MAY IT PLEASE THE PALATE: Eating critically


This morning I dropped off my car at the dealership, and decided to have breakfast while it was being worked on.

There were two nearby diners.

Let’s call the first the “Shiny Egg.” The marquee sign assured me it was the “best breakfast in town.” Normally such self-promotion makes me run the other way, but the online reviews were better than the other diner, and I had no car.

So it was the “Egg and I.”

I sat down and ordered coffee and Greek omelette. Just for funsies I ordered a side of pancakes instead of toast.

While I waited, I started reading opposing counsel’s infuriating brief. I was hoping breakfast would make me feel better.

You should know that I had just finished what I called the “Breakfast Odyssey” for another publication, where I paraded my team of “Seekers” around town to find the best breakfast.

We chose these representative dishes to review: feta/spinach omelettes, hash browns, bread, bacon and sausage, Eggs Benedict, corned beef hash, pancakes and coffee.

We have done many Odysseys over the years, from burgers to pizza, Indian food to beer, fried chicken to vegetarian restaurants.

We have learned what I call “eating critically.”

This is a different concept from eating mindfully, but related.

Eating or doing anything mindfully is an admonition to focus on the task at hand, with no distractions.

For example, Buddhist monks eat in silence, slowly and thoughtfully, without checking their Facebook feed or watching the ballgame.

Eating mindfully also involves choosing your food carefully and paying attention to the act of eating, noticing the aromas and taste.

Eating critically, for me, focuses more on the quality of the food, and how it was prepared and presented.

It is very easy to eat a diner breakfast un-critically.

One might have not eaten for 8-12 hours and be very hungry. You might be with friends, reading the paper, or the aforementioned disingenuous brief.

Just having hot food brought quickly will predispose you to like what you have.

Diners respond to the immediate impact of hot food, all gussied up with salt, fat, and sugar. They fill their bellies, and don’t even consider whether what they had was any good.

Let’s go back to the Shiny Egg.

The coffee was, in the immortal words of Tom Waits, too weak to defend itself.

The omelette suffered from too many kitchen shortcuts. One, the cook did not take the time to roll the liquid egg around the pan as it was frying, which keeps it tender and supple throughout
instead of hard and dry on the crust, and underdone inside.

Two, the vegetables were mixed with the egg instead of folded in after it was cooked.

It’s faster to skip that step, but makes a difference.

Three, the spinach was frozen.

Four, so were the potatoes, tasteless as they were — all the salt in the world did not make them edible.

Five, the pancakes were sweet, bland and not helped by the corn-syrup maple substitute on the table.

I ate a few bites of each and put it aside.

The thing is, had I not just finished the Breakfast Odyssey, I would have probably eaten the whole thing without paying much attention to any of those things.

I might even have liked it. Who knows,

I may have even agreed it was the “Best Breakfast in Town.”

Eating critically, as opposed to mindfully, includes watching the line cooks pouring who-knows-what liquid yellow grease on their grills, opening cans of Alpo disguised as corned beef hash, and letting bacon burn as they try to mind a dozen dishes.

To be fair, there are fewer jobs more difficult than being a line cook, trying to cook dish after dish during a meal rush in a blazing hot kitchen, without screwing up any of it.

But restaurants can help by serving fresh food, cleaning their grill and coffee urns regularly, and paring back on multi-page glossy menus that offer eggs, skillets, hashes, pancakes and waffles
way too many ways.

Restaurants can also help by taking a few extra minutes on each dish.

t’s almost become an expectation that breakfast must be on the table in about five minutes.

Why not take ten and serve something delicious?

Eating critically focuses on the care taken by the cooks, allowing one to savor real butter, admire the well-cooked omelette, and appreciate hash browns perfectly crispy on the outside, tender and fluffy within.

Here’s an omelette recipe that you can make at home and have on the table in less than five minutes — I promise.

This is one of my go-to breakfasts, and it’s fast and easy.
Nick’s Amazingly Fast One-Egg Omelette

Get ready:

• one of those small, no-stick egg pans
• one large or extra large egg (yes, one is enough)
• A handful of spinach and/or other veggies; I like to add a touch of green onion and dill
• An ounce or two of finely shredded or diced cheese (I use feta, of course)
• Butter, olive oil, salt and pepper
• One piece of bread


1.  Put the bread in a cold oven and turn to 350. It’ll finish at the same time as the egg and is better than a toaster.

2. Whip the egg well with half a teaspoon of hot water to expand the volume (Julia Child trick). A dot of Frank’s is nice too (Nick trick).

3. Heat the pan just above medium with a little olive oil. Add the veggies. Cook until just wilted, adding a touch of salt and pepper. Remove to a plate.

4. Add the egg to the pan. Swirl it with a spatula so that as the egg cooks, what remains as liquid continues going around the edges and cooks evenly. This will not take long.

5. Add the veggies and cheese in a line across the middle and just as the edges firm up a bit, fold the two edges of the omelette over the middle.

6. Turn the heat off but leave the omelette in the pan to set and soften the cheese. You can partially cover it; I use my plate to do this.

7. Get your toast out of the oven, butter it and slice it in halves, pour your coffee (you remembered to make coffee, right?) and plate your omelette. Add salt and pepper to taste.

8. Eat slowly and thoughtfully, pushing the omelette onto your fork with the toast, or even better, putting a bite of omelette on the toast itself.

Breakfast is important. Don’t eat it mindlessly!
Nick Roumel is a principal with Nacht, Roumel, Salvatore, Blanchard, and Walker PC, a firm in Ann Arbor specializing in employment and civil right litigation.
He also has many years of varied restaurant and catering experience, has taught Greek cooking classes, and writes a food/restaurant column for “Current” magazine in Ann Arbor.
He occasionally updates his blog at