If breakfast is indeed "the most important meal of the day," then Cleveland diners can consider themselves better off in 2014 than they were last year. Over the past few months, two new eateries have entered the all-important breakfast-all-day category, providing both early and not-so-early risers with a great reason to get the hell out of bed.
Within days of each other, Jack Flaps and Hotspot Café opened their doors in Ohio City and downtown, respectively. Both offer breakfast all day, which in both cases happens to be from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. But that's where the similarities end.
Hotspot returns quality breakfast and lunch fare to the attractive dining room near Progressive Field that has housed its share of both long- and short-lived establishments. Juniper Grille thrived there for seven years before Verve took over for a brief, but tasty phase. Carnegie Kitchen was putting out good food and doing decent business before changing hands and quickly going downhill.
Far from being "cursed," the centrally located restaurant with easy, free parking just needs reliable leadership putting out consistent, value-driven food.
From where I sit, it looks like Hotspot is doing just that. The month-old cafe is run by CIA-trained chef William Davis, one of the brother-partners who ran the high-quality deli Appetite on Mayfield Road in Lyndhurst. That café closed last year after six years in business.
"We're a little bit nicer than what you would get at a typical breakfast and lunch place," Davis told me before he opened, and that's precisely what I experienced during my visits. In fact, I'd go so far as to say "it's a lot nicer" than most diners. The food, service and setting all are rungs above the typical greasy spoon.
The corned beef hash ($8.95) is stellar, with heaps of tender, thin-sliced corned beef tossed with roasted potatoes and topped with three perfectly cooked over-easy eggs — cage free, no less. It comes with two slices of buttered toast. For south of $6 you can score a breakfast plate loaded with three eggs, sausage or bacon, home fries and toast. A warm breakfast burrito ($7.95) is filled with scrambled eggs, avocado and roasted potatoes. Salsa and sour cream come on the side.
A small display case offers house-baked scones, muffins and cro-nuts: croissant donuts that currently are all the rage.
Hotspot doesn't stop at eggs: lunch items range from deftly seasoned chicken noodle soup ($3.95) with huge pieces of roast chicken to big, fresh and garlicky Caesar salads ($6.95) with crisp croutons. Grilled chicken or salmon can be added to a few salads to elevate them to main course status.
Half-pound Certified Angus Beef burgers ($8.95) come with fries or pasta salad. The "World's Greatest Sandwich" ($9.95), an import from Davis' Appetite days, is a two-fisted beast with folds of sweet honey ham, Swiss and mustard on a toasted pretzel bun. The "Hotspot," by the way, refers to the free Wi-Fi and tabletop charging stations.
Just two miles down the road, Jack Flaps takes a nontraditional approach to breakfast. Run by Randy Carter, who for the past three years worked alongside Eric Williams at Momocho, the small, funky, seat-yourself café is anything but ordinary. Set in the former home of Palookaville Chili, the 40-seat café is more attractive and better laid out than its short-lived predecessor.
The surprisingly lengthy menu is divvied into sections for jackflaps, waffles, eggy bread and alternatives. None of them are your basic Denny's-style platter. The Cracker Jackflaps ($9.50), for example, consists of a pair of fluffy pancakes studded with bits of buttered popcorn, topped with crushed peanuts and drizzled with salted caramel sauce. Like many of the items on the eclectic menu, it's texturally compelling and on the sweet side. Also sweet and crunchy is the Fat Elvis ($10), a mammoth gluten-free waffle dotted with gooey peanut butter, sliced banana and crunchy nuggets of something called bacon praline.
If savory is more your speed, order up the crab Benedict ($12.50), a kind of surf-and-turf smorgasbord with loose crab cakes, sautéed greens, pork belly and sunny side-up eggs. It's smoky, spicy and succulent. Speaking of spicy: Make sure you request the housemade hot sauce.
The S.O.S. ($7) — aka Shit on a Shingle — swaps creamed beef brisket with fat chunks of tender beef, for the customary and cheap chipped beef. The whole mess is ladled over wide slices of toasted challah bread.
Jack Flaps is selling the best bacon ($3) in town right now, thick slices of melt-in-your-mouth pork belly, which has been slow braised in Coca-Cola. For something a little different, tack on an order of the Spam Scrapple ($5.50), hefty wedges of firm polenta packed with chunks of Spam.
If you hit Jack Flaps between 1 and 3 p.m., all pancake dishes are just $5 each in honor of happy hour. Until the beer license comes online, drinks will be limited to City Roast coffee, tea and fun sodas like Boylan's Birch Beer and Yoo-hoo.