The Breakfast Nook
1719 N. 4th Street
In the glory days of the eighties and nineties, the morning hot spot in Coeur d’Alene was the old Rustler’s Roost on Sherman Avenue. Woody and the gals served up huge portions of North Idaho’s finest morning fare until suddenly the lease ran out and they fled to Hayden, leaving a gaping hole in downtown breakfast options. In the little shack where the Roost was born, a series of restaurants came and went, none of which were quite able to leave much of an impression on the local breakfast scene. That is, until the “Big Rooster” took over. That was our nickname for the place, inspired by the extra large domestic fowl featured on the otherwise wordless light-up sign that hung on the building above the door.
With a winning combination of good location, friendly service, and large amounts of food for a very reasonable price, The Breakfast Nook was an instant hit and the place was packed full of people from day one. Some weeks I found myself dining there two or three times. We panicked a few years later after the announcement came that the building would be razed to make way for some high-rise condos. It was a relief to hear the owners were scouting for a new location.
So after quite a few months of eating the most important meal of the day at lesser establishments, the Big Rooster returned to the breakfast scene in a larger, newly remodeled building on North 4th Street that was an A&W restaurant when I was a kid and has been dozens of various things since (Cheers Sports Bar, a Subaru Dealer…)
On a recent sunny Monday morning, we swung into the very last parking spot in the lot and shuffled inside. Upon entering, there is a narrow hallway leading in to where the reception desk sits. There were several folks ahead of us and it appeared they had been waiting awhile – they were getting a bit grouchy. The hostess was absent from her desk and after we stood there for several minutes I began to wonder if anyone was ever going to acknowledge us. Just a simple “Hey guys, it’ll be just a minute” would have sufficed, but no. I peeked my head over the partition to see several empty, unclean tables. Also, we could see an entire room full of empty tables in another section of the place, but for whatever reason they weren’t utilizing this space. As my tummy rumbled with hunger, and as the minutes passed, my patience rapidly began to fade.
Finally, a hostess appeared just as the audibly cranky woman ahead of us was getting ready to bail. The hostess coldly wrote our names on a list and still offered no clue as to when we might be seated. She was too young to be so frowny-faced and bitter. Mercifully, it was only a few minutes before an actual waitress sat us, apologizing for the wait and explaining that half the staff had neglected to show up for work that day. I noticed that the owner himself was cleaning tables and washing dishes. Still, I was ravenous and not in the mood for excuses. This never happened at the old Breakfast Nook, where I never had to wait for a table despite the smaller size.
As the waitress poured my coffee, I looked around at the fugly “décor” – totally 80’s Country Living kitsch that even a thrift store would have a hard time legitimizing. Somehow this motif almost worked for them downtown. It fit in with the rustic nature of the place – the toll-painted pastel chickens and dusty straw wreaths just blended in. Here in the new location, they should have opted for a slightly more modern look to go with the shiny newness of the place. The overhead fluorescent lighting is a touch harsh on tender morning eyes and screams “K-Mart Cafeteria.” Hanging directly above the front counter area is a sign that reads bluntly “Be nice or leave” complete with hand painted mauve flowers and cute little frou-frous around the edge. Clearly, this message is not intended for surly hostesses. Anyway, the table was quite comfortable and ultimately, the Breakfast Nook is known for good food, not its questionable décor choices.
It was good to see the same exact menus from the old location land on our table. Prices are very reasonable ($5-$8) and portions are large. The options are wild and varied. Hawaiian omelet with Swiss cheese and pineapple chunks? Check. The increasingly rare Monte Cristo? Check. Calamari or razor clams with poached egg and rye toast? Check. (Although the idea of squid for breakfast has turned me green many mornings after a night on the town.) I must also mention that lunches here are great as well, and they serve some of the best burgers in town, along with some great daily specials. Once, we came in for lunch and they had a 12 oz steak, baked potato, and veggies for a mere $6.95. Fantastic!
Since it had been such a long time, I ordered my usual: the chicken fried steak with gravy, scrambled eggs, and pancakes instead of hash browns and toast. My breakfast partner followed suit, but chose eggs done sunny side up and hash browns with wheat toast. Making up for the frustration of the earlier wait, our food arrived amazingly fast and piping hot. The chicken fried steak here is perfect, golden and crispy on the outside, and not at all tough inside, tender enough to cut with a fork. It’s smothered with thick, flavorful white country gravy. My scrambled eggs were fresh and fluffy, and my pancakes were picture perfect and delicious covered in melty real butter and warmed-up maple syrup. Mercy!
Usually my eyes are bigger than my appetite, but here I always manage to finish every last bite. My pal had ordered an extra side of hash browns, so I helped him put a swift end to their brief existence. Here at the Nook, they have a unique take on the omnipresent hash brown – thickly shredded potatoes that are shuffled constantly during cooking so that the end result is not a solid patty, but a mish-mash where each potato shred has a different level of crispiness, ranging from mushy to full-on charred and everything in between. Perfect.
My tummy was satisfied at last - it was worth the wait for the Nook to reopen, and the long wait to get a table. It’s one of those places where the consistent quality of the food just overshadows any other element that might be lacking, be it service, décor, or whatever.