BEST BREAKFAST Minneapolis 2002 - Ideal Diner
"It must be an Ideal day," puns Kim from behind the counter, to about every third customer who walks through this little diner's door. It's the noon hour, and four mechanics from a nearby auto shop are over in the smoking section, wiping the grease from their burgers into the axle grease on their jumpsuits. About 20 feet to the right, in the nonsmoking section, a couple of blue-hairs are sharing a fish special while three old-timers debate how to nail Osama bin Laden and a young hipster couple orders grilled cheeses. There are only 13 stools in the whole joint, so you squeeze in onto the one right in front of the cash register. Lunch smells good, but you're here for breakfast, which the Ideal serves from 4:30 a.m. until closing time at 2:00 p.m., seven days a week. The menu is simple: not much beyond eggs, hash browns, and sausage, bacon, or ham--and you like it that way. You note that all sides cost less than $2.25, that an egg costs exactly a buck, and that a stack of three buttermilk wheat cakes goes for $4.25. Still, it's hard to resist the marquee dish, "The Working Man's Special": two soft fried eggs, a slice of melt-in-your-mouth ham, a mountain of delightfully flaky hash browns, and two pieces of white toast. Six bucks and change. Kim takes your order, and Kevin Kelzenberg, who for 21 years has owned the place (he's also only the third owner since the diner opened in 1949), goes to work on the grill beneath a sign that reads: "Dr. K.--Cuisine Practitioner." A woman and her daughter come in and stand waiting for stools to open up. A welder from down the street orders four burgers to go. As you chat with Kim, you notice a side of bacon--three improbably generous strips--go to the gentleman next to you. You order a plate for yourself. It's an Ideal day.