Okay, let’s just get this out of the way: Our city has a long and important history with breakfast. The Worcester Lunch Car and Carriage Manufacturing Company built 651 diners in 20th century. Two are operational in Worcester still: Miss Worcester (Miss Woo) and Boulevard Diner. And we love them. But they did not make this list. Neither did Corner Lunch, which deserves a nod just for the fabulous and sassy waitress, Jo Jo, who remembers you even if you haven’t been in for years. All of them are wonderful in their own ways, essential to the city’s fabric, and you should go even if they were runners up here. We also adore Crust Bakery, which missed this list not because it lacks wonderful baked goods but because it lacks seating. Donut Café or Culpeppers for a chocolate frosted donut? Why have we forsaken you?! We haven’t nor have we forsaken the kibbe and eggs at Shaker’s. We just had to choose. We also had to consider that sometimes we aren’t in the city, so we also considered options from all over for when you are out and about exploring everything this area offers. Now that we told you what is missing, let the sparks fly! This is a great list all ages can enjoy debating. Second maybe to beer, we expect it will start arguments you can happily have with your kids. “Food fights” over French Toast and eggs are a family affair.
When Shiraz on Park Avenue closed, a little piece of our food soul died. Then we heard that Oriola Koci and Enton Mehillaj of Livia’s Dish were taking over and our hope for resurrection began. Then we saw the menu with its French twist and decidedly more highbrow approach to breakfast, and we were even more excited. But also worried: French is not something we do or respond to much in this town. We love a croissant, baguette, and pain au chocolat but would we pay more for more refined omelets in a more refined setting with ingredients liked smoked salmon and boursin? Crêpes with aioli? Yeah, we will. But in keeping with the ethic of this town, Altea’s is sophistication without pretension, and we think that is a greatness on top of great food. We also love that they will serve you lunch for breakfast and breakfast for lunch. Honestly, if you find anything with “short rib” in or on it, say yes.
BirchTree for breakfast on a weekend versus a regular weekday? Same menu, totally different scene. Breakfasts on weekends are filled with families with kids dancing to Big John Short, crowds filling the huge space, and lines that make you really appreciate just how good the food must be. Weekdays? The vibe is much more relaxed. There’s a mix of old and young, students and businesspeople, toddlers on the carpet in the middle and typers at the tables all sharing the sunny space and enjoying great coffee, excellent pastries, and of course bread. Bread is in the BirchTree name after all and it get special treatment with a selection of five toasts (plus a special or two) that feature Robert Fecteau’s loaves: country, coriander raisin, local wheat, olive and herb, and seeded levain, all topped with something housemade or local (jam, peanut and flax seed putter, local honey, etc). Best of all, the toasts are served all day. What’s not is the breakfast sandwich (served til 11 except on Sunday) which comes on a bacon fat brioche bun (stop and say that again and try not to drool: bacon fat brioche bun). Set your alarm day sleepers!
Let’s face it folks, there is only so much separating the food at traditional diners and breakfast joints in this town. Only so much a line cook can do to make those two scrambled, side of bacon, home fries, and toast that much different from another’s. Lou Roc’s just feels different. It’s like a magnet pulling you “home.” Long timers can tell us what it felt like before Peter Prodomidis took it over and renovated in 2001, but we can’t imagine it being any better or the portions any bigger. Lou Roc’s is not about feeding you the first meal of your day but the ONLY meal you’ll need all day. That said this city does have a tendency to equate quantity with quality. Lou Roc’s does not skimp on either. Omelets, addictive stuffed French toast (savory or sweet), perfectly crisp home fries . . . this is what we dream of when we dream of diner food. But maybe what gets us to love Lou Roc’s even more is the two hashes: “homemade” versus “corned beef.” The difference anyone there will tell you is the corned beef one comes from a can. Why? Because people grew up with the can so why disappoint their expectations. Now that’s great.
The first thing you notice are the antlers, which seem appropriate for the hunting lodge feel of the outside. Inside is the rest of the animal’s head. Or should we say heads? And whole bears (yes, plural), half a moose, some fish . . . it’s a temple to taxidermy. Simply put, Michael’s Bridge Diner is completely different than anything else in Central Mass and absolutely the great choice heading north out of the city. It’s love of animals just happens to extend from the plate – super delicious hash – to the wall. This is the one place on the list that gets extra greatness points for décor to go with some great pancakes. Don’t go if you don’t feel like being watched but know you will be watched over well by the staff and kitchen.
Peg’s is in proportion to the town of Whitinsville (population south of 7,000): Small. As in ten stools and two wooden booths small, mostly at the 1936 Worcester Lunch Car’s counter. Even its profile from the street is small: two half windows and a door. What’s inside is a big heart, a cozy, comfortable hug that feels like you might be in Peg’s house. You’re not. It hasn’t always been called Peg’s either. But no matter the name, this is a place stuck in time, in a good way (both feeling and price). Maybe this is why it’s easily the most mentioned diner by foodies outside of Worcester. It’s like everything and everyone running the joint has been there forever, which is wonderful in a crazy world. The food inside is as great as you can expect inside a lunch car diner. We have never had anything not perfectly cooked to order with such speed and heart. Traveling south we’ve never had better. But those home fries? True greatness.