown Greensboro on Battleground Avenue. The diner serves oversized biscuits, omelets, bowls of oatmeal, and other typical breakfast fare. Their home-cooked comfort food is well worth the wait.

Details:
Smith Street Diner
438 Battleground Avenue
Greensboro NC 27401
(336) 379-8666
Tuesday — Saturday, 6:30 a.m. — 8:00 p.m.
Monday & Sunday, 6:30 a.m. — 2:30 p.m.

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The Eggs

I used to fear that all egg casseroles were alike — a dozen eggs, a pound of sausage, a couple cups of cheese, a few slices of torn up bread. Nine recipes later, I know that you can achieve a wide variety of flavors and textures in your baked eggs. Both of the dishes I made for my birthday brunch were new to me and both were exquisite.

This Spinach and Cheese Strata was spongy and light, more like a bread pudding than an egg casserole. It required very little prep work, was easy to assemble, chilled overnight, and went straight into the oven in the morning. I probably baked it ten minutes longer than necessary, but it was very forgiving. I thought the browned edges were a nice contrast to the spongy center.

This was my first attempt at quiche, so I searched high and low for the perfect recipe. Every blogger I consulted told her own story of quiche disaster — broken shells and overflowing custards. I was a little put off, but still determined. I opened up the Joy of Cooking and, of course, that’s where I should have started. As usual, Joy gave it’s firm instructions on how to make the perfect quiche followed by several variations. The trick to making a quiche turn out is pre-baking the shell so that it stays brown and flaky even after you pour in the custard. After rolling the dough out and placing it in the pan, we covered the shell with aluminum foil and filled it with rice to weigh it down. After it baked for about fifteen minutes, we removed the rice and foil, brushed it with a beaten egg, and baked it for ten minutes more. Then the shell was ready to fill and bake. It was sort of an ordeal, but well worth it.

Quiche Lorraine

one 9 1/2″ pie crust
1 egg, beaten

4 slices of bacon, chopped into small pieces
1 thick slice of ham, cut into small cubes
1 cup of shredded Gruyere
1/2 cup of sliced red onion
3 eggs
1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
1/4 tsp nutmeg
salt and freshly ground pepper

Roll out the pie crust and fit it into a 9 1/2″ pie pan. Weigh it down with pie weights or cover with aluminum foil and fill with rice . Bake at 375 for 15 minutes. Remove weights (or foil and rice – rice can be reserved for later use). Brush crust with beaten egg. Bake for 10 more minutes or until golden brown.

Fry bacon until cooked, but not crispy. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Add ham and onion to the bacon grease and fry until the ham is browned and onions are softened. Remove the ham and onions and drain.

Beat 3 eggs with the cream, nutmeg, salt, and pepper.

Once the crust is baked, spread the bacon, ham, onions, and cheese in the bottom of the shell. Pour the beaten eggs over the top. Bake at 375 for about an hour.

Biscuits and Gravy

I have failed at making biscuits and gravy many, many more times than I’ve succeeded. However, after making two good batches in a row (never mind that they were almost a year apart), I don’t believe I’ll ever fail again. You can see success number one over here and success number two above. I now know the secret to thickening gravy.

The secret to making thick and flavorful gravy is making a good roux. To make the roux, combine equal parts fat and flour in a large pan (preferably cast iron). One tablespoon each of fat and flour per person ought to do it. If you want stay-where-you-put-it gravy, you can add more flour a spoonful at a time until the grease won’t absorb it. Then cook the mixture until it is a deep brown color. Then add the liquid and stir slowly and constantly. If you’re a worry wart, you can spend the next twenty minutes agonizing over whether or not the gravy will turn out. But there’s really no need to worry — if you’ve done your work up front with the roux, the gravy will always turn out.

Breakfast Gravy:
1 lbs country sausage
2 Tb fat (from sausage or bacon)
2 Tb flour
2 cups milk

Brown the sausage in a large pan. Cook it slowly over a low heat to render the most fat.

After the sausage is cooked, remove it from the pan with a slotted spoon or spatula and save it for later.

Asses how much grease you have. You can either eyeball it or pour it into a small liquid measure. If you don’t have enough grease, add some bacon grease (presumably you have a jar of it in your refrigerator).

Add the flour to the grease. Cook over low heat until the clumps are stirred out and the mixture is brown. If necessary, add more flour to achieve a more pasty consistency.

Stirring constantly, slowly pour in the milk. Bring the mixture to a very gentle simmer. In fact, it may not form bubbles because you’ll be stirring the entire time. Cook until the gravy thickens, stirring to prevent the bottom from burning or the top from scumming. It could take 30 minutes to thicken.

Salt and pepper the gravy generously, stir in the sausage, and serve over biscuits.

Potato Pancakes

It’s fitting that the ketchup is the only thing in focus in this picture. That also seemed to be the focus of the conversation, Ketchup?! How Midwestern! and These latkes are great, but next time you should try them with sour cream and applesauce. I tried to avoid any great expectations by calling them Potato Pancakes, but maybe I should have introduced them as Hash Brown Bites. Oh well. At least everyone seemed to appreciate the potato part of the dish (they even received the Jewish seal of approval from one friend).

There were three key aspects to making the Potato Pancakes nice and crispy. First of all, as I learned from my brother, moisture is the enemy of crispiness, so you really have to drain the potatoes. After shredding the potatoes in the food processor, I used cheesecloth to squeeze out all the excess water (and there was a lot of it). Secondly, nothing works better for frying than cast iron. I used my new two-burner griddle, but a cast iron frying pan would work just as well (just not as fast). Finally, I reheated the potato pancakes in the oven before serving them, which added some additional firmness.

These were an easy to make and easy to eat — the perfect combination for any brunch buffet.

Hash Browns

Glenn is quickly becoming the master of breakfast. First pancakes, then waffles, now hash browns. If he ever figures out how to fry an over easy egg, I’ll be able to stay in bed.

What made these hash browns so great? Glenn used real potatoes. The real potatoes not only had a better flavor than frozen ones, but they also had a much better texture. Getting your hash browns nice and crispy can be difficult.

When my brother takes a bag of Ore Ida potatoes out of the freezer, he always says, Moisture is the enemy of crispiness. Then he goes through an elaborate process of defrosting the potatoes in the microwave and laying them out to dry on paper towels before frying or baking them. I can agree that the drier the potato, the crispier the hash browns, but I think there’s a simpler way. Just peel a potato, grate it in a food processor, drain it in a salad spinner, and toss it in a pan with some oil.

I wish I were eating these for breakfast right now.

Apple Season

I missed apple season by a long shot, but I still managed to squeeze in these two Smitten Kitchen recipes. The best thing about these dishes is that they don’t taste like every other cinnamony, sugary, appley pie and crisp that we eat so much of all fall. I like a good apple pie as much as the next guy, but every once in a while it’s nice for the apples to step aside and make room for some other flavors.

The top picture is of Breakfast Apple Granola Crisp. This is much more like applesauce with a granola bar on top than an apple crisp, which makes a fine breakfast.

The second picture is of Raisin-Studded Apple Bread Pudding. I like to think of it as a desert stuffing, but maybe I still have the Stuffing Project on the brain. It doesn’t have the custard-like consistency of a bread pudding or breakfast casserole, which is fine by me.

So if you’re in denial about winter (I would hardly call the ice on my windshield this morning a frost), then whip up one of these.

Pancakes

It really annoys me when I see people using pancake mix. –Mark Bittman

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Me, too. I’ll spare you my rant and let you hear it from the man himself. Watch this video and you will instantly fall in love with Mark Bittman and with pancakes from scratch.

Once you’ve got the hang of it, the variations are endless. Like really, really thin pancakes? Add more milk. Like thick, cake-like pancakes? Add more baking soda. Try syrup instead of sugar. Try buttermilk instead of regular milk. Add some vanilla. The real question is: will you eat them as they come off the griddle or keep them in a warmer and eat them when they’re all cooked?