On Sunday mornings, some people choose to rise early, get all spruced up and head off to church. They wear their finest accoutrements and show up in full feather, dressed to impress fellow disciples and worship their deity of choice. Then there are those who like to sleep in as late as possible on Sundays, at least until hunger pangs force them to blearily seek sustenance at one of the local breakfast joints. For many of these folks, the only dressing up involves picking out a clean pair of comfy sweatpants and the only religious act involves praying that the hash browns help the hangover fade away faster. As you may have guessed, I fall into the latter group and my breakfast basilica of choice is the divine Michael D’s Eatery at the east end of town on Coeur d’Alene Lake Drive.
Sunday morning breakfasts have become a routine recently for me and Miss M. We alternate weeks springing for the tab, and whoever’s not paying that day gets to choose the restaurant. On the days I get to name the place, I always pick Michael D’s. Thing is, M. is notoriously impatient when it comes to waiting for a table. She’s hungry NOW, and there’s no darn way she’s going to sit for 15 minutes and starve when we could be on our way to somewhere not quite so busy. Each time I’ve tried to take her to Michael D’s this has happened, and against my vain protestations, we gave up and headed off to eat somewhere nowhere near as fabulous. I always tell her that there’s a good reason Michael D’s is so busy, and it would be quite worth waiting to find out exactly why.
This week was my week, and once again I decided to give Michael D’s another attempt. I decided it’d be a good idea to call ahead and ask to be put on a waiting list but was told they don’t take reservations. “Is it pretty packed down there today?” I asked, hoping to hear how unusually quiet the place was for a Sunday so we could sneak right in. “Honey, there’s always a wait but it’s not too bad right now, just get down here quick and y’all will be fine,” drawled the waitress before hanging up impatiently: click!
Miraculously, when we pulled in there were a few open parking spots, which was a promising sign. Of course when we walked in there was a small crowd hovering around and waiting in the tiny lobby. M. nodded her head toward the door, but I decided to stand my ground, telling her to sit tight and just wait it out. “OK, fine” she sighed as we grabbed a spot on the lobby bench. We checked out a fascinating wall photo of the place as it was 50 or so years ago when it was called the Boat and noticed how similar the interior was then and now, with its retro dining counter and light oak paneling. We also noticed that they’d put a few coffee pots out on a small table in the waiting area, which would’ve have been fantastic but frustratingly there were no cups to be found, and it felt too busy to ask. A dozen more people poured in right after us, bringing the twenty degree weather into the lobby right behind them. Just as we were starting to feel like frozen sardines packed knee to knee with other chilly, pre-caffeine breakfasters, the hostess called our names for a spot.
The biography of mustachioed owner/head chef Michael DePasquale appears on the back of the menu and is truly a fun read. To sum it up, he grew up playing with Easy Bake ovens instead of GI Joes, had an early fascination with chickens, and started his culinary career as a dishwasher in Rhode Island. After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America in New York, he relocated to North Idaho where he spent 15 years treading in and out of Hagadone purgatory, serving time (and winning awards) as Executive Chef at Dockside as well as Crickets, and he even had a brief gig selling Toyotas. After a stint as General Manager of Dockside began “killing him”, he decided it was finally time to make the dream of owning his own diner come true. In 1998, he transformed the abandoned former Chuck Wagon into a sunny, welcoming breakfast and lunch spot, and infused the menu and atmosphere with strong doses of his own unique personality. It was an immediate hit, and quickly became the default place recommended by store and hotel clerks to tourists asking where to get a good breakfast with some local color.
Flash forward ten years and Michael D’s is as popular as ever. Every day, almost every available table is filled with a mish-mash of people all pulled in by the lure of friendly service and satisfying meals. Breakfast is heavenly, but lunch is served here as well, ending strictly at 2PM daily. I love the habanero hot sauce Burger with melted blue cheese crumbles, and the Teriyaki Tuna sandwich, wherein the soy sauce and ginger dressing brightly contrasts the sweetness of the mandarin oranges. The lunch salads are huge, including the Lake City Salad, with grilled chicken, candied walnuts, fresh pear, and feta served atop spring greens and tossed in maple vinaigrette. Delish! They also serve a mean Idaho Rainbow Trout, pan-seared in lemon and garlic butter and served on a pile of spinach fettuccine.
Along with humongous waffles and pancakes served with a variety of fruit toppings, the big deal for breakfast here is the omelets. Each is named after an abstract emotion or state of being. “Seclusion” is simply your choice of American, Swiss, Cheddar or Jack Cheese wrapped in a fluffy blanket of eggs so fresh you’d swear they were running an actual hen house out back behind the kitchen. “Courageous” is one of my regular favorites, wickedly spicy with fresh sliced jalapeños, which work brilliantly with the creamy whipped cream cheese to make an intriguing hot vs. cold dining experience. Scrumptious, but only for the brave. If you’re a vegetarian, you might want to check out the “Cautious” omelet, which mixes steamed veggies and jack cheese with fresh made salsa. I’m not sure if the mood sets the omelet or the omelet sets the mood, but choices like “Bashful”, “Creative”, “Aspiring”, and “Shameless” blur the line between menu and personality test.
I was actually feeling fairly neutral and wanted to order something I’d never tried so I went for the “Honnell Special”. Of course, I had to ask the waitress about exactly who or what Honnell was, but she hadn’t a clue and seemed unwilling to research it. When my food arrived, I immediately quit caring, instead losing complete touch with reality in a steaming huge pile of scrambled eggs served over a toasted, buttery English muffin and slathered with rich hollandaise and melted cheddar. The accompanying hearty potatoes were golden and crispy, served home-style in big skin-on chunks.
I looked over to see M.’s face glowing with a similar sense of blissful abandonment with her Saratoga Scramble, which is scrambled eggs blended with whipped cream cheese and chives. I was proud of M. for finally deciding to conquer her fear of eggs, something brought on years ago by a food poisoning incident. She was raving, so I had to try a bite and I’ve never had eggs done so creatively, tangy and rich with the oniony bite of the chives. Stuffed, we sat in a food coma daze and talked about how after a huge Sunday breakfast, especially when under gray skies, all the coffee in town couldn’t create enough buzz to cancel out the urge to go home and crawl back in bed and laze away the rest of the day.