On our Just Folks questionnaire, we end by asking all of our respondents to make one final choice: Bagels or biscuits? It’s an important question when trying wade through your Southernness and your New York-ness, and a person’s answer can speak volumes about their identity on a cultural and personal level. It also brings me to the topic at hand: breakfast. As the cliché goes, it’s the most important meal of the day (I would argue it’s also the best, because eggs…and cheese, and bacon, and bread, etc). Breakfast has so many forms, changing with our tastes as we age or relocate. It can say a lot about a person, how you choose to kick off your daily culinary journey — who you’re going to be that day, how you’re going to approach the world, where you are in life. With that in mind, here are six breakfasts I’ve eaten.
French Toast Casserole and Scrambled Eggs on a Long Wooden Dining Table; Louisville, KY: Once or twice a semester, our school cafeteria would have Breakfast Day. In my personal opinion, these were the best days of the year. It was the one day that I would look forward to our school-provided hot lunch. This was a time before we all figured out that you could eat breakfast food whenever, and no one would bat an eye. Our dining room — yes, we called it the dining room not the cafeteria — was lined with long tables made of dark wood and chairs too large to fit around them. We ate family-style in grade school, passing scrambled eggs back and forth and learning our table manners. I ate at those same tables for thirteen years, and I think about it every time I eat breakfast food not for breakfast. It still feels a little like a treat, like I’m not really supposed to be doing it.
Syrup-Drenched Pancakes on a Tan Plastic Plate; Brevard, NC: Camp meals are the best — both Zelda and I will extol to you the merits of being able to make a whole room break out into song over pancakes (or in her case, crêpes). My last summer at camp, my cabin, as the oldest campers, was basically in charge of starting the day. We’d get to the dining hall early, set up all the bright green painted tables with tan plastic plates and cutlery that was bent and twisted in every direction from years of use. We’d ring the bell to call the rest of the camp to eat and lead them through many choruses of song, banging on tables and playing the cups long before Anna Kendrick. A week later, when we had to cover for the CIT’s who usually did the dishes, I’d curse people (like me) who had no regard for the people that cleaned that plate and poured their syrup with reckless abandon. I loved Rockbrook, but I never loved it more than at breakfast — teenage and preteen girls singing at the top of their lungs at eight in the morning.
Bacon, Sausage, Eggs, Biscuits and Gravy on a Salvaged Wood Dining Table; Snowmass, CO: My mom and I used to go skiing every spring with her two best friends, Carol and Dave, and their daughter, Taylor. One year, my grandparents went with us. It was an exciting trip, and while the most impressive story to come out of that trip is my grandma riding in a dumbwaiter, my favorite bit was on the final full day when we gathered around the dining table for what we like to call a “Horty” breakfast. That’s the full Southern breakfast fixin’s, most importantly biscuits and gravy. There’s nothing quite like biscuits and gravy to bring people together: There’s a reason they call it soul food.
Sourdough Cinnamon Toast, standing on a Linoleum Kitchen Floor; Norris Lake, TN: My mother’s parents lived on a branch of Norris Lake just outside of Tazwell, Tennessee. It was four-ish hours from Louisville, and we drove down at least one weekend every summer. My grandmother, Gaga, would make sourdough bread from scratch before we came down to visit. Being at the lake always made me wake up with the sun, but somehow Gaga was always up before me, up before everyone. My room was off the long narrow kitchen. When she heard the creak of my door, she’d cut two slices of the new loaf, add butter and cinnamon, and fill the house with amazing smells that never ceased during our time there.
A Spinach, Bacon, and Red Onion Omelet in a Lime Green Chair; Towson, MD: The omelet station in the main dining hall was always crowded. Every time we’d get to brunch, no matter how early, there was always a long line. Except for once. One magical day, I saw a glorious opening. Seizing it, I got myself a fresh omelet without having to totally miss out on having brunch with my friends. Truly, it was one of the finest food-based achievements of my college career, second only to my triumph conquering the Monday before Thanksgiving meal. The result from both was the same: sitting around vaguely IKEA-esque tables with my cohort, gorging ourselves on the unlimited food the meal plan provided, eating off hangovers, and laughing loud.
A Corn Muffin and a Can of Diet Coke standing on the B38 Bus; Brooklyn New York: Breakfast in New York isn’t as glamorous as Audrey Hepburn makes it look. We can’t all sip our coffee and eat a croissant outside Tiffany’s as the sun rises. My commute is longer here, and like most people I often use that extended time to do things I couldn’t do if I was driving — like eat breakfast. I usually just stuff a muffin or a banana in my bag and grab a can of Diet Coke before heading out the door and end up eating it on the bus or over my desk when I get to work. Not the most exciting or unique meal, but it’s still indicative of a time and a place and who I am right now. I like where I’m at in my life, for the most part, and if that means breakfast is a literal balancing act, then so be it. I’ll have time to scramble eggs later.