"I am not a great cook, I am not a great
artist, but I love art, and I love food, so I am
the perfect traveller."
- Michael Palin
The mark of any decent city in America, any decent destination for that matter, is the local breakfast hangout.
With no disrespect to Applebee's, Denny's or even the venerated Cracker Barrel, the best breakfasts are served up in small, usually one-off greasy spoons which have been around for years. He owner still works behind the counter or -- under the best of circumstances -- the grill. And the grill has flavors built up over decades, not hours.
The menu is basic. Eggs. Toast. Multiple omelette options, usually including a straight-ahead cheese option. The coffee is hot and usually whatever brand imay be the cheapest, but the pale off-white cup is constantly refilled. Water is served in either a plastic cup or styrofoam. The most recent innovation is the breakfast burrito, or if you're lucky chorizo and eggs (with tortillas for a do-it-yourselfer burrito).
Tables are chipped with years of use. An aluminum napkin dispenser sits against the wall or backside of the counter, dispensing the white three-fold variety. The placemat is paper. The silverware may match. Or maybe not.
Coffee cups are plain off white, though in very rare cases will be mugs from other local businesses. Ketchup and sugar are always on the table, as are little rectangular jelly packets. Tabasco is available for the asking.
Hash Browns are slightly greasy and crispy. And proportionally massive. If they don't cover at least a third of the plate, they're doing it wrong. Tater tots are acceptable, as are "breakfast potatoes" if crisp. (Mushy potatoes need not apply.)
Toast comes in three types: white, wheat and sourdough. Nobody ever orders the wheat. Two slices, buttered and cut diagonally. Medium scorch.
Breakfast meats are well done. Crispy. Bacon, sausage and ham. Jimmy Dean if possible. Hamburger patties if you're watching your waistline. No sauces, and especially nothing called "Eggs Fillintheblank". Benedict. Florentine. Manhattan. Nor will you see the words "casserole", "fritatta", "bake" or "soufflé". Eggs are eggs. Scrambled, over easy or sunny side up. Omelets. Cheese, Denver, or meat.
The waitresses -- not to be sexist, but rarely do you find men anywhere but the grill in these places -- are of two types: young, chirpy women in their twenties...or more seasoned ladies who will refer to any patron, regardless of age, gender or race, as "hon". They are in charge, and it is their work that keeps the tables clean, the food warmly delivered and the coffee mug filled.
You will find that many are the chain restaurants who want to do this right. And if all else fails, they're better than starving.
But for a true American breakfast experience, go where the locals go: your neighborhood hole in the wall eggs place. Nothing else even comes close.