Real Food Cafe

(Grand Rapids, MI) — It’s not often we have a weekday off together at home, and there’s just something fun about heading out for breakfast when everyone else is slaving away at work. It feels illicit, naughty somehow. We make plans and cast about for someplace we have yet to visit, but about which we’ve heard good things: Real Food Cafe. The snow has abated somewhat and roads are finally clear after a two week span of sloppy lake effect. We hop in the car to risk a drive to Alger Heights...

He Fed:

Breakfast is a tough nut to crack. Menus don’t vary much from venue to venue, unless the chef is trying something really different. And, most people don’t expect much from the first meal of the day. Eggs, toast, bacon, coffee...that’s about it. Juliet and I are forever seeking an experience that’s at least a bit beyond the norm, not fancy per se, but worth our time and our money.

Real Food Cafe is on the corner of Eastern Ave and Alger St in Grand Rapids. It’s a nondescript storefront in a strip mall. There is a parking lot around back, as I find out later; we unwisely park across the street and Juliet has to disembark into a snowbank. So far I’m striking out and our moods aren’t necessarily improved.

Inside, the cafe is split into two sides: one has a few small tables and a grill counter, while the other looks to be a larger, newer expansion with more tables and a bench for customers who might be waiting. A sign bids us seat ourselves, and there are plenty of tables on the expansion side so we snag a two-top. Our waitress arrives in no time, taking our drink order (coffee and water for me) and delivering menus.

Although I had my heart set on the Nutella French Toast, I instead change gears and get the Wafflewich with a side of thick cut Applewood bacon. The bacon is $3.25 for 4 strips of what I would consider standard floppy bacon. When I think of thick cut, I imagine something a bit more substantial. I can’t taste any applewood or smoke either. It’s just underwhelming; I expected more for the price and description.

Expectations continue to decline when I’m delivered the Wafflewich. I was hoping for a kind of breakfast sandwich made with waffles instead of bread, but it’s way too big to pick up and eat. Inside is a plain cheese omelet and a couple more strips of that bacon. Powdered sugar has been sprinkled on top. I could have ordered waffles with an omelet on the side and basically had the same thing. It tastes fine, if a little plain, but it’s just breakfast, right?

I try a bite of Juliet’s biscuits and gravy. Black pepper assaults my taste buds, clearly overseasoned. Both the biscuit and the gravy are gummy, too. Yuck. Although the service was good and the decor of the place nails the diner vibe, the food was a far cry from anything we could have made at home with much better results. We haven’t had good luck lately with breakfast adventures. Might be time to whittle down to two meals a day.
She Fed:

I typically don’t like sweet things for breakfast so you’re unlikely to find me ordering pancakes or waffles for breakfast. They could be Nutella-filled, custard stuffed, or smothered with jam, but I don’t want ‘em. I used to have an insatiable sweet tooth, but somewhere in my 30’s it disappeared. Or maybe it Jeremy, who has since developed a bit of a craving for sweets. Occasionally we’ll share a cinnamon roll or sticky bun before breakfast out, but other than the rare batch of muffins or scones I make from scratch, I’m just not big on morning sweets.

But for those who do partake, the selection at Real Food Cafe is extensive. Think Almond Joy Pancakes, Banana Foster French Toast, or Breakfast Monte Cristo. I stick to the savories, however, focusing on eggs—scrambles, omelets, and benedicts. We rarely eat breakfast out and the fact that we’re indulging on a weekday, (another rarity given my travel schedule), is complicating the decision-making process for me. “It’s just breakfast,” I mutter to myself as my eyes alight upon the sausage gravy and biscuits. Sold.

I've had some amazing biscuits and gravy on my travels. A golden brown biscuit with a steaming fluffy center seems to be the perfect vessel for lush cream gravy speckled with bits of pork sausage. Unfortunately this morning's experience is lackluster and disappointing.

The biscuits, described as “housemade” and “fluffy” are dense and gummy. The dough sticks to my teeth as I chew. The sausage gravy is thick and creamy; it looks divine. Unfortunately it’s so full of pepper that it’s nearly inedible. I give it my best, but the gluey biscuit and the painfully over-spiced gravy make for a very unpleasant dish and I give up after about six bites.

The scrambled eggs are cooked dry to the point of having brown spots throughout. These babies sat in the pan for a bit too long. I don’t need to go out for poorly cooked eggs. I can do that all by myself at home! The “thick cut” bacon is thin and spindly. It’s cooked perfectly, but I’m not sure what chef would consider it “thick cut”. I pick at the rubbery eggs and eat a bacon strip, thinking about the organic cage-free eggs and butcher’s cut super thick bacon in my own refrigerator. Sigh.

Maybe we hit them on an off morning. Maybe our expectations were too high. After all the rave reviews of “best breakfast in Grand Rapids” I expected a bit more.

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