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Stu-i-moto

Where do you go for breakfast in SF?

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OK - eGulletteers,

I am always in search of good breakfast or brunch places in San Francisco. I have to say that, after living in this great culinary capital for 5+ years, I am consistently underwhelmed by the quality of offerings in the breakfast category. I would roughly group breakfast spots into the following buckets:

- Greasy spoons/ diner types: this description is pretty self-explanatory. What you see is what you get - simple dishes, simple prices, simple service. The basics. Some are greasier than others. Some actually cook and season their home fries; others give you something that could best be described as potato salad before it becomes the salad. There are some I like, but I am always looking for new suggestions;

- Mega-breakfast/Insulin shockers: these places go for the "more is better" approach. Muffins that could feed 100 starving children, stacks & stacks o' pancakes and waffles with copious amounts of whipped cream, butter, etc. Generally mountains of food. Never bring a European friend to a place like this - along with our presidential situation, it only gives them another reason to hate us, unless you learn how to say "I didn't vote for him" in French. I tend to stay away from these places, but maybe there are some that like them, so I'd like to hear favorites as well;

- Semi-refined/yuppie-type places: You've seen these places as well - people line up around the block for scrambled eggs with some smoked salmon and capers tossed in, and chicken apple sausage. Sort of an in-between place between the greasy spoons and the mega-breakfast. Which are your favorites here?

- Brunch-oriented: Self-explanatory as well. Focused on brunch; higher-end and lower-end. Places you take mom on mother's day and stuff like that. Do you like these and where do you go if you do?

- Gourmet breakfast: These are bakeries and/or restaurants that serve breakfast where the focus is on putting out a good product, at a decent price, where the portions are enough to make you full enough to get to lunch vs. full enough to get you to dinner. They know how to do the simple things well, like: scramble eggs, cook potatoes, make a plate of breakfast food look very nice, find fresh fruit, pour a good cup of coffee, juice oranges, etc. I really cherish these kind of places, but have not found many of them at all. I'd really like to hear your thoughts about these spots.

So, let's hear from the group on what your favorites are (if any) in these categories, or if you have other categories to add to the list. And, please bear with my tongue-in-cheek descriptions - they are not meant to offend.

To recap, we have:

Greasy spoons/ diner types

Mega-breakfast/Insulin shockers

Semi-refined/yuppie-type places

Brunch-oriented

Gourmet breakfast


________________

Stu Fisher - Owner

Tastee Cheese

www.tasteecheese.com

stu@tasteecheese.com

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Here are some of my picks:

Greasy spoons/diner types

Lucky Penny (Masonic @ Geary) - no thrills, 24/7 diner. Large portions @ great prices.

Manor Coffee Shop (West Portal x 14th Ave) - a very old fashion diner. The waitresses still don pink uniforms.

Mega-breakfast/Insulin shockers

Hard Knox Cafe (3rd St x 22nd St) - delicious southern food. I would suggest calling before going over to check the hours (415) 648-3770. Since the first time I went a few years ago to now, hours have been changing.

Semi-refined/yuppie-type places

Miss Millies (24th St @ Castro) - always love those fresh churros. Many items on the brunch menu tend to be new twists on old classics, such as gingerbread pear waffles and lemon ricotta pancakes. You'll definitely spot a crowd waiting for tables outside on weekends.

Gourmet breakfast

Chouchou (400 Dewey @ Laguna Honda) - my all time favorite! :wub: We're there for brunch about every other week (and dinners in between!). A casual French bistro serving up delicious food at decent prices. Most items on the menu are below $10. I've had most of the items on the menu (changes from time to time) and have not been disappionted. Don't forget to get a cappuchino and a piece of their divine tart.

Cheap Eats

Denny's Cafe (not the chain!) (Geary x 19th Ave) - daily breakfast specials from 8-11am. For each day of the week, there are 3 specials @ $2.35 that includes coffee or tea! There are usually 1 or 2 Chinese type breakfast and the rest American type, ranging from BBQ pork noodle to French toast to porridge to sausage and eggs. Other than the specials, they also have a full breakfast menu @ excellent prices. Steak and eggs is about $6.

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Don't get out to brunch very often.

I do like Mabel's Just For You on 22nd near Third.

Falls somewhere between Diner and Semi-Refined.

I believe pretty much everything is from scratch and they do seem to have some talented line cooks, as the eggs are usually pefectly cooked. Great Pancakes!


---

Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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Semi-refined/yuppie-type places

Miss Millies (24th St @ Castro) - always love those fresh churros. Many items on the brunch menu tend to be new twists on old classics, such as gingerbread pear waffles and lemon ricotta pancakes. You'll definitely spot a crowd waiting for tables outside on weekends.

FYI-

Unfortunately, Miss Millie's is closing; due to the cost of doing business in San Francisco, they have decided to move their place to Rockridge (Oakland).

Stu


Edited by Stu-i-moto (log)

________________

Stu Fisher - Owner

Tastee Cheese

www.tasteecheese.com

stu@tasteecheese.com

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Semi-refined/yuppie-type places

Miss Millies (24th St @ Castro) - always love those fresh churros. Many items on the brunch menu tend to be new twists on old classics, such as gingerbread pear waffles and lemon ricotta pancakes. You'll definitely spot a crowd waiting for tables outside on weekends.

FYI-

Unfortunately, Miss Millie's is closing; due to the cost of doing business in San Francisco, they have decided to move their place to Rockridge (Oakland).

Stu

Thanks for the heads-up. It will be missed by SF. :sad:

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I'm not a local, but travel to the city frequently for business, and always look forward to breakfast at Home Plate: 2274 Lombard St. (at Pierce). (415) 922-4663.

It's kind-of a combination of all of your categories, it's fairly down and dirty, but with creative food, good ingredients, big portions, and it's not crazy expensive.

Tom Sietsema's review in The Chronicle is over a decade old, but it still seems accurate. They have interesting, creative stuff, but I have a hard time straying from the basic pancakes with fresh fruit. Luckily, we usually go every morning that we're in town, so I can work my way around the menu...

It's crowded on weekends, but not bad during the week, or off-times.


"Philadelphia’s premier soup dumpling blogger" - Foobooz

philadining.com

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A few more somewhere between diner and yuppie:

Kate's Kitchen on Haight near Fillmore is quite good. I have fond memories of their french toast.

Boogaloo's at 22nd and Valencia isn't bad. If I hadn't chosen the Huevos Rancheros, that one time... Why is it, when you are really hung over, you always choose the food the least likely to make you feel better?

We've almost gone to Ella's in the Presidio a few times now. If they served waffles on the weekends we probably would have gone for brunch on my birthday. One of these days we will get there.


---

Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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I second the recommendation for Kate's in the Lower Haight. Good corned beef hash, hush puppies in sweet butter, fresh fruit, very savory greens. (Yes, I've been a regular for many years.)

I can't be bothered to slot my favorites into the different categories, but here are some other suggestions.

Chloe's at 1399 Church at 25th (yuppie breakfast? heck, it's Noe Valley). Smooth scrambled eggs, nice fluffy pancakes, good sausage, some of my favorite French toast in town, fresh fruit. The line is impossible on weekends and holidays; I'd stick to weekdays.

The Metro at Divisadero at Page, strictly weekend breakfast/brunch. Good Hollandaise sauce, very nice French toast, Dauphin potatoes.

Home at Market and Church (upscale diner/yuppie brunch, see what a hard time I'm having with the categories...) Good quiche, excellent brisket hash with eggs.

Buzz 9 on 8th near Howard. Haven't been in ages, but back when I was a regular, they had excellent Hollandaise sauce.

Bill

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Now that the Elite Cafe has reopened on Fillmore with Joanna Karlinksy at the helm (formerly of the Meetinghouse) I'd be willing to give it another shot at brunch. Used to be my favorite spot, mostly because of the beignets -- which have now been supplemented by cinnamon sugar donut holes and the Meetinghouse's rightly famous biscuits (with honey or sausage gravy).

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Can anyone recommend a breakfast place within walking distance of the Embaradero Center for a sunday morning? I see that MarketBar in the Ferry building serves sunday brunch-any opinions? We're having dim sum the day before so that's out.

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In the past month, I've tried the following brunch places that are worth mentioning:

Mabel's Just for You: It has the standards like egg dishes, pancakes, burgers, etc. Those items aren't very special and you can get the same quality for those prices at a lot of places. What I would go back for are the fresh beignets and the huevo ranchero. Oh yeah, cash or check only!

Town's End: Frankly, the place is a little overpriced for moderate quality food. I ordered the Winter Frittata and it was more like a scramble. The strawberries that my husband ordered with the waffles was under-ripe and came with a high price. The best parts of the breakfast are the potato pancakes and the free basket of mini muffins and scones. I would be happy just having those two items for brunch.

Welcome Home: A no non-sense diner on Castro with all the standard flairs. It's a nice place for brunch if you're in the neighborhood.

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I can't believe no one has mentioned Dottie's True Blue Cafe on Jones and Geary!!! It's my favorite breakfast spot...


Stephen W.

Pastry Chef/Owner

The Sweet Life Bakery

Vineland, NJ

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If you're in the neighborhood and want a Latin-American style breakfast, try

Los Jarritos

901 S. Van Ness at 20th Street

415-648-8383

They're large, comfortable, inexpensive and pretty good.

If your breakfast isn't quite as early, try Platanos on 18th and Guerrero for a more upscale version. The chilaquiles there are so fantastic...

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I've long since lost my taste for the groaner breakfasts, but on the occasions when duty calls (*cough*hangover*cough), I have a few haunts (caveat: I live in Noe Valley):

Fattoush (Church btwn Clipper/26th)

They swap out their Levantine menu for more standard brunch fare on weekend mornings. On sunny days, they have a sweet little garden in the back. Very civilized.

Le Zinc (24th btwn Noe/Castro)

A place I like generally, but the brunch is quite nice indeed. Try the brik.

Red Grill (18th btwn Hartford/Castro)

Offers up a decent brunch menu and also has a nice little back garden area. They also have a charming mimosa kit -- a bottle of bubbly with three little pitchers of different juices hanging off the side of the bucket.

I'm neverendingly amazed that places like Boogaloo and Chloe's can sustain themselves on brunch alone, and that people line up for it. There are so many alternatives.

And funny story in the "don't take a European there" category: Our good friend Franca from Rome has been here a number of times and has fallen in love with American breakfast. Skinny as a whip, she can really put it away. On her last visit, late last year, she went to Sparky's nearly every day and would order two full dishes -- large stack of pancakes and a full egg dish. The waiters were very amused by her.

* Edited to add location data


Edited by CheNiPenso (log)

Hedonia

Eating, drinking and living the good life in San Francisco

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I've long since lost my taste for the groaner breakfasts, but on the occasions when duty calls (*cough*hangover*cough), I have a few haunts (caveat: I live in Noe Valley):

Fattoush (Church btwn Clipper/26th)

They swap out their Levantine menu for more standard brunch fare on weekend mornings. On sunny days, they have a sweet little garden in the back. Very civilized.

Le Zinc (24th btwn Noe/Castro)

A place I like generally, but the brunch is quite nice indeed. Try the brik.

Red Grill (18th btwn Hartford/Castro)

Offers up a decent brunch menu and also has a nice little back garden area. They also have a charming mimosa kit -- a bottle of bubbly with three little pitchers of different juices hanging off the side of the bucket.

I'm neverendingly amazed that places like Boogaloo and Chloe's can sustain themselves on brunch alone, and that people line up for it. There are so many alternatives.

And funny story in the "don't take a European there" category: Our good friend Franca from Rome has been here a number of times and has fallen in love with American breakfast. Skinny as a whip, she can really put it away. On her last visit, late last year, she went to Sparky's nearly every day and would order two full dishes -- large stack of pancakes and a full egg dish. The waiters were very amused by her.

* Edited to add location data

Your comments made me laugh out loud -

I *love* Le Zinc for brunch. They used to serve breakfast every morning, and I would go there 3-4 times per week when I used to work from home (I also live in Noe). Alas, they couldn't get enough business (everyone else was stacking up at Chloe's for whatever reason), so they nixed the weekday service.

Haven't tried Fattoush or Red Grill, but since I feel we're on the same wavelength, I will -


________________

Stu Fisher - Owner

Tastee Cheese

www.tasteecheese.com

stu@tasteecheese.com

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If you're in the neighborhood and want a Latin-American style breakfast, try

Los Jarritos

901 S. Van Ness at 20th Street

415-648-8383

They're large, comfortable, inexpensive and pretty good.

I went to Los Jarritos a few times several years ago and really enjoyed the food. I have to get over there again sometime.

Over the long weekend, I discovered another great brunch place, Tangerine, at 16th and Sanchez. It serves up traditional items with a twist, such as coconut pancakes w/ ginger syrup, blue crab omelet and Thai chicken satay sandwich. WE ended up with the Hawaiian omelet and macaroni pancake. The omelet was filled with ham, fresh pineappe and cheese, and was the fluffiest omelet we've had. The macaroni pancake was topped an egg, sautee leek and oyster mushroom. It needed a little salt, but was very satisfying. The prices are also great since most items are under $10. We will definitely go back again.

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during a visit, i ate at Venus for brunch and was really blown away by how well-done it was. perfect eggs and lemon ricotta pancakes that blew me away [how does something so ephemeral in the mouth even stay together on the fork? amazing.]

Venus, brunch, yum.

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Where does The Cliff House fit into this? Just a tourist trap?

By all accounts, yes -- a tourist trap.

My BF's family visited during Thanksgiving and decided to go there against my suggestion. It was later confirmed that service was horrendous, a hollandaise was served with a crust and was too thick, potatoes were undercooked, etc... Glad we didn't join them!

Also, I had a friend visiting last weekend who reported a fabulous eggs benedict at The Monaco, where I've only gone for cocktails.

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We had a great brunch at Americano in the Hotel Vitale in July. The menu was very interesting and the execution was well done. It's quiet during the morning hours, but I wouldn't go anytime after 3:00 p.m., unless you are young and single.

I remember having quite a few good breakfasts at the Buena Vista, but that was a long time ago. Maybe it was the Irish Coffees that made it.

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i actually like the "crepe house". they have three locations: polk, gough and post. i used to live almost across the street from the polk location.

very casual, but the food is tasty and reasonably priced.

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A few more...

Boulette's Larder at the Ferry Plaza (gourmet/yuppy)

Citizen Cake (also gourmet/yuppy, wonderful baked goods)

Elite Cafe (gourmet/gut buster)

Slow Club (gourmet/yuppy)

My other faves have already been mentioned: Dotties (really the BEST!), Boogaloos (because of that cabbage salad), and Just For You. These are all a bit more on the hipster-diner continuum.

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Another recommendation around the financial district is Cafe Bastille.

Nice selection of classical french items, casual laid back atmosphere. Really enjoyed the boudin noir I had there. Also noticed that it seems popular with the french locals.

Caution.. some might be put off by the setting in the alley.

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      We try to make the recipe simple enough that it can be done in a reasonable amount of time, but we don’t restrict ourselves to doing recipes in 30 minutes or less.

      If you have to chill the custard base of the ice cream overnight, that’s what we tell the viewers. While we may use short-cuts on-camera to demonstrate the steps of the recipe, short cuts in the actual recipe aren’t allowed for the sake of convenience.

      If crab cakes taste better when they’re sautéed in clarified butter, so be it. We don’t forsake flavor at the cost of cutting fat and calories. We present the most flavorful dish possible.

      I e-mail the producer about three weeks before the show with a general idea of the dish I’m planning. Then about three or four days before the show, I send the recipe of the final dish. This allows KXLY to do promos up to two days in advance of the show: "Coming up on KXLY Sunday Morning Northwest, our favorite local chef, David Ross, will be preparing a delicious dish using fresh Dungeness Crab and Shrimp from Williams Seafood in the Valley."

      The recipe we post on the station’s website is usually written to serve 6-8 people. But, when you cook on local television, there is a very, very important consideration that you must factor into your shopping list-enough food to feed the crew.

      That means a recipe written for the public to serve precisely one "Shrimp Stuffed with Crab" to each of 8 guests, is a much different, and much larger recipe, behind the scenes. It’s more than just a matter of prepping 8 stuffed shrimp. It’s a matter of stuffing 30, maybe even 40 shrimp.

      I triple or quadruple the quantities called for in a recipe so that I can feed the cameramen, the floor director, the producer, the hosts, the sports guy, the weather lady, the DJ’s in the adjacent AM radio station booth-every person working in the studio on Sunday morning will have at least one of these delectable stuffed shrimp. (It’s vital to send the crew home sated; they are the ultimate taste-test panel. If they like your food, the viewers will like it too.)

      After the recipe for the dish I put together an "Invoice," a shopping list of ingredients that lists the cost of the products I’ll be buying for the recipe. This serves as my contract, if you will, for KXLY.

      The final piece of the written paperwork for each show is the "script" that I write for myself.

      This isn’t the same type of "script" that might be rehearsed by the actors on "The Bold and The Beautiful." The only person that reads this script is me. (And maybe the co-host who glances at the script tucked under the plate displayed on the set). When you cook on local television you don’t rehearse with other actors. If you choose to rehearse you do it at home ahead of time.

      Remember, this is live TV. We don’t have room for errors. We don’t do re-takes or re-shoot scenes. We’re LIVE! For my own piece of mind, I need a script as a sort of crutch to lean on. (Hey, Martha always has a cheat sheet on the counter).

      The script is my guide to all the points of the dish that I want to convey. This Sunday, I want to mention Williams Seafood and the array of products that Mike offers. I’ll talk about using wild American shrimp because they have a sweeter taste than farm-raised, and I’ll demonstrate how the prosciutto serves as a natural wrapper to hold the crab stuffing in the shrimp.

      The script helps me with my timing when I’m on-camera -- and timing is critical when you cook on television. I rehearse the script over and over and over in my living room, while a little white kitchen timer ticks away.

      I can’t tell you how many professional chefs and amateur cooks I’ve seen on television who didn’t rehearse their bit-and the results on live television were disastrous.

      (Like the chef who -- at the moment of presenting his dessert -- realized that he left the ice cream in his car. In the sun. He literally ran out of the studio, on live TV, to go get the ice cream.)

      The only small measure of direction I get from the Floor Director on the set is when I’m told to "look into the camera" seconds before the red light comes on.

      + + +

      I’ll need two of Mike’s best crabs for Sunday’s show -- one for the meat in the crab stuffing, and another one for the display of ingredients on the set.

      This morning Mike takes literally 20 minutes to scrub and wash the shell of the prized "display crab." As he toils away, I vow to honor his crab by insuring that the shell will be kept wet and shiny during its appearance -- or I won’t be able to show my face in Mike’s shop again.

      I’ll be making a crab cake mixture to stuff the shrimp. I’m wondering if Mike can top himself after the wondrous crabs he’s already given me, but he doesn’t disappoint today -- his fresh Wild American Shrimp fished out of the Gulf of Florida are just the right size to hold my savory crab cake stuffing.

      In the case of Sunday’s dish of Stuffed Shrimp, the recipe calls for grilling the shrimp on the outdoor barbecue. But we won’t be barbecuing the shrimp on camera this Sunday. I’ll grill the shrimp at home and then we’ll go through the motions of the cooking process during our live segment.

      I try to have all of my prep work done by late Saturday afternoon so I all I have to do on Sunday morning is pack the coolers and drive to the studio. There won’t be a Hummer limousine at my doorstep on Sunday morning waiting to whisk me in comfort to KXLY. I’ll be driving myself to the studio in a Dodge pickup.

      My home office serves as the "staging" area for packing the coolers. Make note of the supplies on the floor next to the cooler-dishes, toothpicks, silverware, tongs, spatulas and kitchen towels.

      And yes, I am following the direct instructions of Mike the fish guy -- I bought a spray bottle at the "Dollar Store" so that I can keep our precious "display crab" wet on camera.

      + + +

      I’ve never cooked on the "Today Show" on NBC in New York. I’ve heard that cooks who appear on "Today" are escorted into what is called a "Green Room," catered with lush displays of fresh fruit, vegetable and cheese trays, pastries and a never-ending assortment of beverages to await their few moments of fame. We don’t have a "Green Room" at KXLY. What we have is a room used by the weekday news staff to script out the flow of the news programs.

      Not having a Green Room is a blessing in disguise. The atmosphere in the studio is very casual and I don’t have to sit in a cold, lonely room waiting for a perky intern to escort me to the studio. I wait in the studio.

      You learn to be patient and immodest around the crew -- these are the people who watch you unzip your pants in the studio. You pull out your shirt so they can thread a small microphone from your waist, underneath your shirt, up to your neck and then clip the little mouthpiece to your collar.

      The only style advice I ever got was from my co-host, Teresa Lukens, who cautioned me not to wear a striped or checked shirt on-camera-something about the pattern of my shirt being a distraction to the viewers. (And I thought the girth of my waist was more of a distraction to the viewers than the pattern of my shirt).

      I don’t wear a Chef’s coat, because I don’t consider myself a Chef. I’m a cook and I want the viewers to relate to my story and my personality with ease and comfort. I want them to feel comfortable going into their kitchens at home and creating the types of dishes they might have at a restaurant. I don’t want to scare them by thinking only a guy in a chef’s coat can cook good food.

      Our kitchen at KXLY comprises an electric, flat-top stove inserted into a formica cabinet on wheels, held in place with sandbags. We don’t have an oven, refrigerator, freezer or running water. We make do with what we have-and that’s why I bring my own spatulas, spoons and water bottle to spray the crab.

      After the "Pet for Adoption" segment, I’m allowed on the set to get ready. I usually have about 15 minutes to unpack the coolers, put the ingredients on display and get the stove-top heated.

      We begin our cooking segment with a 30-second lead-in, usually after the local sports report. Teresa introduces the dish we’ll be doing and then we break to another commercial. I don’t have a lot of time to grill shrimp when we go live on KLXY -- only four minutes total for cooking time and discussion of the dish with my co-host. I’m lucky to have Teresa as my host. She knows food and cooking. She knows that prosciutto is cured Italian ham and she knows it’s thin and slightly salty. She knows to ask if smaller prawns will work for the recipe. And without prompting, she’ll ask why I’m using fresh Dungeness crab instead of canned lump crab meat. At the end of the segment we cut to one last commercial.

      As we come back live, Rick and Teresa are their normally gracious selves, tasting the stuffed shrimp and declaring it delicious. The show is a wrap.

      One more taste-test lies ahead before we can bring this journey to an end. What will the crew say about my "Shrimp Stuffed with Crab?"

      They tell me the stuffed shrimp were delicious. But you know what they really liked? What impressed them the most? The radishes.

      About a week after Sunday’s show, I went back to Williams Seafood to get some photos of the shop for this story.

      I find Mike behind the counter cutting fresh tuna steaks.

      "At least it looked fresh this time," he says.

      + + +

      Epilogue

      Shortly after I finished this piece, I began working with KXLY on our next cooking segment, which was scheduled to take place on Sunday, November 16.

      The plan was to cook some unique side dishes that the home cook could easily do to accompany the holiday turkey or prime rib. At least that was the plan until I picked up the local newspaper on November 2.

      When I turned to the business section, I saw the ominous news: "KXLY cancels weekend news program." I immediately contacted the producer.

      I had been cancelled -- a victim of the horrible state of the economy. I felt like I had been kicked in the gut. Cancelled after seven years and dozens of live cooking segments. Cancelled.

      Because "Sunday Morning Northwest" wasn’t the lead-in program to "Good Morning America," on the weekdays, it relied heavily on local advertising for its survival. ABC wouldn’t (and KXLY couldn’t) carry the burden of producing a local show that didn’t feed into network programming.

      With so many local businesses filing for bankruptcy and others literally closing the doors, one of the first budget items to go was television advertising -- advertising revenue that paid to produce "Sunday Morning Northwest."

      I wasn’t the only on-air "personality" to get the pink slip. The weekend weather "person" also got her walking papers. Rick and Teresa Lukens returned to the security of the KXLY-AM 920 radio booth and continue with their weekday morning drive-time show.

      And I have taken an unwanted leave of absence from local television. At least for a few months.

      Loyalty is not a word that is highly regarded in the television business. If ABC cancels you, you talk to NBC and so I’ve shifted my ambitions to KHQ -- the local NBC affiliate.

      KHQ airs a local morning program seven days a week. So if the culinary Gods are praying for me, someday soon I’ll begin doing a live cooking segment on the "KHQ Morning News."

      * * *

      David Ross lives in Spokane, but works a one-hour plane ride away. When he's not tending to his day job -- or commuting -- he writes about food, reviews restaurants and -- obviously -- does food presentation. He is on the eGullet Society hosting team for the Culinary Culture and Kitchen forums.
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