Depending upon your dining preferences or the bar you frequent, breakfast at a watering hole can be a cultural odyssey or a gritty journey. I maintain that both can be equally delightful if you have a curiosity for interesting bar food that comes with a funky atmosphere and clientele. To my surprise, I had no trouble finding bars and restaurants widely known for their late-night shenanigans that also produce quality eats from the weekend morning griddle – in copious, delicious quantities. Here are five “bars” with breakfasts worth a try. I didn’t even graze the surface of what’s available for bar breakfast dining. You’re welcome to comment and let other readers know about your favorite bar for breakfast.
1. Puget Sound Pizza
Contact: 317 S. Seventh St., Tacoma, 253-383-4777
Breakfast served: 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays. Minors are allowed.
The scene: Gritty with a capital G and an edge of funk at this bar known for its nighttime karaoke and pizza pies. The decor is pure bar: a picture of jumpsuit-era Elvis on the wall, lit-up beer signs on view no matter where you sit. Mom alert: The staff at least has relocated the paper towel holder from the top of the toilet to back on the wall, but the bathroom is unisex with a whiff of ewwww. Bring your own bleach.
The kitchen: The weekend breakfast chef is Eli Sharpe. Business partners Martin Osborn and Shannon Stragier bought Puget Sound Pizza a year ago from original owner Jim Higgins.
The menu: Osborn, Stragier and crew used humor in designing this menu heavy on eggs and breakfast favorites such as omelets, stuffed hash browns and griddle cakes. One bar offering made me snicker: Jack Daniels-spiked oatmeal.
Breakfast booze: House-made secret blend bloody Marys made with a chipotle lime base are $4.
The eats: The bacon-flecked pancakes ($7.50) tasted of salty-sweet yum. Buttermilk cakes were sprinkled with bacon, griddled, flipped, then topped with more crispy bacon. Log Cabin syrup got a bacony makeover in the kitchen – Sharpe simmers the commercial syrup with bacon, resulting in a decadent, savory, porky syrup. (Extra sides are $1.50 each).
Stuffed hash browns ($9.25) were just as they sounded – chunky fat with whatever three ingredients you select. A trainwreck ($9.50) was a tangle of cheesy shredded hash browns suspending eggs, bacon, peppers and onions.
The kitchen got the base of the country fried steak ($10) right with a thin, meaty steak all dressed up in a crispy jacket, but the sausage gravy tasted pasty. Eggs over easy came just as they should – oozing, flanked with shredded browns and a griddled biscuit.
2. Dirty Oscar’s Annex
Contact: 2309 Sixth Ave., Tacoma, 253-572-0588
Breakfast served: 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturdays-Sunday. No minors allowed.
The scene: Dirty Oscar’s Annex, a live music venue, opened a year ago after a previous life as Sax. The scene is pure bar – pool table, lounge seating, sizeable bar. The name is a quirky ode to its alley location and the Sesame Street character Oscar the Grouch.
The kitchen: Aaron Grissom took over the kitchen in June after Chef Kyle Wnuk left to open nearby Marrow.
The menu: The menu is kitschy, upscale bar eats with a twist o’ fun, such as French toast coated with Cap’n Crunch cereal, and chicken and waffles. A new breakfast menu debuts this weekend.
Breakfast booze: None listed, but they can make anything you want.
The eats: Cap’n Crunch as a French toast coating sounds like a terrible idea on multiple culinary levels, but just as with panko breading, using cereal as a coating adds surprising crunch. At DOA, cinnamon-dusted sourdough bread ($9) came egg battered, coated with the Cap’n Crunch, cooked on a griddle and smeared with a berry chutney cream.
Hash showed up in two versions: pulled pork ($10) and braised elk ($11). The crispy pork was paired with equally crispy potatoes and bacon that went swell with kicky jalapeno ketchup. The elk was pervasive without being gamey, but suffered a too-thin sausage gravy. An elk breakfast wrap ($10) came laced with melted goat cheese, creamy potatoes and roasted peppers. Chicken fried steak ($10) was the only true failure; it was a gristly hockey puck with a fall-apart coating. A good one always comes with a river of gravy – but here, it was more of a watery drizzle.
Most breakfast entrees feature hash browns, and they’re sublime because they come with a wider shred and more surface area, resulting in a more pronounced crunchy-creamy texture.
Contact: 2811 Sixth Ave., Tacoma, 253-254-0560, masatacoma.com
Breakfast served: 9 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays. Minors are allowed.
The scene: The line for live music and college nights is out the door here late at night, but breakfast is considerably quieter in the modern dining room with an industrial edge.
The kitchen: Joel Mertens is executive chef of X Group Restaurants, which also owns Asado, Engine House No. 9 and the newly opened Choripan at the Museum of Glass.
The menu: Breakfast at Masa originally started as a pared down event for Sunday NFL games, but it has expanded into a lively early day version of the restaurant’s imaginative nuevo Mexican cuisine.
Breakfast booze: A poor man’s mimosa – orange juice and Tecate – and a bloody Mary spiked with jalapeno vodka. $3.50 each.
The eats: Chilaquiles ($8.79) were full of corn, starch and crunch. Corn tortilla strips were slow simmered in a mellow red sauce, topped with crunchy fried, battered jalapeno strips and sliced andouille sausage, and they were lifted off of the plate by crunchy home fries lightly coated with honey-jalapeno butter. Smoked pork Benedict ($9.99) was a fun spin on traditional Benedict, with braised, smoked pork standing in for ham and too-chewy sopes making an unwieldy foundation. The poblano-flavored hollandaise was worthy of scooping with the flour tortillas. Beans and rice on the side weren’t warm enough, but they were tasty.
Masa’s chicken-fried steak ($10.99) takes liberty with the traditional cube steak version: a flat piece of carne asada created a chewy base requiring a sharp knife. The coating was crispy and delicious in early bites, but became soggy from the fabulously meaty river of sausage gravy.
The braised rib scramble ($9.99) would prompt me to return again and again. An iron skillet started with a foundation of crispy jalapeno-honey home fries layered with braised rib meat, scrambled eggs, melted cotija cheese, pico de gallo and four-alarm fire from sliced jalapenos.
4 + 5. The Harmon Brewery and The Hub
Where: The Harmon is at 1938 Pacific Ave., Tacoma, 253-383-2739. The Hub is at 203 Tacoma Ave. S., Tacoma, 253-683-4606. harmonbrewingco.com
Breakfast served: 9 a.m.-noon Saturdays and Sundays at the Harmon Brewery and 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays at The Hub. Minors are welcome.
The scene: The Harmon and The Hub are siblings of the Harmon Brewery family, which also includes the Tap Room (no breakfast served there). Both bars are casual, family friendly, bright and clean.
In the kitchen: Jed Williams is lead breakfast chef at The Harmon. Andre Brown-Reeves is at The Hub.
The menu: Harmon Brewery General Manager Bob Casey said breakfast at a brewery was something diners didn’t understand, so they discontinued it. Breakfast returned to the Harmon last March with a scaled-down focus heavy on eggs Benedict. The Hub’s breakfast is more expansive and has been a diner hit since it was offered shortly after opening in 2008.
Breakfast booze: At the Harmon, you’ll find $3 bloody marys and mimosas. At the Hub, you’ll find the same for $4.
The eats: If you’re a fan of eggs Benedict, go to The Harmon. The hollandaise sauce is more buttery than lemony, and the eggs come perfectly poached over crunchy English muffins. A Dungeness crab Benedict ($12) came loaded with sweet, meaty crab, and the Benedict Florentine ($9) was loaded with sauteed, garlicky spinach. The hash browns were passable, but will leave you reaching for the salt shaker.
The Hub does breakfast classics well. The chicken-fried steak ($9) was huge and fork-tender, crispy fried and coated with creamy sausage gravy, flavored with basil and thyme, that leaked over onto the crispy cubed home fries. Biscuits and gravy ($8) also came with herbed sausage gravy over densely textured split biscuits. Corned beef and hash ($8) was a salty jumble of finely chopped ingredients just the way a good hash should be, with peppers, onions, corned beef and shredded potatoes.