Here’s a sad fact: Chow, Baby is getting older. The signs are there: I’m always in bed before 10 p.m., I avoid crowded places, and I enjoy watching Andy Griffith solve mysteries. But the biggest change in my advancing years is that I wake up absurdly early and eat breakfast.
I never used to be an early riser, and the rare breakfast was something consumed in the car on my way to work. Now I’m a breakfast regular at local restaurants. Just deciding where to eat is like a mini-workout for my groggy brain.
If you’re on a Chow, Baby scavenger hunt, though, forget the places that offer brunch on weekends. I like old-school cafés with counter seating, endless refills of strong coffee, and gravy that’s slathered on everything but the menu. (Note to self: Must try gravy in my coffee instead of cream.) And when I get tired of cream gravy, I go to joints that serve great breakfast tacos.
One place that meets all of the above criteria is Benbrook Café (4902 Hwy. 377, Benbrook). I was out in “the Brook” recently visiting a friend when the ramshackle eatery caught my eye. The exterior was boxy and blah, but the inside revealed a quintessential Chow, Baby breakfast haunt.
I sidled up to the counter and ordered a cup of joe. The menu won’t be up for a James Beard award any time soon, but that’s not what I was after. My breakfast of two eggs over easy with biscuits and gravy cost a scant $4.99 and was a solid — if not spectacular — offering. The eggs were cooked perfectly, so that the yolk and gravy mixed like some kind of greasy-spoon lava lamp. The biscuits were fluffy, and the gravy was nice and creamy, though it could have used a little more salt. But, hey, there was a salt shaker right in front of me. All in all, Benbrook Café wasn’t sexy, but neither am I in the morning.
My new favorite place for breakfast tacos has to be El Terreno (1714 Randol Mill Rd., Arlington). I noticed the stand-alone building during a recent trip to Chow, Mere’s Arlington villa. Once again, it was tough to judge the breakfast book by its cover. From the outside, El Terreno looks like a fast-food joint, complete with a drive-through. But the place turned out to be an unpretentious sit-down, family-owned restaurant. And it might be the best-kept secret in A-Town. The breakfast taco, stuffed with potato, sausage, bacon, and cheese, and served with fluffy scrambled eggs ($3.25) is at its best when it’s drenched in the delicious, moderately spicy house salsa. The hot-and-fresh tortillas are made in-house. The kitchen also whips up a decent French toast ($2.50) at a great price. But why anyone would order anything except the breakfast tacos is beyond me.
The only chink in El Terreno’s armor was the service. On a recent weekend morning visit, my guest and I waited for what seemed like an eternity for our order. The place wasn’t that busy either. Our server disappeared for a while, but I can’t stay mad at someone bearing breakfast tacos.
I’m starting to enjoy this whole getting-up-early routine. Going out for breakfast forces me to interact with people — who may not be all that pleased that they are forced to interact with my morning self, who communicates by pointing and grunting. Frankly, how anyone tolerates me at that hour is a mystery fit for Matlock himself.
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