Five Under Five: The breakfast edition
How to start the day for less than $5 at Dan's, Dart Bowl, the Omelettry, Ross' and Star Seeds
Breakfast is a good time to know where your eggs come from.
For example, all four locations of Dan's Hamburgers get their eggs from Congdon Farms in Lockhart, Dan's owner told me. Her name is Katie Congdon, daughter of late Dan's patriarch Dan Junk.
'Wait, your last name is Congdon?' I asked her. Turns out she's married to Philip Congdon, the egg man. Has been for almost 22 years, about as long as he's had the Dan's account. 'He's a really good salesman,' she said.
Business has been good for Congdon as the local farm fills some of the gaps left by out-of-state eggs that have been recalled for possible salmonella contamination, Philip Congdon said. His family's clients include the Four Seasons Hotel, Sweetish Hill Bakery and, I was happy to hear, the Omelettry.
The Omelettry and Dan's are both part of this Five Under Five report, an occasional series about good food and drinks that cost less than $5 before tax and tip. Today, it's the search for an inexpensive breakfast without leaning on the ubiquitous breakfast taco, a quest for biscuits and gravy, a late-night bagel and eggs on the sunny side.
No. 19: Half-order of biscuits and gravy with sausage and one egg: $4.29
At breakfast, Dan's feels more like a small-town diner than a hamburger joint. There's table service in the morning, and the waitress tops off my coffee (sadly, not part of the Under Five package) before it's halfway gone. There isn't an empty spot in the parking lot at 10 a.m., and the inside is a South Austin perfume of bacon and coffee and toasted bread. People talk about the biscuits and gravy here almost as much as they talk about the whole Dan's-and-Fran's split from years ago. The No. 19 breakfast is one biscuit made from scratch, the kind that crumbles more than it flakes, with a crust just thick enough to hold up under the gravy. And that gravy is as thick as family history, maybe not quite as peppery, with a few chunks of politely spiced country sausage mixed in and a sausage patty on the side. The egg, of course, is a perfect creamy-yolked sunrise, the only kind a good salesman (and smart husband) would allow. 4308 Manchaca Road. 443-6131. Breakfast served 6 to 11 a.m. Mondays-Saturdays, until noon Sundays.
Dart Bowl Cafe
One egg with toast and potatoes, small coffee: $4.75
There was a $2 enchilada special last month as Dart Bowl celebrated 40 years in business, but 10:30 a.m. seemed a little early for all that cheesy-greasy-Pepto-pleasy. Besides, I like that thin, crunchy toast they make with sweet homemade bread for breakfast, smeared with peel-a-packs of grape jelly. The potatoes are hot and soft in that homefries style, and the egg won't win any prizes at the state fair, but it's great for sopping up with purple toast. The plate's cheap enough at $3.50 that you can squeeze in a cup of coffee and stay under five bucks. I like the G-rated writing on the salvaged panel walls and the booths with upholstery like vintage bowling bags. But the best thing? People who bowl in the morning are the best kind of people. The joy they get from picking up a sleeper spare will remind you that the day's biggest victories are the little ones. 5700 Grover Ave. 459-4181 , www.dartbowl.com . Breakfast served continuously from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily (until 9:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays).
The Economical: $4.50
'Hi, guys. Y'all are welcome to sit anywhere that's clean.' Words to live by. I heard those words over and over during breakfast at this nursery-rhyme nexus where Burnet Road meets 49th Street meets Woodrow Avenue. Humpty Dumpty sits on the wall in drawings and paintings and crayon masterworks everywhere, his egg-shaped head creased by smile lines - even as fate dictates that he'll wind up on your plate in some form. Your five dollars won't buy an omelette here (they start at $6.65 with sides). But $4.50 gets you the Economical: two eggs with toast and homefries, cottage cheese or fruit. Or even better: two eggs with a short stack of two buttermilk, whole wheat or gingerbread pancakes. The buttermilk pancake is so fluffy it barely holds together, like your dream life. The gingerbread pancake is more spicy and stubborn, like your real life. Either way, the pancakes form an enormous smiley face on the plate where they overlap, with fried eggs for eyes. And that's the only way to leave the Omelettry after pancakes and eggs: smiling. 4811 Burnet Road. 453-5062 . Breakfast served continuously from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.
Ross' Old Austin Cafe
No. 1 breakfast of two biscuits with sausage gravy: $3.75
A picture can't fully express how big this breakfast of biscuits and gravy is. Put Chad Ochocinco's NFL ego next to it for scale, and the plate would still be huge by comparison. It's just two biscuits and sausage gravy. No orange slices or greenery, not even enough change left over for coffee if you want to keep it under $5. But man, this is all you need: scratch-baked biscuits with the heft and texture of steakhouse dinner rolls, gravy like a velvet smoking jacket and crumbles of sausage hot enough to set that jacket ablaze. It's like spending time at your granny's place, with a big front room flanked by a sun porch with a black-and-white tiled floor. Across from me, a woman was having breakfast at Ross' to start off her 80th birthday. I know that because this is the kind of place where two strangers can strike up an easy conversation, mostly wondering how they put away so much food for breakfast. 11800 N. Lamar Blvd., Suite 6. 835-2414. Breakfast served 7 to 11 a.m. Mondays-Saturdays.
Star Seeds Cafe
Bagel Breakfast : $4.95
This looks like the breakfast you'd make at 2 a.m. by cleaning out your fridge. Let's see, a little cottage cheese, some sprouts and a nice tomato. Got some lettuce here, a few grapes and some cantaloupe for a fruit salad with leftover pineapple. Ah! Cream cheese for this great big bagel. Pop it in the toaster. Done. And you can get this breakfast at 2 a.m. - or any of the day's other 23 hours - at Star Seeds, where the light stays a little low, the aroma brings to mind your leaky college apartment and the staff is always as groggy or as wired as you are, almost like they checked your mood on Facebook just to make you feel at home. 3101 Interstate 35 N., next to the Days Inn. 478-7107, www.starseedscafe.com . Breakfast served 24 hours a day.