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Breakfast, Lunch & Diner

A premier guidebook to distinctive and undiscovered St. Louis restaurants

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Breakfast, Lunch and Diner - A Premier Restaurant Guidebook for Lore and Culinary Enthusiasts

  • Jul 12, 2009
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In an era of pop food culture where trendy restaurants come and go, it was delightful reading Breakfast, Lunch and Diner by humorist and cultural historian, Robert Rubright.  Packed with humor and behind-the-scenes anecdotes, Breakfast, Lunch and Diner is a premier guidebook to 84 distinctive or otherwise undiscovered St. Louis and out-of-state breakfast joints, lunch spots and a handful of diners.  Instead of the traditonal book on culinary fare, Rubright concentrates instead on lore and stories that encase a restaurant and shape its unique persona. 

Rubright is a trained journalist and former public relations executive, who is also a walker and current chairman of the board of the American Hiking Association in Washington, D.C. and longtime president of the Open Space Council for the St. Louis region.  He's authored four previous books, two of which are on walkikng, including Walks and Rambles in and Around St. Louis and Weekend Walks in St. Louis and Beyond.  His walking books generated a long-running television series on KETC, the St. Louis PBS outlet.

Through the author's personal observations and interviews with over 300 proprietors, customers, suppliers and waitstaff, the reader gets an in depth look at the "life" occurring inside the restaurant.  The book focuses on numerous themes such as what customers say, what they order, relationships between the owner, waitstaff and the customer, restaurant policy (such as customer banning,) customer rituals, unique food items, how customers are served, (tray service vs. arm service,) and what constitutes a regular customer.

One of the predominant themes in Breakfast, Lunch and Diner is the significant role the regular customer plays, and one that I found most engaging.   Since I don't consider myself a regular at any particular eatery (unless, of course, you want to consider my daily ritual of going to Starbucks for a Caramel Latte) I was fascinated by the daily goings on and the amount of folks who eat at the same place every day, order the same food, share intimate conversations, along with exchanging birthday and holiday presents with other patrons and waitstaff.

A perfect example of southern ambience catering to the regular customer, is Myrtle's Place (Backalley BBQ) in Poplar Bluff, Missouri.  Myrtle's is one of those homespun breakfast joints where everybody knows your name and breakfast served all day packs the place.  There's no such thing as a stranger at Myrtle's and customers are often surrounded by family: the owner's family.  When the current owner purchased the restaurant from Myrtle in 1966 she brought along numerous family members, including her daughter, sister, daughter-in-law and mother who's known as "Granny."  One customer who sits at Myrtle's most every day with his soup and the Wall Street Journal, found out just how accomodating Myrtle's can be.  If the soup appears too hot arriving from the kitchen, the owner herself, or one of her family members will come over and personally fan the soup until it's cool enough to slurp!

At Hy-Ho, a 24-hour eatery in Belleville, Illinois, many of the breakfast regulars are called "family," but there are a handful that come in three or four times a week who won't open up or show any friendliness.  Rubright informs us that a "regular customers becomes one when they want to become one."  When a customer comes in a lot, opens up and shares stories with the waitstaff and other customers that's when they're known as regulars.  But even regulars can get banned from their favorite morning place and that's exactly what happened to one six-foot-eight regular who crossed the line after arguing with the clerk about his bill.  He proceeded to the men's room, removed the lid from the toilet seat and stuck it up inside the acoustic ceiling tiles.  For that indiscretion he got six months. 

Ted Drewes Frozen Custard, nationally recognized by Bon Appetit as one of the ten best desert places, sits directly on the nostalgic Old Route 66 in St. Louis.  Since Ted Drewes doesn't qualify as either a breakfast joint or a diner, Rubright was relunctant about its inclusion until he was advised by the owner that folks often skip lunch just so they can nosh on a gravity-defying extra thick shake known as a "concrete."  Rubright says "the concrete is a shake so thick that you can turn it upside down without losing one dollop."

After eating this highly-caloric desert, it's customary to make the one mile hike around Francis Park in nearby St. Louis Hills.  I've had the pleasure of eating the scrumptious "concrete" myself, and can attest to both the stamina of this super duper desert and the trek around the park.

Another amusing bit of lore comes from Uncle Bill's Pancake House in South St. Louis, a longtime establishment that continues to draw hordes of customers on Saturday and Sunday mornings.  Rubright makes note that "there are two ways to serve customers: arm service and tray service."  The latter is not allowed at Uncle Bill's, so waitresses must learn to balance a fixed number of plates on their left arms, walk from the kitched unscathed, then reach the target table with no spills.  Orders like ham and eggs are usually the bottom plates, while the Chocolate Alaskan Waffle or pancakes and whip cream orders are on the upper level of the arm, creating a colorful layered look.  This strategy showcases the food to other hungry patrons who might heartily say, "I'll have what she's having!"

Rubright is an entertaining and masterful storyteller, who immediately captures the reader with his down home humor and comfort food for the soul kind of feeling.  Each chapter is peppered with just the right amount of anecdotes, and the well researched backstory paints a very clear picture of what you can expect should you decide to patronize a particular eatery.

While it's tempting to read this lighthearted page-turner in one sitting, it's not something I advise.  Like a bottle of fine wine, it should be savored.  Breakfast, Lunch and Diner is a one-of-a-kind book you'll want to read time and again, passing it down to the next generation of lore and culinary enthusiasts.  

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July 12, 2009
Super review Donna! Sounds like a terrific read. Mr. Rubright is onto something here. Lots of people are regulars at local eateries because they are looking for a comfortable place to hang out, read the paper and see the same people day in and day out. Places like Starbucks and Panera Bread have noticed this and become "third places" for many people. But I'm with Mr. Rubright on this one. I much prefer the more distinctive local places where the "town charactors" are and all the local scuttlebutt can be found.  At the same time, you are more likely to be able to sample the local flavors. I would certainly love to be able to check out many of the establishments mentioned in your review.  Even though I don't live in St. Louis this is a book I would like to check out.
July 12, 2009
Hi Devora.......yes, I have to tell you that this is some kind of book....it took Rubright ten years to write the book, after visiting over 800 restaurants. His writing is superb....just a joy to read. I just can't get over how many regular customers there are out there. He's coming out with another book...similiar in nature and continues to visit restaurants every Tuesday like clockwork. I think he now has 1000 eateries under his belt. I don't know if I'd have the patience to stomach all that food! But those caramel lattes.....now that's another story!
July 12, 2009
Wow, I want to do what Rubright does for a living!  I love eating, and I look forward to seeing what his next book is all about :)

By the way, if you click on "Reply" right above the comment, a little box will appear below the comment, and when you reply that way, the original commentor will receive a message in his or her inbox about your reply ;)
July 12, 2009
Yes, I do admit that Rubright's got the job of a lifetime and it's taken him an entire lifetime to do this. You can listen to a full interview with Robert on my internet radio station: Showmetalkradio.com. Additionally, Bob is one of my new hosts and most recently taped his first show, (based, of course on his book of the same name.) I'll let you know when it airs, but in the meantime, go to my station and scroll down and you'll see a picture of Bob and his book. Just press the button and you can listen at any time. By the way, it would be just great if you could get a job reviewing food.
July 17, 2009
Thanks for the heads up, Donna, I will check it out sometime!
July 12, 2009
Wow, every city needs a guidebook like this!  And I like how it's just not a guide, but also discusses the inner workings/politics of a restaurant and the role that regulars play -- I'm most interested in reading about this.  I bet Imo's is in this book!

By the way, we share a love for caramel lattes from Starbucks!  They're my guilty pleasure, so I'll forgive them for giving the drink the misnomer of "caramel macchiato" :P

Thanks for sharing!  I look forward to reading more :)

More Breakfast, Lunch and Diner (bo... reviews
review by . August 28, 2009
Bevo Mill
Thinking about taking the family out to breakfast this weekend?  Looking for a new and distinctive venue to bring a client to for lunch?  Are you tired of traipsing to the same tired old places week in and week out?   Robert Rubright resides in the St. Louis area and he had the idea that a great many people in his community would benefit from a guide to local breakfast and lunch restaurants.  Over the last 15 years Bob and his …
Quick Tip by . August 29, 2009
Breakfast, Lunch and Diner- the perfect guide to a variety of most unique St. Louis restaurants and beyond. Makes you hungry!
About the reviewer
Donna Linn ()
Ranked #256
Donna Linn, M.A.T.      Donna Linn has had a distinguished and multifaceted career in communications, entertainment   and education. A prolific writer and interviewer, Linn … more
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About this book


Packed with humor and light-hearted behind-the-scenes anecdotes and stories, Breakfast, Lunch and Diner is a guidebook to 85 St. Louis area and out-state restaurants  breakfast joints, lunch spots, and a handful of diners  some of which you already may know but which youll see in a totally new light. Read about best selling food items, banned customers, bizarre manners, uproarious customer requests, quirky menu entrees, and restaurant traditions that defy explanation. This book should prepare you for a memorable meal in each of the restaurants.
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ISBN-10: 0979594464
ISBN-13: 978-0979594465
Author: Robert Rubright
Genre: Dining
Publisher: RO Press
Date Published: 2008
Format: Paperback
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