Monday, July 13, 2009

Shakespeare Said It Best, "What's in a name?"

"That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet."

Sometimes a name becomes so synonymous with an experience that merely mentioning it immediately evokes sense memories from the past. When I heard back in January that the Big Egg would be re-opening its doors under new management, I was both excited and leery. At the time, I had just experienced what the owners of the newly re-opened Euclid Tavern had done to both the interior of the bar and the menu itself. Suffice it to say, I was wholly unimpressed. Not so much because I expected the revamped "Euc" to be exactly like the one from my college days, but because the food was just, well, bad. In fact, my dining companions at the time who were both contemporaries of mine at Case Western also agreed that not only did the new "Euc" not succeed in capturing the essence of the old "Euc", but whomever was running the kitchen needed a serious lesson in how to make tasty food. But enough about the Euclid Tavern.

The Big Egg, located at the corner of West 52nd and Detroit near downtown Cleveland, had been a staple of late-night, post-drinking pit stops for a number of years while in college. We always managed to convince one of our friends to remain sober enough while out at the bars to drive us there afterward with the promise of a free meal. Considering how cheap the food was back in the early nineties, this wasn't exactly an expensive offer to make. Heck, even I volunteered to get a few free meals by sobering up in time for the bars to close.

The Big Egg was one of those places you went to at 3 am not because the food was excellent or the atmosphere was refined. Let's be honest with ourselves, gentle reader, and call a spade a spade. We were there because we were hungry, the food was cheap, and the coffee was neverending. It helped that there were a whole cast of characters who worked there that made a visit as much about being entertained as getting fed. The waitresses were a trip ... they'd serve you that initial cup 'o Joe and then disappear for what seemed like an eternity. In desperation, a guest would often get up and walk over to the coffee pot station to pick up a freshly brewed pot. Walking around various tables refreshing peoples' cups was a wonderful way to share a little love with fellow diners. Hopefully you returned the now empty pot to its roost before the waitress walked around the corner, lest you suffer the talkin'-to that it was her job and not yours to refill coffee cups. "Well," you'd hear them stammer, "you were gone and we needed a refill."

Sadly, or depending on how you look at it, not-so-sadly, the health board shut the Big Egg down after I graduated from Case. Hell, we all knew it was bound to happen. While I personally never saw any creepy-crawly critters during my visits, I wasn't exactly in the clearest of mindsets while gracing their doorstep. I think it may have reopened once after that initial shutdown, but eventually, the original owners sold it off. Several restaurants (one of them Vietnamese in fact) opened up in the same spot, but nothing ever seemed to catch on. Earlier this year, I got a whiff of the fact that someone was going to open up a diner-style restaurant in the old Big Egg space and actually call it the Big Egg (Big Egg Family Restaurant to be more specific). With hours that were more suitable to us older, respectable folk, I figured that the rag-tag cowboy days of old were long gone.

As I was driving home from Avon Lake tonight right around dinner time, I got the craving for brinner. Or deakfast. Or brupper. Hmmm. Anyway you slice it, I was in the mood for breakfast food at dinner time. As I was getting close to downtown Cleveland at that point, the thought of trying the Big Egg popped into my head. I consulted the Google Maps on my G1 phone and within minutes, I pulled into the nicely repaved parking lot behind the restaurant. While there is still a back entrance available directly from the parking lot, I walked around to the front of the building and took a shot of the marquee that is visible from Detroit Avenue:

I walked in the front door and was pleasantly surprised to find the same beat-up old screen door from days gone by. I pushed through and seated myself at a surprisingly empty restaurant (it was Saturday night at 6:30 PM when I arrived). My server arrived quickly at my table with a menu. Here is the front of the menu:

While obviously not the classic Big Egg menu, at least it paid homage to the old one in shape alone. I mentioned to my server that I had been a big fan of the old incarnation of the restaurant and asked if anything on the menu was a holdover from that time. Sadly, or not-so-sadly, she replied, "No." When I opened the menu, I was very surprised to find not only menu items that were reminiscent of the old Big Egg, but a lot of new items that convinced me that the new owner must have a certain Mediterranean worldliness about him. There were alot of Greek and Middle Eastern dishes that I definitely don't remember from the original menu. Kabobs, stuffed cabbage, gyros, dolmades, fatosh salde, hummus, and chicken paprikash to be exact. In addition, there were a number of other traditional diner foods like meatloaf and fried fish available. The menu isn't exactly small, but it isn't unmanageable either.

However, I had come to the Big Egg for what it was known for in its hayday, the breakfasts. On the back of the menu is a list of the breakfast items that are served all day:

I decided on a bacon and cheese omelet with hash browns and rye toast for my dinner for $4.79! Amazing! While waiting for my order to come out, I snapped a photograph of the daily special:

Ummm ... chicken paprikash. That sounded really good. So good, in fact, that I decided to get an order of it to go. I haven't tasted it yet as of this blog entry, but if it is as good as my omelet was, I am in for a real treat. After what seemed like only minutes (like I mentioned before, the place was surprisingly empty during a Saturday night dinner service), I received this beautiful plate of food:

And a slightly closer shot of the hash browns and the bacon and cheese omelet:

This was perfection on a plate. Both the eggs and the hash browns were seasoned perfectly. The omelet had a nice distribution of eggs, cooked bacon, and American cheese on top. Sometimes omelet cooks can get a little overzealous and smother the eggs with cheese. In this case, there was the perfect amount of cheese on top; enough to lend some salt and creaminess, but not so much that it took over the flavor. Needless to say, I ate the entire thing. The hash browns ... oh, my, those incredible hash browns. Cracking into the crispy top layer was similar to taking your spoon and cracking through the caramelized sugar layer of an expertly done creme brulee. They literally crackled when struck with my fork. Crispy on the outside and super creamy and potato-y on the underside, they were an exquisite example of textural contrasts. Dressed simply with a little bit of ketchup on top to add some sweet and tang, this was a real powerhouse of flavor. The only way these could've been better was if they had just a bit of cracked pepper on top of them. But I realize that even that is asking a little much from a simple diner.

Along with my omelet and hash browns, I received an order of toast. Here is a shot of my rye toast, liberally slathered from the kitchen with margarine:

The margarine is actually on the inside of those two stacks of marvelously toasted rye. So often when you order rye toast in diner joints, the result is a brittle, dessicated piece of bread more suited to Melba Toast than actual toast. The problem, as I've managed to ascertain over the years, is that rye bread just doesn't sell as fast as white or whole wheat. Thus when you start with stale bread and then toast it, what you end up with is simply unappetizing. This toast, however, was very well done. The outside was nice and crispy and the inside still had a wonderful bit of freshness and chew to it. While I wish it wasn't served slathered in margarine, that's one thing I can live with if I can get this kind of freshness. Topped with a little grape jam, this was a wonderful accompaniment to my omelet.

While I wasn't planning on having dessert, my "to go" order actually came with one as long as I was dining in the restaurant. In a strange bit of serendipity, my server approached me and said that if I wanted the free dessert (which comes with most entrees, including my chicken paprikash), I was more than welcome to it. My choices were the homemade rice pudding, a scoop of vanilla ice cream, or a scoop of chocolate ice cream. After seeing the various Mediterranean specialties on the menu, you can guess which one I picked:

When my server sat this down in front of me, the heady scent of cinnamon absolutely overwhelmed my olfactory senses. Generally speaking, this was a nice rice pudding. It was sweet without being overly so. The cinnamon was a nice supporting flavor. However, this wasn't my favorite version of this treat. It seemed more about the sweetened vanilla custard than rice itself. There was definitely rice in this, don't get me wrong, but it was more custard-y than rice-y. From the trio of desserts I was offered, I honestly think it was still the best choice. However, I was surprised that after the amazing dinner that I had just experienced, this wasn't a little better.

For all of the disappointment I had when revisiting the Euclid Tavern after so many years, I am happy to say that I had the complete opposite experience at the new incarnation of the Big Egg. They are open every day from 6 am until either 8 or 9 pm, depending on whether it is a Sunday or not. As an added incentive, I discovered when I stopped by that they are now trying out 24 hour service on both Fridays and Saturdays. I'm not sure if that's in response to the old Big Egg's reputation, but it does mean that you can get your fix after the bars close at least two nights of the week. I heartily recommend you give them another look for their wide variety of menu items as well as their killer omelettes and hash browns. I know that the next time I go back, I'm going to have to do a full Mediterranean tasting from the wonderfully diverse menu.

1 comment:

Matt said...

I will have to give it a try now that I know it would be worth the trip. It's also good to see decent hash browns for a change.

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