On our first full day in Vegas we hit a foodie hot streak. Went three-for-three on delicious meals, so to speak. I’m not sure I can put them all in one post, but we’ll see. First up, let me tell you about what we ate at eat…
For us, breakfast in Vegas has typically meant a string of stops in medicocre, over-indulgent buffets tucked inside of casinos so stale with the remnant stench of cigarette smoke that the meals felt like an obligatory penance for a night of gambling rather than the pleasant start to a day they should be. Well we’d had enough and decided to head “off strip” and find a neighborhood joint. Queue up the music, because my search of the Interwebs landed us at eat and that’s exactly what we found.
eat is the brainchild of Chef Natalie Young, and those of you who know me know how I love supporting female chefs in a male-heavy industry. I am pretty sure I found it on the second page of the Google and clicked through to the website because it was both off the strip and billed as a neighborhood spot. eat was created in part thanks to a no-interest loan related to The Downtown Project. This gave Young the access to capital necessary to get the project off the ground. [Aside: My friends Ben and Ashley strongly recommended Downtown Cocktail Room for the best craft cocktail around. Turns out the owner of that place had a strong hand in helping Chef Natalie get everything together. I hope some of our restaurateurs and bar owners in the San Diego region are being similarly gracious for talented friends.]
Back to the story, I read this and there was no question where we were headed. For those who don’t typically click through to the links, here’s the first line of that last one:
“Good communities start with good neighbors–and as neighbors, we want to foster a healthier, happier ‘hood… for everyone, even those just passing though. As part of this commitment, we intend to source food from local farmers first, as well as support local artists, charities and others who share our values.”
The only real challenge we had was making sure the restaurant was still open! It was the night before and the phone’s voice mail either wasn’t working or they decided not to use it. And my email bounced back so I was a little worried. No problem, we relied on my wife’s faith in Yelp to confirm that the last review was a week ago and Anthony Bourdain had apparently been by recently so we thought we had a pretty good chance. For my San Diego friends, the restaurant feels like something you’d find along 30th Street in North Park or South Park or perhaps nestled in next to Counterpoint in Golden Hill. It opened at 8:00 am and by the time we arrived at 8:20 we were thrilled to meet a really friendly and helpful woman named Laura who would be our flavor guide through the morning’s experiences. Having just come off the underwhelming service experience at DOCG the night before, Laura was a breath of very fresh air.
We were seated and greeted with a good-sized cup of coffee, which is never a bad thing in my book. I popped up to wash my hands and told me wife to surprise me. She relied on Laura’s good judgment and this was first on our list (sorry, Howard, I got a little close with the photos this time)
Honestly, I was skeptical about how well the red and green New Mexico chilies, peas, sautéed bananas, egg, corn tortilla, black beans and feta would play with each other. I’m wondering right now ‘how do I describe this in a way that accurately conveys how good this was?’ The dish is served with ingredients stacked on top of each other. My best guess is that the black beans are on the bottom, followed by the sautéed sweet banana, a bit of feta, crisp corn tortilla, chilies and then the over-easy eggs. I’ve given all this technical description so you could kind of imagine a bite, but the plain truth is that the emotional experience of the first couple bites is just something you need to go try. Ihe first bite you’ll get either green or red chili (they are neighbors in the dish, true to what we found on our one and only trip to Santa Fe and Taos). And you’ll almost certainly get the egg, bean and some crispy tortilla. At this moment I’d have concluded the dish was a very solid Mexican-influenced breakfast option that properly shares menu space with its cousin the chilaquiles (which, by the way, I am hoping to convince my wife to go for a return visit along with the shrimp and grits before we leave town). Then the second bite you’ll invariably put all the flavors together and join me in feeling really pleased about the chef’s skills. That next bite will give you the sweet of the sautéed banana along with the solid base flavors I already mentioned plus just enough savory pulled out of the feta to your taste buds all singing kum-ba-yah.
I imagine the huevos motulenos aren’t a new dish, just new to me. That’s okay, I’m just glad this was my first experience. Next up was this
Yes, this looks like a garden variety breakfast sandwich. The biggest surprise on this sandwich came from the bread. To look at it, you’d think it has that thick, dense bread that is overly chewy and hard to get through. It was actually more like a brioche, so it was very easy to eat as a vessel for the nicely done bacon, eggs and wild mushrooms hanging out inside. I don’t remember the feta on this sandwich and generally only eat certain types of mushrooms, but I found this to be a very solid breakfast sandwich. If you go with someone who isn’t much on getting outside of any boxes, this is a nice, safe option. It will be well-executed and it is exactly what the menu suggests it will be. Turns out, though, that Laura (our server we’d now decided could run rings around some of the service we’d had on the strip – mostly just because she was authentic and thoughtful and was willing to share her opinions) had one more treat in store for us.
She’d told my wife “I love these and I don’t even like pancakes.” Well, dammit Laura, you kinda nailed this one. Usually my wife gets just a little annoyed with my picture-taking obsession. Sometimes I take the photos because I’ll write about the experience. Sometimes I just like having a memory of a nice meal. But it always delays the start of our enjoying the food—except, as you can see, on this morning. We dove right in on the pancake and were enjoying the crispy edges and light texture I vaguely remember comes from cooking in a bit of oil or sizzling butter as opposed to just a standard griddle. It was so good that I just had to work the picture in about half way through as a reminder that it even made it to our table. If I had to be picky, I’d say the potatoes were fine but not great. Though, to be fair, who goes to a breakfast spot to order the potatoes, anyway?
During our meal Laura mentioned she didn’t eat out as much because of time constraints and that she really liked working in a place with people who care about what they are doing and each other. We ate in the shadow of the owner, who sat at a raised bench behind us enjoying breakfast with a guy who I’d noticed when we were waiting to be seated. My wife chided me about wanting to go make friends – I resisted because every chef I know works insane hours and rarely seems to be resting and just taking in the hard work and personal sacrifice opening a restaurant actually is. But I smiled on the inside thinking about how proud she must feel to have opened her own place the way she wanted to with a team of people who appreciates that vision.
I’ve been disappointed by restaurants with websites that spoke to my heart and the vision of the world I really want to support. I am super glad to report this neighborhood spot delivered on the message and over-delivered on the meal. It’s at 7th and Carson and well worth the trip. A very happy experience that I have no intention of making sure “stays in Vegas.”
Thanks for reading, for those interested, here’s the full menu.
Post Script (3-23-14)
I convinced Wife to do a return visit this morning (didn’t exactly have to twist her arm). Laura was our server again, which was fantastic. The place was super busy, which made me happy for the team. And Chef Natalie was posted up at the raised bench again with her same compatriot seeming to both enjoy the whole affair. We had this
And yes, the smoky bacon underneath and the pico de gallo were smart choices to accent the flavors naturally offered from the shrimp and grits. We also took one for the team and forced ourselves to confirm that the huevos motulenos was as delicious as I wrote about above. Indeed it was. I’ll also note that in part because of eat’s existence a house is being purchased! So, to anyone watching what The Downtown Project and talented, passionate people are doing, here’s an example of one vision and an entrepreneurship ecosystem leading to a neighborhood-focused restaurant, several happily employed people and a new house. How’s that for the economy at work! Like Tony Hsieh says…