Call me crazy – as much as I love fine dining breakfast kitsch will always hold a special place in my heart (and belly.) Having dined at some of America’s greats – Dottie’s True Blue, Griddle Café, Bongo Room, Miss Shirley’s, and Pamela’s to name few – I knew that Carman’s Country Kitchen was a must on my visit to Philadelphia. With lunch and dinner plans starring Marc Vetri and still sated from Modo Mio the previous evening I knew daytime snacking would be light and a solid breakfast would hold me the six hours to lunch – per usual I woke early and hit the ground running, arriving at the Country Kitchen before they even opened the doors.
With the truck-table parked outside I took a seat on the hitch for only a moment before the front of house man would open the door and say “she ain’t ready yet, but you can come in and take a seat and have some coffee or something.” Making my way into the restaurant the server introduced himself by name and asked for mine – he’d call me Mike for the duration of my meal. Browsing around the small diner I have to admit the décor is not exactly G-Rated, but it certainly is hilarious – pigs and tea pots with enormous genitals, pictures from God knows where, and the famous “Put the C*nt back in Country” signage.
Sipping my coffee – dark and solid, a bit acidic but not “bad,” I chatted with the server about what I was doing in town, the restaurant, and Philly in general – he had a lot of suggestions for interesting things to see and do. Around 8am Carman herself would come in through the back door with an enormous grocery bag full of ingredients that she picked up on her way to work – things to “experiment with for next week’s menu.” Browsing the big board I made my selection (remember, only 4 mains and 4 sides are available) and Carman introduced herself and conversed boisterously from the back kitchen while preparing my food.
Offered a selection of newspapers, magazines, and other assorted reading materials I browsed the sports section while we discussed the restaurant’s history and other spots Carman recommended in the city. Never short on words or opinions Carman held up her end of the conversation admirably with lots of anecdote – for a solo diner who would spend the duration of his meal at Carman’s as the only person in house it was actually very interesting. After 20 minutes and a couple cups of coffee my plate would arrive along with a dispenser of thick, rich, maple syrup.
Entitled Buttermilk Pancakes with White Figs, Dark Chocolate, Ginger, Ground Almonds, and Anise I tasted a bite solo and then added syrup. At $14 and cash only for an Aunt Jemima based cake I have to admit the price seemed a bit steep for the portion size, but what was lacking in size was more than made up for by flavor. Impressively well balanced I was shocked by the sweetness of the figs and the manner in which they were balanced by the bitter dark chocolate and aromatic spices of the fresh ginger and Anise. Well cooked and fluffy the pancakes were stellar examples as well – whatever Carman is doing to the base mix I need to figure out.
Finishing my pancakes and settling the tab I chatted with my hosts some more – parking cop lore, stories of the best places to go drinking in Philly, and her theory on why the Phillies were slumping all came to the table – I was also given a business card and told the menu would be changing the next day if I wanted to make a reservation because “it gets busy early on Saturdays.” With food and service so impressive I have no doubt it should.