Diner Delights

At the Bread and Butter Café, be sure to save room for dessert

I've driven by the Bread and Butter Café around 1,000 times—and that's a conservative estimate. However, I never bothered to stop in until it came time to go a-reviewin'.

Folks, do me a favor: You know that place you've always wondered about, but never stopped at, even though you've zoomed past it a bunch of times? Take the time to stop and see what the place is all about. Maybe you'll find a gem; maybe not. But at least you'll know.

In the case of the Bread and Butter Café, I found a gem.

I was finally persuaded to stop at the Bread and Butter Café—located in a little 22nd Street shopping center that is also home to a liquor store, a 99-cent store, a Mexican grocery and a car-parts store—by a friend who has frequented the place for years. I'd also heard the pies there are excellent.

So off we went, for a Saturday lunch. Walking inside the Bread and Butter Café is kind of like stepping into 1972: The restaurant has that timeless, cluttered, bustling diner feel, right down to the bar-style counter with miniature boxes of cereal and a specials board just on the other side. The place is full of brown—the tables, the booths, the faux wood paneling on the walls—but it's clean and welcoming (although the faux plants hanging from the ceiling appear just a bit dusty). Vintage signs and memorabilia offer up some old-school charm; one sign next to our table advertised Campbell's soup, available once upon a time as a bargain: "Six plates for 10 cents. Just add hot water and serve."

No soup for us today; I ordered the huevos rancheros ($4.69), a small plate of biscuits and gravy ($3.29) and a cup of coffee ($1.49). Garrett ordered the reuben sandwich (spelled "ruben" on the menu) with potato salad as his side ($6.05). We also decided to sample a small loaf of banana bread ($1.99).

So let's fill out the Diner 101 final-exam checklist:

• A bottomless cup of coffee. Check! On both of my visits, my cup never got below the one-third full mark.

• Fast, pleasant service. Check! Our food was delivered in less than five minutes on that first visit, and our casually attired server made sure we were taken care of without trying to become our new best friend.

• A way with eggs. Check! My huevos—served on top of a hardened, fried tortilla with refried beans, "hot" salsa (which was not hot at all) and a tortilla on the side—were cooked to order and tasty.

• A way with sandwiches. Check! Garrett's ruben/reuben was warm and juicy, with just the right amount of Thousand Island dressing and sauerkraut. Garrett said he'd have preferred more corned beef in the sandwich, but the amount looked more than adequate to me. The potato salad side was far better than the crap at the supermarket, but not as good as the stuff your favorite aunt used to make.

• A way with biscuits and gravy. Oops. Fail! This was the biggest disappointment during our visits. The biscuits were fine, but the gravy was a white, bland mess with no texture and hardly any flavor. I was deeply concerned, knowing that on my second visit, I needed to try that white-gravy-covered diner staple: chicken-fried steak. (It's a law that reviewers must try the chicken-fried steak at a diner-like establishment. Look it up.)

On a positive note, the banana bread was splendid. We sampled a little and took the rest of the moist, flavorful loaf home.

On the next visit, I, per the mandate, got the chicken-fried steak and two eggs (normally $6.55; however, the restaurant had a special that included coffee for $7.29, meaning I saved 75 cents). Garrett selected the bacon-cheese burger, with cole slaw as his side ($5.05). We also started eyeballing the list of pies available; I counted nine options on this particular day.

The burger was, in Garrett's words, "a burger," served on a low-end bun and accompanied by a tomato slice not quite on the cusp of redness. The burger was adequate, and nothing more. It reminded me of a burger you'd get at a company picnic.

But what about the chicken-fried steak, you ask? Back to the Diner 101 checklist:

• Tasty chicken-fried steak. Check! Thank goodness. The gravy was infinitely better than it was during the previous visit. This gravy was peppery and packed with flavor; there was even a small piece of sausage or two included. (I am not sure whether this gravy is supposed to include sausage; if it is, they need to add more.) The moderately sized steak was tender with just enough breading, and the eggs were again cooked to perfection.

• Fantastic pie. Check check check check! Don't ask for a slice; they call them wedges. That may be a bit of an overstatement, but these are healthy-sized pieces of pie ($3.25). I got the coconut cream (which narrowly edged out the intriguing custard and peanut-butter-cream options), while Garrett got the Dutch apple—and both slices wedges were marvelous. Garrett erred slightly by declining to have his pie warmed up, but it was still good cold. (One minor complaint: The crumble on top of Garrett's added texture but little flavor.)

The results are clear: Aside from the ho-hum burger and the gravy flub, the Bread and Butter Café excels. The pies themselves are worth a visit.

And to think I drove by the place 1,000 times without stopping.