THE BREAKFAST CLUB
21 S. Park Ave., Rockville Centre, 516-600-9462, thebreakfastclubrvc.com
SERVICE: Stricly decaf: pleasant, but lacking urgency
AMBIENCE: Aggressively sunny
ESSENTIALS: Open Monday to Friday: 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., Saturday and Sunday 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., wheelchair accessible, metered municipal parking lot across the street.
The prime directive for restaurants specializing in breakfast is to be better than the local diner, where breakfast is served quickly, cheaply and in abundance.
The Breakfast Club, which opened in September, is situated about a half-mile from two fine diners, the Golden Reef and the Pantry. The food is sometimes better and never, in my experience, worse, and the menu is certainly more adventurous. Prices are comparable. Service is friendly but often lackadaisical. But what really tips the balance in TBC's favor is how it triples down on the breakfast theme in ways large and small.
The long, narrow restaurant is done up in the cheery tones of a sunny-side-up egg. Every inch is well thought out, from the domed, yolk-like light fixtures that descend from the white pressed-tin ceiling to the boxes of sunflowers hung on the walls to the TVs over that bar that show vintage cartoons to the servers’ T-shirts proclaiming “you are my sunshine.”
You can’t go wrong with anything based on bacon, so why not go whole hog and order the “slab bacon” starter, which affords you the opportunity to swing sweet or savory with little cups of maple syrup and coarse-grained mustard. The bacon, glazed and grilled, isn’t terribly smoky or salty or fatty. Porky is how it rolls, and it was even better when diced, fried and sprinkled liberally over an otherwise virtuous slab of avocado toast that also featured roasted cherry tomatoes.
Yankee biscuits so often disappoint, but TBC's really are fluffy, tender, buttery and crisp. (So good, in fact, that they are wasted in the biscuits and gravy.) If you’re looking for a Southern way to start the day, go for the grits, which were cooked to lush creaminess, blended with just the right amount of Cheddar and topped with two perfectly poached eggs and not too much spinach. Fried chicken (boneless breast meat, but still juicy) made a satisfying breakfast entree when sandwiched between two pressed waffles with spicy honey and sweet pickles.
If you’re looking to start the day with fewer carbs, get the yogurt parfait. which benefited from thick, unsweetened Greek yogurt, out-of-season berries that actually tasted like berries, and broken-up pieces of granola. It was infinitely better than the TBC bowl that contained a checklist of superfoods (quinoa, barley, avocado, broccoli pesto, hummus, etc.) and tasted little better than a hangover remedy.
The Mexican breakfast, impressively served in a cast-iron skillet, featured a slew of promising side elements — crumbled housemade chorizo, cotija cheese, black beans, avocado crema and fried tortilla disks — but needed a pile of scrambled eggs to bring it together.
Eggs Benedict were anemic: no brown on the English muffin, no sear on the Canadian bacon and a hollandaise sauce that was both bland and in short supply. Most of the egg entrees are served with a colorful cabbage slaw and while I appreciate the vegetal impulse, the taste did not harmonize with anything it accompanied.
And now we come to the matter of the potatoes. I could find no worldwide consensus as to what constitutes hash browns and what constitutes home fries, but I wish TBC had done better than stamped-out, deep-fried patties and sauteed wedges of new potatoes. Where oh where are the irregular shards of russet potatoes that have been sitting on the flat top all morning, getting crusty on the outside and creamy on the inside?
The restaurant has an impressive drinks program that reads "gastropub" more than "diner." The full bar puts out specialty cocktails, beer on tap and two impressive large-format potables: $20 buys an individual a bottomless carafe of mimosas and, for $80, your group can order a mimosa tower, $88 for more than a half-gallon served in a what looks like a calibrated test tube sitting on a spigotted keg. Good thing Rockville Centre is a walking-around town.