Arts & Culture

Kitchen makes masterful classic brunch

Side dishes allow diners to put together customized brunch lineup in cozy, personal setting

By
Arts & Culture Editor
Monday, April 14, 2014

Kitchen, a breakfast spot on Federal Hill, serves up a special croissant French toast with real maple syrup. The eatery also offers a range of other breakfast foods, including omelets and muffins.

The tables at Kitchen are already dressed with ketchup, sriracha sauce, a jug of sugar — the essentials. Tame Impala and Broken Social Scene jam over the stereo. The smiling waitress, her hair pulled back into a neat, low ponytail, rushes out with tall glasses of iced water infused with petite slices of lemon.

Her first question: Can she get you anything to drink? Coffee, of course. A glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice, complete with thick pulp? Certainly. The hot drinks arrive in sturdy ceramic mugs, accompanied by a pitcher of milk. Sip the coffee slowly as you peruse the menu, scrawled in chalk on a board above the restaurant’s occupants on one side.

The setting is a hole-in-the-wall breakfast spot tucked away on Federal Hill’s Carpenter Street. The intrigue: Sunday brunch. The characters: a host of locals in-the-know about this 14-seat gem.

Kitchen hides away on a residential block populated by careworn homes and neighborhood businesses. At 11 a.m. on a Sunday morning, the wait can be up to an hour, but this should not be a deterrent. Despite its low capacity, seat turnover is high, as omelets, bacon and pancakes fly off the griddle at an incredible pace. And just around the corner, the cafe at the Grange offers creamy lattes perfect to tide you over during the wait.

The menu masters the concept of do-it-yourself brunch. Each plate arrives without frills, and any additions are at the diner’s request. The selection of side dishes runs the gamut of classic morning staples like fried eggs, toast, home fries and bacon. All are individually priced, allowing the customers to tailor their breakfasts with a hunk of sausage here and an over-easy egg there to accompany the unadorned plates. Really, a single slice of the thick-cut slabs of bacon that Kitchen dishes out will suffice to satisfy any cravings for smoke and grease in tandem with the main event, a choice of protein- or carb-based plates like huevos rancheros, breakfast quesadillas and pancakes.

For simpler tastes, the daily muffin (sliced, toasted and buttered) rotates through seasonal specials, from peach blueberry in late summer to gingerbread in early spring.

The menu also includes a respectable array of omelet options. Kitchen offers four types of cheese — cheddar, brie, feta and chevre — and three meats — ham, bacon and sausage — and this is only the beginning. Dress it up even further with veggies like tomatoes, onions, spinach, mushrooms and red peppers.

Occasionally on offer is the croissant French toast, a fluffy, airier version of its sweetbread counterpart. The four slices are arranged artfully on the rectangular platter, lightly dusted with powdered sugar — an unnecessary ornament, but one that does not detract from the dish. The toast itself is dark and crispy outside, with a moist, slightly tart interior. It’s almost overwhelmingly rich, but that is what a diner breakfast is all about.

Kitchen does not serve Aunt Jemima. The syrup that accompanies the French toast and pancakes is genuine maple — the runny, sugary goodness that comes out of the forests of the frigid north.

We met a couple of regulars waiting in line who explained that early in the morning, the owner Howard is the only person staffing this homely joint. He mans the open kitchen and takes orders simultaneously until the later brunch crush begins. But even then, just a single waitress supports him while he fries away in the kitchen. It’s an impressive operation, with service that is attentive without being solicitous. In order to abbreviate the wait in line, we ended up sharing a table with our new friends, a pair of local students, chatting about music and eagerly anticipating the rich meal to come.

Breakfast is also available to go, but the atmosphere is a key part of the Kitchen experience —  home-grown, family-run and personable.

The restaurant is a cash-only establishment, so leave the cards at home. The bill is unlikely to top $20 per person, drinks and tip included. Price-wise, it’s on par with other brunch spots in the area, with a slightly less diverse menu. While you might not find dinosaur kale or diver scallops here, Kitchen knows what it does best: home-style comfort food that will leave diners full, contented and ready for a nap.

 

 

The Herald’s Breakfast Picks: 

Brickway on Wickenden

The most important meal of the day is dished out all day at this neighborhood classic. Menu items include a wide variety of omelet options, each named for iconic spots around the globe, from the real (Belfast, East L.A., Providence) to the surreal (Eden, Olympus, Wonderland). Pancakes are available by the piece to combine with eggs, bacon, fruit and various other sides.

Monday-Friday 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., Saturday-Sunday, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. | 234 Wickenden St.

 

Seven Stars Bakery

With a central baking plant in Pawtucket, Seven Stars churns out a veritable smorgasbord of delectable pastries from the all-American (think muffins and cheesy scones) to the transatlantic (chocolate-almond croissants, pain de campagne). The Hope Street location, with longer weekend hours than its Broadway counterpart, attracts students, families and old-timers alike, providing a refreshing break from the College Hill bubble.

Monday-Friday 6:30 a.m. to 7 p.m., Saturday-Sunday, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. | 820 Hope St.

 

Rue De L’Espoir

“The Rue,” which serves breakfast every weekday morning, firmly establishes that this meal is really just another course of dessert with its lemon-ricotta griddle cakes, blueberry, bruleed banana and mascarpone crepes and multigrain French toast with berry compote. The drinks menu is equally impressive, furnishing customers with caffeine of all descriptions — lattes, cafe au lait, espresso or plain old black coffee, in addition to tea and hot chocolate. Rue De L’Espoir is known for its locally sourced ingredients and has been well-received by Food and Wine and Bon Appetit magazines.

Monday-Friday, 7:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. | 99 Hope St.

 

Loui’s Family Restaurant

This affectionately known student staple proclaims that it has been “family-owned and -operated for over 60 years.” But even more than its long history, Loui’s is best known for its 5 a.m. opening time and assortment of pancakes, which arrive stacked high and accompanied by globs of butter and abundant maple syrup. The neighborhood spot made its national debut on a seventh-season episode of Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.”

Sunday-Saturday, 5 a.m. to 3 p.m. | 286 Brook St.