Whoever came up with red-eye gravy was either very hungry or very hungover, maybe both. Afterall, coffee and salty pork fat don't exactly seem like a winning combination. But red-eye gravy is simple, it's Southern as cornbread (y'all), and more than anything, it's salty as hell.
Dietary guidelines be damned, some morning you just need an extra punch of salt - even if it's mixed with coffee and ladled over grits.
Red-eye gravy is basically two ingredients: salt-cured country ham and coffee. On it's own, it's rough. Think Vegemite via Montgomery, Ala. Just as Vegemite works better on buttered toast (I'm told), red-eye gravy is made to dress grits.
I love grits, but there's no getting around how bland they are. Add a good bit of butter, salt, pepper, cheese, even barbecued shrimp, and you transform the grainy porridge into a pretty nice dish. A little red-eye gravy does the trick, too.
The bitterness of the coffee works with the salt and cooked pork flavors from the country ham. A little butter adds a needed bit of richness to the gravy.
To make it, simply fry up a couple slices of country ham, deglaze the pan with black coffee and whisk in some butter. Now, the other night I was watching Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives (I have no excuse for myself) as Guy Fieri tasted some Arizona cook's red-eye gravy. It was made with chicken stock and involved no ham or coffee. I don't know what they were doing, but they weren't making red-eye gravy. It's one thing to play with a recipe, but once you remove the primary ingredients it becomes a different dish.
And then I reminded myself I was watching Guy Fieri.
(makes 4 servings)
2 slices of country ham
2 cups of coffee, black
2 tbs. of unsalted butter (or more to taste)
Red-eye gravy is a very quick dish. If you're going to make it as part of a large breakfast (and you should), cook the ham first (about 3 minutes per side) and deglaze the pan with 1 to 2 cups of coffee (to taste), making sure to scrap up the stuck on pork bits. Whisk in 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter (or more to taste). The gravy doesn't reduce (please, don't reduce it), but it can be kept warm while you prepare the grits, eggs and whatever else you plan to have.
Once everything it ready, simply ladle on the red-eye gravy (y'all).
We all know that this is a nation founded by Puritans, and that their sensibilities still influence us today. Even so, over the relatively brief span of our nation's existence, per capita drinking has gone way down. Why, did you know that the founding fathers and their contemporaries drank an average of 34 gallons of beer a year (compared to about 22 gallons apiece today)? This golden era of America under the influence came to an abrupt end in the mid 19th century, thanks in part to prohibitionist politicians' racial scare tactics, followed of course by the 18th Amendment. (For the whole story, check out the Tolerance: A History of Drink episode of "Backstory," a great American history podcast out of UVA).
To keep up such a prodigious rate of consumption, our ancestors had to start pretty early in the morning, and it was not uncommon to enjoy a porter with one's porridge, or an ale with his eggs. At the time, beer, whiskey and wine were the common drinks because the water was not safe, and spirits were considered healthful. While we now know that this isn't universally true, I think that we can all agree that the occasional beer with breakfast is not going to kill us, particularly if said beer enhances the meal. With that in mind, many brewers have started making beers for the most important meal of the day, a great idea in that wine, our go-to beverage for food pairing, does not take kindly to most breakfast foods. Broadly defined, breakfast beers are any that incorporate traditional breakfast flavors, such as coffee, maple syrup, oatmeal, etc. Below are a few nice examples of the most accessible and easily found, coffee influenced ales.
The Kona Pipeline (about $8.00 per 6/pack) is a limited release porter from the big island of Hawaii. This seasonal brew is made with a healthy portion of 100% locally grown Kona coffee beans. The beer pours a dark coffee brown with a short, long lived, chocolate-milk head. On the nose this beer is full of roasty malt, bitter coffee, and earth aromas, along with a slightly hoppy lift on the end. More earthy and roasty elements persist on the front of this very milky, creamy beer, which finishes dry with a combination of coffee bitterness and creamy sweetness. If you drink your morning coffee with just a dash of heavy cream, this beer will taste very familiar to you, and you'll love it. Try it with chocolate chip pancakes.
Mikkeller, a small upstart craft brewer (founded 2006) in Norway has quickly become
a favorite of beer geeks the world over for its focus on unique, "challenging" beer styles. Though mild compared to some of its offerings, the Mikkeller Beer Geek Breakfast (about $12.00 / 500 ml bottle) is still more thought provoking than your average "morning beer." The BGB pours nearly black, with a very long lasting, very dark brown head rarely seen in a bottled beer. On the nose this beer is intense, displaying copious amounts of espresso, bitter chocolate and roasted malts. On the attack it becomes almost puckeringly bitter, reminiscent of chewing on coffee grounds. The beer is definitely creamy on the mid-palate, though less so than the Kona, with an ample body thanks to a hefty 7.5% abv. After swallowing the BGB hangs out for a long time, leaving behind slowly dissipating flavors of black espresso and cured meat. As one might expect, this beer makes a great foil to bacon, and would balance out perfectly with some Grade A maple syrup.
Though known mostly for the ubiquitous Unibroue, Quebec, Canada is a hotbed of brewing activity. Brasserie Dieu du Ciel! is a tiny outfit out of Montreal making some of the most intense (and beautifully labeled) beers in North America. The Peche Mortel (French for "Mortal Sin"), an imperial stout brewed with fair trade coffee, pours nearly black with a thick brown head. Like the Mikkeller, this beer is wickedly intense on the nose, though sweeter, with notes of malt, grains and chocolate. The chocolate quality dominates the front of the palate, accented with a mild bitter earth quality. The beer is heavy on the palate, but extremely flavorful and balanced, with more chocolate and fig flavors melding seamlessly with espresso scorched earth. Though strong (9.5% abv!) and quite expensive (about $6.00 / 12 oz bottle), this beer is super balanced, offering up just the right combination of sweetness and bitterness. Perfectly delicious on its own, the Peche Mortel would pair nicely with anything from a blueberry muffin to a full out Irish breakfast.
The nice thing about breakfast beers is that they represent a very loosely defined genre; anything goes, from Beer Geek Breakfast to Beamish. Try one tomorrow with your Nutella and toast before you head off to work. Screw it, have two. Then, you should totally tell that girl in HR she reminds you of your mom (she wants you, dude!), and I think it's high time you showed Mr. Think's-He's-So-Great- Giving-Me-Two-Poor-Performance-Reviews-In-A-Row Jerkass what you really think of him! Yup, that's just what George Washington would have done...
Maybe I am asking too much, but all I want is to find a place that can make good breakfast food in a semi-consistent manner. I don't know of a single place to get a good omelet. Amy and I tried today with no success. If anyone knows a good place, please leave a comment and I will try it.
Last night, we were a pretty extravagant compared to previous Valentines Days. We ate at the Melting Pot (review to come) and spent the night at the Renaissance Mayflower Hotel on Connecticut Ave. After the long night, I was feeling a bit hung over and had a huge headache (I don't know what it is about breakfast food, but is the best hangover killer). When we left the hotel, we started walking down Connecticut Ave. I was just looking for a place to get a decent breakfast. We came across one diner that looked pretty promising, but the wait was at least 30 minutes, so we kept walking. By the time we gave up looking, we were all the way up by Kramer Books.
Amy then noticed the Dupont Grille. It looked like a diner and people were eating breakfast food so we went in. There were menus out front and prices seemed reasonable but there was no hostess to be found. After about 5 minutes of walking around trying to find a hostess or the main entrance to the restaurant, we just walked into the dining room. Someone who seemed like the manager stopped us and seated us at a table. Actually I would not call this person a manager. She was young enough that she was probably only a sophomore in college. Probably, a Hotel-Restaurant Management major that had never previously worked in a restaurant, but thinks that since she took that cooking class in junior high, it makes her qualified to run a restaurant (Can you tell I am bitter). I thought about leaving and going across the street to Kramer Books.
I knew there was going to be trouble as soon as we sat down. The menus the manager handed us we not the same as the menus that were out front. Instead, they were for the Sunday Brunch. The price was $19.99. This was the first time I thought about leaving and walking across the street to Kramer Books. However, we were sitting down and my hang-over was quickly turning into a migraine. Coffeeeeeeeee pleeeeaaassse.
After a little time passed and no one came to get us coffee we started looking around. We noticed everyone else was as well. 10 minutes later, 10 evil stares at passing by wait-staff and 10 more thoughts of leaving to go to Kramer Books, someone finally came over to take our order. It was the same manager that sat us - Interesting. "Can I get you come coffee or something else to drink?" YES! We both ordered a Bloody Marys and coffee. We were ready to order our main dishes but the manager left before either of us could spit it out.
About 10 seconds later a woman, who seemed to be our waitress, stopped by. "Hello, can I get you some coffee or something to drink?" she said. We quickly stated that someone had already taken our drink order. "Oh ok, thanks," and she was off before I could say, "but we are ready to order." The manager quickly returned with the coffee and some water. She was soon followed by our waitress again. The waitress seemed to be a bit irritated with the manager and practically ripped the coffee out of her hands scolding, "I can handle this." The waitress noticed that there was no cream on the table and quickly ran off to get some cream without asking if we even wanted any. Ugh, are we ever going to get our orders in? 5 minutes later after tracking down some cream, she took our order. "God the food had better be freekin amazing after all this", I said to Amy.
I would have to say the one saving grace of Dupont Grille was the Bloody Marys. They were probably the spiciest I have ever had. That is about all that was good though. Some fruit was brought out for each of us. We were famished, so we quickly ate it. Soon after that our food came out. "That was quick", Amy said. We quickly found out why it was so quick. My omelet was undercooked. Amy's eggs were the same, but luckily she likes them that way. Risking salmanella, I just ate the omelet anyway - I was so ready to get out of there.
I wish we had not been cheap-skates and stayed at the hotel to eat their brunch. It was $24 each, but looking back on the experience at Dupont Grille, it would have been a bargain.
I want to appeal to all the restaurant owners that might be reading this. Someone please open a breakfast place in the District. There are not nearly enough of them. Any place that serves breakfast and is halfway decent is incredibly crowded, which makes us have to try places like Dupont Grille.