As a shiftless 20-something I spent a calendar of mornings at Fog City Diner---or Tasty Food, as you may choose to recall---leaning into the unwaveringly comfortable, dilapidated booths, drinking cup after cup of shitty coffee. I'd read magazines, do crossword puzzles and push fluffy pieces of omelet around my plate in montage-worthy marathon breakfasts. Kelsey Grammer looked on from above, a fedora'd guardian angel in a glossy headshot, watching over my coffee cup, making sure it stayed full.
Those were heady days for diner-based breakfast culture in Halifax: Tasty Food shored up the south end, while the North End Diner stood sentinel on Gottingen.
After all these years, crummy coffee is still the great unifier for diners and breakfast joints. Cup after shallow cup of warmed-through bitterness is tossed back at breakfast, quality shrugged off in a sleepy, caffeine-starved rejection of standards. So it makes sense that my first taste at Nena's All Day Breakfast is the coffee ($2.25). And, yep, it's terrible.
In my first trip to Nena's, along with my cup of watery joe, my friend Mark and I both got the steak and eggs ($10.95). They, unlike the coffee, were great. My steak, a long thin cut, was cooked a decent medium-rare, and very well-seasoned. The plate was finished with a mound of tiny, crisp home fries, eggs---over easy, soft with runny yolks and a little bit of golden crispness around the edges---and a couple of slices of floppy toast.
I return with Rachelle for another breakfast-for-lunch. We're given a friendly greeting and grab a table.
I order the Nena's Choice ($8.95)---a standard breakfast with two eggs, bacon, sausage, home fries, and toast---while Rachelle gets the scrambioli ($9.95), an egg scramble with salsa. We order a side of maple beans ($1.55) to share, and then, with a simple question, Jesus---or maybe Kelsey Grammer ---takes the wheel.
"What is the cheese pancake?"
Our server laughs and says "cheese" was a typo---not even a typo, a flat-out mistake. She has no idea how the word got there, but there it was, there it is and there it stays. Curiousity turned it into a hit: she says there's a host of regulars who come specifically for the pancake. I order one. ($1.70)
We're twiddle our thumbs for a while as our server briefly disappears. The curious head of the chef peeks out, looking for her, as our plates sit in the window. After a few minutes she breezes back in, and the plates are delivered.
Though the plates have cooled, the eggs are cooked well, bright yellow yolks spill into the golden pile of home fries. The bacon is crisp and the cases of the sausages give a subtle pop when you bite into them. The toast is, again, soggy.
Rachelle enjoys her scramble, to which she chose to add diced green pepper, onion and ham to, along with the salsa that is cooked into it. I personally like a creamier, custard-y scramble. She adds hot sauce to add a little more life since there is sadly no additional salsa on the side.
The maple beans are a nice addition to both plates. They're overcooked, bordering on mush, but have a savoury depth to the flavour that makes them irresistible.
The single, fluffy pancake has melted cheddar pooling on top of it. Add syrup and it hits that same wrongheaded spot on your tastebuds as the embarrassingly delectable McGriddle. It's even better with a bite of sausage on the same fork. It is the Sheryl Crow of pancakes: it is my favourite mistake.
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