Can Good Day Cafe also serve great food at night?
On a recent Sunday morning, an older woman in a long wool coat stood in the vestibule of the jam-packed Good Day Cafe and shouted into her cell phone. "Can you think of someplace else to go?" she pleaded over the din.
The scene was typical of a weekend morning at the Golden Valley cafe, which opened next to the Metropolitan Ballroom nearly three years ago. The place serves bang-up breakfast fare in a neighborhood that's short on brunch options, so hour-long waits are to be expected. I was tempted to give the cell phone woman a little advice: Grab a cup of coffee and just wait it out.
Good Day's owner, David Webb, has had a long run in the restaurant business. He owned Coco Cha Cha, CocoLezzone, and the American Cafe, restaurants that inhabited the same building successively over the past several decades. Webb is typically at the Good Day a few hours every day to check on things and greet his longtime regular customers, causing some staffers to refer to the place as his "personal train set."
Good Day opened serving breakfast and lunch, with plans to launch dinner service six months later. Months turned into years while recipes for the evening menu were revised dozens of times. But what did we expect? Scratch cooking takes time.
The new Blue Plate dinners are the sort that might leave one snoozing a half-hour later, from macaroni and cheese, which has recently come back into style, to liver and onions, which probably never will. (Remember when Mom tried to feed you the stuff as a kid? "But Grandpa likes it," she'd say, unconvincingly, as you surreptitiously passed it off to the dog.) Good Day's liver and onions looks pretty much the same as the meal has for eternity, except it's served with a pile of skin-on French fries. "It's actually not that bad," said a first-time liver-and-onions eater, who was, our waiter said, the only person under the age of 60 he'd ever seen request it.
In the appetizers section, the popovers proved a better choice than the calamari, which arrived at the table with a deep-fried crust that was soft instead of crunchy. The popovers rank right up there with those at the Oak Grill, the vintage, wood-paneled dining room that has been setting the standard for local popovers since my mother was a little girl. The hollow rolls are light and shatteringly crisp, with a mild, eggy sweetness that pairs nicely with the accompanying pistachio honey butter.
Like its breakfasts and lunches, Good Day's dinner entrées are mostly competent executions of uncomplicated fare. The turkey potpie is a one-crust version—a flaky pastry bowl filled with carrots, peas, and turkey hunks swimming in light, savory gravy. Beef stroganoff, another home-cooked favorite that's hard to find on local restaurant menus, consists of fresh, homemade egg noodles (a tad overcooked when I had them) with tender bites of meat and rich, creamy gravy. Gourmet mac and cheese may be a little overdone these days, but still, Good Day's "adults-only" version stands out. The elbow-shaped noodles are fused with a mix of melted cheddar, Fontina, and Gorgonzola cheeses, studded with tomato, onion, and smoky bacon nubs, and topped with roasted garlic breadcrumbs. It makes Kraft Dinner with a cut-up hot dog seem downright pathetic.
All of Good Day's portions are generous, and then some. An order of Swedish meatballs with mashed potatoes, gravy, and green beans contained so much food that it required two plates. Unfortunately, the meatballs lacked a Swedish influence, with no detectable trace of the typical allspice or nutmeg. The Original Tchoupitoula is a dish revived from the old American Cafe, a béarnaise-topped Cajun chicken breast on an enormous pile of hash that doesn't feel as thoughtful as it could—if I'm going to eat a breakfast that seems improvised from dinner leftovers, I might just as well eat at home.
Though the restaurant has always served alcohol, Good Day recently installed a small counter called the Bad Day Bar. I'd rather find myself seated on one of its stools with a plate of eggs than a glass of wine, though, as the list seems to prioritize cutesy names (Cupcake, Broke Ass, etc.) and affordability over excellence. Though some of the prices seem shockingly cheap—$1.75 a glass!—they reflect three-ounce pours instead of the standard five. I wouldn't have objected to the deviation except that it wasn't clearly indicated on the list and thus felt a little deceptive.
Overall, the food and atmosphere at Good Day are comfortable but perhaps not as compelling as other dinner options nearby—without traffic, it takes all of five minutes to get downtown. During daylight hours, the Good Day's dining room looks bright and cheery. But since it lacks the authentic retro ambiance of places like Peter's Grill, Jax, or the Band Box, evenings at the Good Day can feel like you're having dinner at a suburban breakfast place where somebody dimmed the lights and put on a Sarah McLachlan CD.
That said, for families dining with children, I can see the Good Day's appeal: The environment is as relaxed as at the casual chains, but the food is much better. You don't have to exile yourself to Perkins until the kids are old enough to tie their own shoes.
Still, in regard to the breakfast vs. dinner question, even the Good Day's bakery offerings seem to reflect the restaurant's superiority with morning fare. The carrot cake and brownies are fine, but not nearly as glorious as the caramel rolls or the beignets. I can't help but react to Good Day's introduction of dinner service the same way I did to Hell's Kitchen's: It still feels like a breakfast place at heart.
So the very next Sunday I again joined the crowds for a Good Day brunch. The hostess hollered names in a hoarse whisper that was barely audible above the din. As usual, I missed my party's name being called and had to get it reinstated on the messily scrawled list.
But once I was seated, I remembered why I find Good Day worth the hassle: Its breakfast options include all the standards, made just a little more special. The eggs Benedict can be ordered with crab cakes; the fried-egg sandwich is stacked with ham and avocado; and the glazed-doughnut pancakes taste just like a fresh, hot Krispy Kreme, straight off the conveyer belt.
On this visit, I branched out from those favorites and ordered a few things I'd never tried, splitting an apple soufflé-style pancake and a plate of huevos rancheros. The first resembled a bland, eggy pannekoeken—big enough to cover the entire plate—loaded with warm apple slices and still-bubbling pools of caramel. (I liked it all right but figured that if I were going to ingest that much butter and sugar, I'd prefer an apple tart tatin.) The huevos rancheros—eggs, black beans, and chorizo patties swimming in red and green salsa over a bed of flour tortillas—wasn't quite as good as it is at most Mexican joints, but it had the basics covered, including being sufficiently spicy.
I decided to bypass the health-conscious pomegranate smoothie for a chocolate-coconut coffee drink called the Almond Joy. It's served in a bright, bulbous Fiestaware mug, topped with whipped cream and toasted coconut: If that's not joy, I don't know what is. As I left the restaurant all sugar-rushed and caffeinated, I sensed the day would shape up to be a good one.
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