This is the spot where Ruth and I chose to have brunch this past Sunday during her visit from New Hampshire.
Ruth and I go back to my grad school days. We worked together at Jessie’s Restaurant in Hanover, and I haven’t seen her since my ex-boyfriend and I tried to sneak her into Happy Hour at Murphy’s and they wouldn’t serve her without an ID. (An appropriate response as she was underage, but my ex-boyfriend was so upset by this he revoked his patronage and vowed never to return.*) Ruth is now 23, which is the age I was when I moved to New Hampshire, and I’m now the age of my ex-boyfriend when he tried to sneak a 20 year old into a bar. It’s like we’ve come full circle.
*some people take “happy hour” very seriously.
Brunch is a wonderful meal. Maybe the best meal ever invented. It’s the epitome of relaxation and pure enjoyment. On the seventh day, I bet God rested and then had brunch. “Shall we have breakfast?” He pondered. “Or lunch? Or breakfast at 2pm?” NOW WE’RE TALKING, said Jesus and the Holy Spirit, and thus brunch came to be, and God saw that it was good.
We consulted Yelp! for a brunch spot I haven’t tried. I’ve already been to the staples: Julian’s, Nick’s on Broadway, The Grange. All good, but massive waits and pricey. My favorite place is in Cranston, and I thought about heading there, but we wanted to stay within walking distance of downtown so I could give Ruth a tour of the city and of Brown campus. The first entry to pop up online was this cute little place called Kitchen.
I’m a fan of mom-and-pop type places, and this appeared to be one. The first reviewer gave it 5 stars and said, “You will never eat breakfast better than this ever again in your entire life.” That’s a bold statement. And she backed it up with descriptive adjectives and praises, painting a picture of a darling restaurant run by a convivial one man show–Howard, the chef, owner, host, and waiter. The other reviewers impressed upon the fact that it was a small location, very homey, with the “Best. Breakfast. Ever.” How could we not try it?
Our next concern after where to eat was when to eat. My original thought was to do our walking tour and then grab brunch, but Ruth wanted to leave Rhode Island at a reasonable hour and I figured the brunch line would increase exponentially between 12-2. “Let’s go now!” I posited, since it was only 9:30am and I thought most of our demographic would still be in bed.
We arrived at 9:40a.m. and there was already a line out the door, which was both a good sign and a bad sign. Good, because it meant this tiny pink building on this oddly residential street off Broadway was actually popular; bad because it meant we weren’t the “early” risers I anticipated. In a normal restaurant, a line this size might not have been too hard to accommodate. But here, there was no “name on a list,” there was no “estimated time” given by the hostess. We didn’t even walk in to check. We just joined the line with everyone else and assumed the position of waiting indefinitely.
Here’s what happened while in line.
1. We debated whether or not we should stay. It was such a cute restaurant! But the line… Such good reviews! But the line…
2. I told Ruth that The Grange was just around the corner if we wanted to leave.
3. We decided to stay and see what happened.
4. The party in front of us, four people, spoke another language and I couldn’t tell where they were from. I only perked up when Ruth said she thought they might leave.
5. “What makes you say that?” I asked. “They just said ‘The Grange,'” she said.
6. They stayed.
7. Two guys joined us at the end of the line. They asked us what the wait was. We told them we didn’t know. They asked us how long it usually took to get inside. We told them we didn’t know. “We’ve never been here before,” we admitted. “Us either,” they said, “but the reviews were good.” Ahhh, other people Yelping on a Sunday morning! We joked that we could join forces if it would help speed up the line. “Everyone make friends!” I said jokingly, but not joking.
8. A man in the middle of the line pulled a peeping Tom by staring into the restaurant window and came back saying there were only four or five tables, most of which could not accommodate four people.
9. I abandoned hope of joining parties with the others in line.
10. The two guys behind us left and went to the Grange.
11. Given Ruth’s background in hostessing, she pointed out that if there were several parties of four, and we were just a party of two, we could be seated before the people in front of us. But she determined it would take an entire restaurant turnover before we would be seated.
12. I counted, too, feeling optimistic. There were still four couples and a party of four–so, an entire restaurant turnover. My optimism faded.
13. I started looking up other brunch options on my phone.
14. The first couple in line either disappeared or were seated. We felt a renewed sense of hope.
15. It started to get hot.
16. We realized we’d already been there 35 minutes.
17. A woman and a child went running up to the door and breezed through. A few minutes later they exited with more people. Another couple went in.
18. We debated whether or not we should stay. “In 30 minutes only two people have been seated.” “But maybe they’ll all be leaving around the same time?” “There’s no way to know.” “But we’ve been here so long, we have to stay,” Ruth said. I sighed because she was right. There was a growing sense of investment each minute we stood there.
19. The line turned into something of a round mass because we all tried to huddle in the shade. I noticed two other women who’d walked in and then walked out and were standing in the middle of the mass. “Were they here before us?” I asked. Ruth shook her head. My eyes grew wide. There was no way they were cutting in line.
20. We started conversing with our compatriots in waiting. I’m not sure who spoke to whom first, but we started talking to the two guys who were in front of the non-English speakers. (OH! One of them asked if I went to Brown because I was wearing my Brown hat and probably looked like a teenage boy).
20.5 We thought the guys in front of us were a party of two, but their other half was waiting in line at Julian’s to see who would get in first. The guy who asked if I was a Brown student said his younger brother was currently a Brown student (he himself had just graduated from RISD and was working as an art teacher). The older guy with him was from Hamburg, Germany, and thankfully for all of us, I did not speak German to him. Ruth and I learned that they, too, had never been to Kitchen before, and neither had the couple in front of them. NONE of us had been here before, and we wondered if this was all just a ploy. The German guy said, “Maybe the food here isn’t really that good, but everyone says it’s the best to lure people out here to stand in the same long line that they had to endure. They eat here once and never come back!”
That would be cruel.
Would people do that? Just lie about the quality of food because they had to wait in line for it?
Or maybe the long line convinces people the food tastes better than it does because starvation has kicked in by the time they get it?
I made a vow right there that if the food was terrible, I would NOT lure people in by writing a falsely positive review. I was expecting a meal that was “BEST-BREAKFAST-EVER,” and I would nobly report otherwise.
21. We built camaraderie with the two guys (whose Julian counterparts said “I think we’re coming to you” –“‘You think?’ What does that mean?”) We joked with the couple in front of them, the couple who was “on deck” as it were, and I loudly verbalized the line order, making sure the two women who looked like they were planning to cut us knew that WE knew who went where. We were a team. We suffered together. We had endured a life-changing drama, one where strangers become friends quickly and irrationally, bound together as if by natural disaster. (Another couple had, by this point, also joined the conglomeration, but they went straight for the shade and did not look like they intended to cut anyone.)
22. Then I made a joke. “Watch: once you get inside, you realize it’s a cash only restaurant.”
23. There was silence.
24. “I bet this is a cash only restaurant.” “Surely not!” “Everyone’s got credit cards these days!” “Usually small places like this ARE cash only.” “How much cash do you have?” “I don’t have any.” “Wouldn’t there be a sign on the door?” “Did someone write this on Yelp?” “I have some cash.” “I bet this is why the woman ran out with her child and left her husband behind–she needed to get cash!” (that last observation was Ruth’s. Such a smart girl.)
25. Two people emerged from the Kitchen. The next couple in line went in. We smiled and raised a fist. Go forth and enjoy! We’ll see you on the other side, we thought.
26. The group of people whom I thought didn’t speak English suddenly spoke English. “Do they only take cash?” asked one. “I don’t know,” I answered, “but I think so. It seems like you still have plenty of time to find an ATM, though!” While the rest of us discussed whether or not the evidence pointed to the affirmative, he just went inside and asked. “They only take cash,” he said upon exiting, and hurried down the street.
27. The Julian line-holders returned and the older one was immediately sent away to find an ATM. We chit-chatted with the Brown student.
28. I did the math and realized if a two-top became available, Ruth and I would be the next ones seated.
29. Ruth and I unabashedly creeped on the people inside by staring through the windows. There were, in fact, three VERY tiny booths, made for two people, and two slightly bigger booths that could, in theory, fit four people. We reported this to the others–both parties of four could be seated simultaneously.
30. On the bright side? We’re next, we’re next, we’re next, we’re next!
31. Two people exited. Ruth and I took a deep breath and tried not to squeal as we gave the others a “see you on the other side” head nod. WE WERE IN! WE MADE IT!
Despite how well-lit the picture above is, it was actually really dark inside. There were table lights at each booth and it gave the place a rustic quality. The entire restaurant, as you can see, IS the Kitchen.***
***It all makes sense now.
There was a waitress, so it wasn’t entirely a one-man show. It took her a while to greet us, but since the menu was only written in chalk on the wall, it required some contorting (and eventually standing and staring over the couple seated beneath it) to read it. We were no longer rushed. We had made it!
After giving us water, the waitress (a really sweet-looking girl, with a round face and glasses and wearing what reminded me of a black ballet leotard) took our drink orders. Ruth had a coffee and I had a coffee milk. I’ve always thought it was just milk with coffee-flavored syrup, but because I could see our waitress preparing our drinks, I saw her fill the glass with 2/3 of a dark, coffee-like substance and then top it off with milk. It blew my mind. This whole time there’s more to coffee milk than I thought? Or is it just this one place? TELL ME, RHODE ISLAND. I MUST KNOW!****
****Coffee milk is the official state drink. It tastes like coffee flavored milk, but in the most awesome way. Just another reason why I love it here.
A couple stand-out items from the menu board. There was a muffin of the day that had pineapple and coconut in it. (Um, wow.) There was bacon sold as a side for $2.50 by the slice. (By the slice?) And there was a croissant french toast.
I asked the waitress what she recommended as their “must-have” dish, or something that the Kitchen did that no one else did.
She recommended the corned beef hash (it’s homemade and has a different flavor than most), the bacon, or the croissant french toast.
I got the corned beef hash (with eggs, home fries, and rye bread) and Ruth got the Big Shot breakfast with eggs, potatoes, bacon, and pancakes.
By the time we’d ordered, our friends (the group with the Brown/RISD/German guys) had been seated, and before our food came, the non-English speaking English speakers also arrived. We’d all made it.
There was a bit of a wait for the food, but nothing I’d complain about. Ruth and I were able to catch up on bad-date stories (mine) and before I knew it, the food was ready.
My only encounter with the supposedly affable Howard, the not-so-one-man-show, was when I tried to use the restroom and 1) it was taken and 2) he said, “When that guy comes out, I’M next!”
Yessir. I’m not arguing with the guy slicing the bacon.
Here’s the food:
1. The corned beef hash was indeed homemade and very good. The ten year old version of me wouldn’t have liked it because she would’ve preferred the canned stuff, but the adult version appreciated it very much.
2. The pancakes were fluffy.
3. The bacon, which I did not eat because it was a quarter inch thick and legitimately sliced pork belly (I tend to eat only the crispy burnt kind of bacon, and only the crispy burnt part), was delicious according to Ruth.
Was it the best meal I’ve ever had?
Was it good?
Was it worth the wait?
Well…. the experience was worth the wait. If there hadn’t been a wait, there wouldn’t have been a story. We would’ve just had an average breakfast.
In the end, after we paid–in cash–we waved goodbye to the people at every table, people whom we hadn’t known that morning but who felt like friends by noon.
And that’s the kind of brunch worth having.