Breakfast for dinner

Visits to Buttermilk Kitchen, Waffle House, and IHOP

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. That's why it was very important that I ate blueberry-cobbler pancakes with creamy grits around 1 p.m. Tuesday. This wasn't an ordinary breakfast, or brunch for that matter. It was at Suzanne Vizethann's new restaurant, Buttermilk Kitchen in Buckhead.

A winner of the Food Network's "Chopped" series, Vizethann also co-owns the much-lauded Hungry Peach café and catering service at the Atlanta Decorative Arts Center. She gained further local fame with the BYOBakeshop pop-up dinner series she operated with Jonathan St. Hilaire. And, if you want to see a chef's passion, take a look at Vizethann's blog, an account of her series of one-night gigs, "stages," in New York.

My meal of the blueberry pancakes and grits was actually my second at the restaurant. I'm glad I made it because an earlier visit with Wayne and his cousin Zach on the Sunday after Thanksgiving was a monumental disappointment for which I have no explanation.

Virtually every dish on the table was deeply flawed. Shrimp that were poised vertically in a pool of stone-ground grits had raw interiors. The grits themselves were dry and almost crunchy. My grassfed-beef patty served atop a waffle was, rather than the medium-rare described on the menu, vastly overcooked.

The bottom crust of a slice of buttermilk pie was literally too tough to cut with a fork. While my French-press coffee was just right, brewed coffee by the cup was so tepid Wayne and Zach returned it — for tepid refills. Well, everything except my own coffee was served tepid.

The one entrée that worked was brilliantly red lox, house-cured wild salmon, served over half a Jerusalem bagel with veggie cream cheese and orange-caper salad. But the best thing on the table was a big biscuit — among the best I've ever tasted. The sourdough waffle was also superb.

You can see why I returned the following Tuesday. Maybe it was because we ate 90 minutes before closing. Maybe someone else was cooking. Maybe the Thanksgiving holiday affected the freshness of the food. In any case, it's a lesson in how a good restaurant can serve a bizarrely atypical meal now and then. Had I not known Vizethann's rep, I would not have returned for the fruity, slightly crunchy pancakes topped with white-chocolate cream. My second try at the grits was phenomenally different — rich and creamy, barely al dente. Coffee by the cup was again tepid, on first and second pours, unfortunately.

There is much more to say about Buttermilk Kitchen. Sandwiches and salads are also available. Vizethann is virtually obsessed with using local, organic, sustainable ingredients and, I should warn you, that affects prices. My first meal was $30 and my second was $15.

My meals at Buttermilk got me to wondering about the state of breakfast food at popular diners. It's been years since I visited a Waffle House or IHOP and I decided to try them both for dinner.

First up was the popular Midtown-area Waffle House (2264 Cheshire Bridge Road). Weirdly, it was completely empty when I arrived about 9 p.m. The cook was complaining about that but mainly spent his time in a booth with two servers chatting loudly. At one point they were arguing about the sum of a series of single-digit numbers. I burst out laughing, which prompted one of the servers to bring my water to the table.

I found the menu confusing enough to appreciate the glossy pictures. I ordered some cheese grits, a slice of country ham, a pecan waffle, and a biscuit. (No smothered, covered, whatever stuff.) The biscuit, grilled in that awful butter substitute, was inedible. The watery cheese grits were sloshing out of the bowl. The waffle, which I drowned in faux maple syrup, was as good as the very best toaster waffle. And, to my surprise, the country ham was actually good. The bill was about $10. The ham was worth half that. The entertaining staff was worth the other half.

Next up was the IHOP (428 Ponce de Leon Ave.) in Midtown. I had no idea this restaurant even existed. It was originally a Krystal and it backs up to an old building where I rented a huge apartment for less than $200 a month in my days as a poet being audited by the IRS. The homeless used to forage in the Krystal dumpster and, during the winter, slept in front of the apartment doors of my building. I had to step over someone every morning.

So, I was feeling nostalgic as I pored through another huge pictured menu while my great server, Alex, kept coming back to my table to see if I was ready to order. I was surprised to see cobbler-style pancakes on this menu, too. I thought Buttermilk's were a complete novelty. I ordered the carrot-cake pancakes with two eggs over-easy, four bacon strips, and hash-brown potatoes.

For $6.99, I find it hard to complain. The super-sweet pancakes were those hyper-absorbent type that, no matter how much "old-fashioned" faux-maple syrup you pour on them, it disappears instantly. The carrot-cake flavors were convincing enough, the eggs were fine, and the bacon was crisp. The Christmas music drove me crazier than the bawling infant in the booth behind me.

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