“Eating eggs is a very personal thing and something that people find enormously satisfying … Most people get a peaceful look on their face and go someplace else. I don’t know where the hell they go, but they are taken away.” — Kenny Shopsin “Eat Me”
Welcome to Eggville! In this series created for City Bites I will attempt to test out some of my un-scientific theories over breakfast with icons of the city’s food scene. The question: What does the way we eat our eggs say about us? I am also hoping to discover some of the the city’s hidden greasy spoons and old-school diners while getting to know more about our food-world personalities. Each guest — be it a chef, farmer, or restaurant dishwasher — will choose their favourite breakfast joint and walk us through their choices, preferences, and rituals surrounding the morning meal.
The Eater: Joel Diener, Butcher/Owner of Saslove’s Meat Market (1333 Wellington St., 50 ByWard Market)
The Place: Studebakers Pub & Grill (1577 Laperriere Ave., 613.761.1989). This classic kitschy American-style drive-up diner has been around for more than 40 years. It sits in the centre of the industrial auto sector area tucked behind Carling Avenue and Kirkwood and thus attracts auto workers, city workers, policemen, and, of course, seniors. Deiner says he likes it because he likes to start the day with people he calls “the salt of the earth.” He also loves that it’s “good value.” He comes here twice a week, often with Mama, Saslove’s senior knish-maker. They take turns paying the bill that always comes in under $10 for two. With the availability of quick and cheap breakfasts at McDonald’s and Tim Horton’s now, Deiner wonders aloud how much longer places like this will be able to stay in business.
The order: Two eggs over-medium with sausage, homefries, brown toast: dry with butter on the side. Coffee with refill taken in a to-go cup.
The Method: Joel had one of the most elaborate systems for eating eggs I have seen to date. He is extremely methodical, calculating each bite as if by mathematical algorithm. As he says, “It’s all timed — choreographed.” Here’s how it unfolds:
Step 1: He orders his toast dry because he says the cook will use margarine. He starts by buttering all four half-pieces of toast evenly, being sure to start the meal with the two slightly smaller triangles.
Step 2: He cuts one of the three sausages into six pieces and cuts the eggs down the middle where the whites have attached.
Step 3: He uses the corner of the toast as a tool for puncturing and dabbing up the yolk — again, starting with the smaller of the two eggs. Then he bites off each corner of the toast triangle and alternates each bite of bread with a forkful of egg and a bite-sized piece of sausage.
Step 4: At “half time” (after one egg is eaten), he take a swig of coffee and eats a couple of home fries (“that depends on whether I did a spinning class last night,” he says.)
Step 5: Repeats step 3 with the other egg and two sausages.
The Analysis: Joel is an old-fashioned butcher, arguably a dying breed in a Costco-worshipping culture, so it’s not surprising that he seems a bit jaded when it comes to the modern world. He speaks fondly of the “good old days,” when he says people displayed greater trust in their food purveyors. He openly laments the fact that the way we live today doesn’t help “build character,” and his approach to eggs strikes me as a dramatization of this belief.
As I watch the elaborate egg-eating ritual unfold, I notice that for each element on the plate, he chooses to eat the “lesser” half first — the smaller of the two eggs, the smaller half of the toast, one single sausage to accompany the first egg while leaving two for the second. He seems to be applying the principle of short-term pain for long-term gain. As if saying: “suffer” with the drier corners of the toast and you will be rewarded with the biggest buttery piece in the centre later. But there was a sense of fairness and justice alongside the mathematics as well. Every bite of toast got its share of egg and sausage; right down to the last bite. He worked hard, denied himself some pleasures along the way, and finished with a sense of satisfaction at having done the job the way it’s supposed to be done.