Thursday, September 11, 2014
By James Yeh, produced in cooperation with the HubCity Writers Project.
In her poem “Angels of the Love Affair,” Anne Sexton memorably writes, “Once I called breakfast the sexiest meal of the day.” Sex appeal aside, breakfast is alive and well in Spartanburg—diners, in particular. My girlfriend and I, both visiting from New York, took a breakfast tour around Spartanburg, checking out three local favorites: Papa’s Breakfast Nook, the Skillet, and Mon Amie Morning Café.
Our first stop was Papa’s Breakfast Nook, off St. John Street downtown. Open since 1988, Papa’s has been serving Spartanburgers Spartan Burgers and classic diner staples twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.
Papa’s has a welcoming, old-fashioned atmosphere. We were seated in a bright red vinyl booth beneath a hanging basket with a plastic plant in it. A series of charmingly home-designed movie posters for menu items adorned the walls. One such poster read “The Spartan Burger, in association with FRENCH FRIES AND PICKLES / a TOMATO, LETTUCE and ONION production.” In addition, to those ingredients, the burger ($6.25) includes an 8 oz. ground-beef patty on Texas toast, topped with Swiss and American cheese.
During our meal, the clientele were mostly families and older folks. My girlfriend and I split the Trash Can Omelette ($6.95)—one of the featured bestselling menu items, a fully loaded omelet—and a pecan Belgium waffle ($4.75). Both dishes arrived promptly and were quite enjoyable.
Locally owned by Steve Wilson, who bought the restaurant in 1993, Papa’s is known for its friendly, homey feel—the kind of place where neighbors gather and grandparents take grandkids for a special treat. The friendly server, who referred to my girlfriend as “baby” and could be heard guffawing at times with the other staff at the diner, made our visit pleasant and memorable.
Our next stop was the Skillet, at the corner of East Main and Pine. Open seven days a week, the Skillet has been a Spartanburg breakfast staple since 1946. Seating around forty, the Skillet is roughly a third of the size of Papa’s. Patrons at this Southern diner are seated either at the bar, or in one of the wooden tables along the restaurant’s many large windows. An oil painting of Confederate General Robert E. Lee hung on the wall, and the smell of toast hung in the air.
My girlfriend and I were seated at the front table and ordered Heathers Omelet ($6.45), a three-egg omelet filled with bacon, country ham, mushrooms, spring onions, and American cheese—served with choice of hashbrowns or grits—and the Red Neck Benedict ($8.05), a unique take on the standard Eggs Benedict, served with corned beef hash instead the usual Canadian bacon. The portions were generous and tasty, while the sides—hashbrowns and biscuits—were particularly good. Our waitress had personality in spades, and over the course of our meal, carried on an energetic, repartee-filled banter with the other waitress on duty.
We liked the Skillet enough to go again the next week, when we ordered Heathers Omelet again and the Hashbrown Supreme ($6.10), a delicious double order of golden-brown potatoes heaped with green peppers, onions, tomatoes, ham, and mushrooms, smothered in cheddar cheese. “Good choice,” said our server, approvingly, and we agreed.
Mon Amie Morning Café, located on the east side, is a newer addition to the Spartanburg breakfast scene, open since 2011. Serving lunch Wednesday through Sunday, Mon Amie features both indoor and outdoor dining areas, and though it feels more upscale than the others, it is still reasonably priced.
We went on a drizzly Thursday morning and were seated at the bar, as the restaurant was packed. The interior as a whole appears meticulously conceived and designed, with the attractive central crêpe bar as its centerpiece, where you can watch co-owner and chef Matthew Angelakis at work. Additional touches include the outdoor patio area, black and white tile floors and countertop, and bright yellow wallpaper.
We ordered the Bayou Eggs Benedict ($8.95), which consisted of poached eggs “crowned with Hollandaise,” South Carolina sausage, and homestyle potatoes that were expertly seasoned and perfectly cooked—lightly browned and crispy on the outside, buttery and tender on the inside. We also ordered the Monte Carlo lunch crêpe ($8.75), a bold twist on the classic Monte Cristo. The crêpe was filled to bursting with a mix of unexpected flavors: chicken, prosciutto, Kalamata olives, feta, and Monterrey Jack cheese, with sundried tomato sauce drizzled on top. Finally, we topped it all off with the raspberry and truffle dessert crêpe ($5.25).
Mon Amie explores tastes unknown with numerous southern and local twists on French cuisine. One such item is the Chien Chaud (French hot dog, $6.25), an all-beef hot dog on a French baguette with Monterey Jack and cheddar cheese, topped with hot chow-chow relish and Dijon mustard, all served with frites.
Mon Amie offers Spartanburg a uniquely Franco-South Carolinian breakfast affair.
Whether you’re looking for classic diner staples or something a little more exotic, Spartanburg has more than a few excellent options for breakfast. Anne Sexton would’ve been proud. After all, breakfast in Carolina in the morning—what could be finer?
James Yeh, Produced in cooperation with the HubCity Writers Project.
James Yeh was a writer in residence for the Hub City Writers Project in summer 2014. A resident of Brooklyn, N.Y., he is a fiction writer, MFA graduate of Columbia University and the editor of Gigantic, a literary magazine.