“It's not quite breakfast, it's not quite lunch, but it comes with a slice of cantaloupe at the end. You don't get completely what you would at breakfast, but you get a good meal.” (“The Simpsons”)
In the past few weeks, I’ve had brunch a couple of times at Watts Grocery (1116 Broad St.). Chef/owner Amy Tornquist’s splendid food is full of local, fresh ingredients and has something for everyone.
One weekend my mom ordered fried chicken with sausage gravy, served on a toasted biscuit. The breast was crunchy outside, with a succulent juicy inside (which is a feat with white meat). The sausage gravy was creamy, not gloppy, and the spice level was spot on.
Twice, The Kid has feasted on shrimp and grits. Both times the only thing left in the bowl was shrimp shells and green onions (the child is not an uncooked onion fan).
Dad and I are both lovers of eggs Benedict. The second time we ate there, I entertained thoughts of a different meal (for about 20 seconds). Nope, Benny was two for two, for me and my Dad.
The ham Chef Amy serves is local and delicious. The English muffins are house-made and tasty. But for me, it’s all about the hollandaise and poached egg.
When my fork breaks through, and the yolk runs out and adds to the creamy sauce, it’s like my birthday, every single time. Put good hollandaise and a well-poached egg on an old tennis shoe, and I would happily eat it.
Making traditional Hollandaise sauce is a difficult and daunting proposition. Double-boilers, continuous stirring, and temperature watching is too nerve-wracking for me. Done right, it’s poetry. Done badly and you either get a greasy, separated mess, or unappetizing curdled sadness. But I have a simple recipe that makes awesome sauce every time.
3 egg yolks
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter
Juice of 1 lemon
Cayenne pepper (optional)
Freshly cracked black pepper
Melt butter in a small saucepan until bubbling. Into blender, pour 2 tablespoons lemon juice and give it a quick whirr to lubricate your blades. Drop in yolks and blend. With the blender going, very slowly pour in hot, bubbly butter. You will now have an emulsified sauce. Season with salt, pepper, and cayenne (if using). Taste, and add more lemon juice to your liking. Quickly blend to mix.
You can keep this sauce in the blender for a little bit, and stir in a tablespoon of very hot water to heat for service, or put it in a thermos for up to about thirty minutes to keep warm and stop separation.
If you look online, you will find a truck-load of techniques for the “Perfect Poached Egg.” Yeah, and I went to the prom with Donny Osmond. Poached eggs are problematic at best, and an unholy, inedible mess at worst. Your best bet is to find a technique you feel comfortable with and do your best. Not every egg will turn out right, but the more you do, the better you'll get.
If you need a large number of eggs you can do them in advance. Cook, put them on a towel-lined platter, cover and refrigerate for up to 24 hours. For service, carefully lower into slowly simmering water with a slotted spoon for 15-20 seconds. Remove, and gently blot with a towel.
And, if you don’t have the courage for poached, I think hollandaise is quite yummy ladled onto scrambled eggs, or an omelet with maybe some fresh asparagus and grilled chicken. And if you’re a sick individual like me, it’s also great in a mug.
If you want to visit Watts for brunch, I suggest you go on a Saturday. It’s way easier and quicker to get a table than the traditional brunch day of Sunday.
And Chef Amy has a surprising and inspired starter; churros with the best chocolate dunking sauce ever. I know it sounds odd, but trust me, just order it.
I’d rather eat a dozen or so of those crispy Mexican pastries than sad old cantaloupe any day of the week, and twice on Saturdays.
Thanks for your time.
Debbie Matthews lives, writes and cooks in Durham. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.