Breakfast – the most important meal in your budget.

A technical question, originally posed by one Matt Grunwald of Queens:  How many meals do you have to fit in under twenty bucks?

Well, that’s a good question.  As I said on the brunch entry, weekends are great because I’m usually sleeping later – this would be a typical “two meal” day, with brunch and dinner.  The other five days, though?  I do three meals, the first of which is significantly less exciting than the other two.  So I’ll only bore you with the explanation once…

I have this thing where I tend to go to the same breakfast place and order the same thing for six months or more.  I think it’s probably due to the fact that I’m incapable of higher level decision making before about noon.  So I stumble in to the designated breakfast place, which hopefully knows my order by heart, and need only grunt in the affirmative to have it made.  Breakfast nirvana.

Of course, breakfast need also be geographically compatible with your commute – no wandering off the beaten path on weekday mornings, unless you’re much better about getting up early than I am.  In fact, I can only recall getting up for a Shopsin’s breakfast and a “see-my-friend-off” Gravy breakfast in the last year or so.

So, what are my regular places?  Well, I started out in NYC almost two years ago with your usual street cart coffee and muffin.  I seem to recall this combo being two or three bucks.  At some point, I decided to move along to doughnuts.  Again, not much difference in cost, at least until I started going to Just Delicious for the doughnuts instead of the vendor (because he kept being out of my favorite kind, the chocolate/lemon cake stick with glaze).

At Just Delicious (corner of Varick and Houston), which is your typical nightmare of an overpriced corporate deli/lunch catering spot, the doughnuts are delivery Krispy Kreme. Of Krispy’s delivery doughnuts, I believe their blueberry cake doughnut to be superior, if a bit small – so I used to get two.  Unfortunately, they’re really expensive, and JD’s coffee is ridiculous in cost and not any better than your average vendor’s.  So, for a time, I stopped at JD for doughnuts and the vendor for coffee.  Obviously this was not going to last long, considering how lazy I am in the AM.

Before long, the D-train opened, changing my commuting route from Park Slope.  Instead of arriving at Houston on the 1, it was much faster (and much less crowded) to take the D to West 4th St. and walk down Carmine and Clarkson.  Just Delicious is slightly outside of that route, and I was getting tired of the cost anyway.  Enter Pinnacle Bagels on the Square, at Carmine and 6th.

Boy, did I have a bagel addiction for a good while, there.  I’d guess from February or March of ’04 through about the same time in ’05.  Hey, it was cheap!  I’d get my pint of Grovestand Tropicana OJ, coffee, and a bagel most often slathered in walnut raisin cream cheese all for $4.95.  This was one of the original cornerstones of the ‘Twenty a Day’ budget, actually – the breakdown is $5 for breakfast and lunch, and $10 for dinner, and while the lunch and dinner prices were sometimes swapped or exceeded, the breakfast budget was a rock-solid component of my day.

Unfortunately, a year of eating bagels with tons of cream cheese had taken its toll on my waistline, and the Pinnacle experience was declining – around the new year, prices went up (I was seemingly grandfathered), and quality of bagel and cream cheese went down.  I mean, way down, to the point where I wondered if they had cut the walnut/raisin ratio in half, as well as increased the flour component of their bagels by a third or so.  Bad news, bad times, and time to move along.

Fortunately, I found a new place (Here and Now, on the west side of 6th just north of Carmine), and they assimilated my order in record time (I think it took them about a week and a half, which is fantastic).  The even better news is that they’re super-nice and busy far less than Pinnacle (average wait time for fresh-cooked eggs is probably five minutes).  The still-more amazing news: the breakfast of my choosing costs $4.  That’s right – for $1.99, one may purchase two eggs on a roll, with salt and pepper, with included coffee.  $1.79 buys me the OJ.  Add it all up and tax it for a total of $3.95.

Now, if you were needing cheese, or bacon, or god-knows what other kind of ingredients, this place rapidly becomes a non-deal.  I think cheese costs $.50 extra, which is kind of stupid.  Bacon’s probably a buck more, I don’t recall.  Don’t even think about buying bottled water there, either, unless paying $2.50 for 1.5L of Poland Springs is your bag – by comparison, the grocery store price in Brooklyn is $1.15.  Truth be told, $1.79 is a bit high for the OJ, too (I’ll be damned if I don’t get my Vitamin C in the morning, though).

Here and Now obviously has got a loss leader/make it up on everything else sort of philosophy, but you and I are clearly smart enough to beat that system, right?  Just don’t tell everyone, or we’ll force them to raise prices.  OK?

Feel free and share your own breakfast thoughts in the comments section – obviously this piece won’t be relevant to everyone, given that most people I know seem to work in midtown, but perhaps we can make a list of a few interesting possibilities.

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