As a frequent weekender, I have always been interested in the offerings and definitions of “continental breakfast”. When I was a kid and we went on vacation or away for a weekend, I remember inspecting the breakfast options available from room service in each hotel. Many of them were long, thin slips of paper with a choice of Continental Breakfast included with your stay or an alternative, and what I would refer to as “real breakfast”, which could be ordered for an additional surcharge. I have always understood continental breakfast to be cereal, assorted baked goods, juice, coffee, fresh fruit and maybe oatmeal. In my experience, complimentary continental breakfast has never included prepared hot items like eggs, bacon, etc.
In my recent travels, however, I have discovered some absolutely awesome incarnations of continental breakfast and some awful, laughable versions. And before I begin to break down the specific experiences I have had, let me first clear the air with one obvious fact: the breakfast buffet is the worst invention of American food culture, ever.
The Breakfast Buffet: America’s Food Failure
Throughout my life, I have been blessed with the opportunity of travel. I have visited the Caribbean on multiple occasions, spent 6 weeks in London studying abroad, adventured all over New England and have spent multiple vacations in Disneyland and Disneyworld plus long weekends in New York City and Philadelphia, etc. I am no stranger to travel and certainly no stranger to hotels or to complimentary breakfast. As you have likely understood at this point, but I will reiterate, I am a food snob.
Continental breakfast and/or ‘the breakfast buffet’ (this beast is an idea, people, it’s an institution that should never have been created) are not things that typically fit into my dining profile.
At a very young age as far as food consciousness goes I was aware of the breakfast buffet and its awfulness. (I grew up with a mother who is 100% Italian and a father who holds an Associate’s degree in Culinary Arts and owns his own restaurant, so I never had a chance.) I have only out of necessity ever eaten scrambled eggs out of a hotel pan or chaffing dish and am baffled by any restaurant that prides itself on brunch when they are serving eggs sitting in 2 inches of what appears to be water, but could just be the runoff of egg by-product after it has been cooked. Why would anyone in their right mind want to eat wet eggs? I don’t mean loose, luxurious, fine-dining-restaurant-that-serves-brunch eggs, I mean like, water wet. No, thank you.
The most memorable breakfast buffet disaster experience for me was at age 13, the summer my family vacationed on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship bound for the Bahamas. On one of the first mornings aboard the ship, my brother accidentally ate slices of bread placed underneath the bacon in the bottom of the chaffing dish, meant to soak up the grease. How amazing! he had thought, that this toast would be right next to the bacon. How convenient! And it was delicious, too, in his opinion. My parents were grossed out, but, laughed and let him finish his breakfast before preventing him from continuing this grease-soaked obsession for the remainder of the trip. I was disgusted. Why, why, why does there need to be bread below the bacon strips to soak up the grease? How is this bacon being cooked, where does it come from, why is it so greasy? I understand making breakfast for all the guests aboard a cruise ship is a little ambitious, but every other meal we had was incredible, so why did they serve a mediocre breakfast buffet in the mornings?
Need I continue with the reasons why breakfast buffets are the worst idea ever? Have you come over to the dark side yet or may I add a few more reasons for my extreme hatred? Bacon is never crispy enough, sausage links become rubbery, eggs are always scrambled and always weirdly wet yet also cooked to death, you have to make your own toast and pray the rest of your food isn’t cold by the time you sit, and then you have to balance all of the things you’ve chosen—sometimes this includes your silverware and beverage—as you walk over to sit down and try to enjoy it.
Bottom line: there is no reason to shortcut breakfast by having a buffet.
My Continental Breakfast: A Personal History
There is a resort in Yarmouth, Massachusetts on Cape Cod that has been a favorite spot of mine and Mike’s for quite a few years now. It’s a family-oriented, year-round hotel and resort called the Bayside. We discovered it via Groupon when one year, for Valentine’s Day, I stumbled across a deal for a $99 one-night stay in a king-sized jacuzzi suite for two. The hotel isn’t state-of-the-art or absolutely beautiful, but it’s clean and has been renovated recently enough, the staff is welcoming and the rooms are very cozy. We enjoyed our stay, especially in February when there was no one vacationing on the Cape, and were delighted by the complimentary breakfast offerings the morning after.
The typical continental breakfast spread at Bayside is accompanied by a make-your-own-waffles station. There are cups of freshly mixed waffle batter, syrup, butter, whipped cream, you name it. Although we prefer to breakfast outside of the hotel because of my aversion to continental breakfast, we always check out the breakfast room first, and this one was above average.
On other occasions, I have not had the same experience. I spent a weekend in New York City for my cousin’s bachelorette party this past November and stayed at a modern, boutique hotel near Times Square. After a full day and night of drinking Vueve and prosecco on Friday, I was in need of something to put in my stomach before our aerial yoga class. Those of us who were functioning enough to attempt breakfast were incredibly disappointed by the spread we found in the lobby (they didn’t even have a breakfast room or cafe-like area).
Instead of serving a continental breakfast that fit its boutique-style accommodations, the hotel was serving pre-packaged breakfast pastries from the likes of Hostess and Honeybun alongside bruised, over-ripe fruit and boxed cereal. There was also a plastic-doored server that contained mini bagels and croissants, but no tongs were provided for serving and I found it very easy to pass on the whole thing. Not only was the setup disappointing, the offerings were subpar for continental breakfast and the coffee was gross. This was New York City, it’s a hit or miss when it comes to these types of things. This was a huge miss. On Sunday morning, I opted to take a walk up the street to a café serving made-to-order breakfast sandwiches, bagels, croissants, etc. in a much more appetizing atmosphere. It was a huge step above the ‘complimentary’ breakfast being served at the hotel.
On another occasion, earlier this year, Mike and I stayed at another hotel in New York City with friends of ours the night before Mike and our friend Eric left for Japan. In the morning, we took a cab to JFK for their 7:00am flight and then Eric’s fiancée and I hit up the hotel breakfast room. And we were blown away.
I am not suggesting that the breakfast was to-die-for, however I was fairly surprised by the options and by the amount of food available at no additional cost. We helped ourselves to baked goods, coffee, fruit, parts of a breakfast buffet (gag) and a make-your-own-waffles station. By the time we reconvened and chose a table to sit down at, we could hardly balance all of our plates because it was early in the morning and we had been out the night before drinking fishbowls at Brother Jimmy’s BBQ. Once I started eating I was, of course, slightly unsatisfied because the quality of the food was not great, but the options were endless and generous, which is more than I can say about other complimentary breakfasts.
I have to admit, it feels nice to have a place to share my displeasure in discovering breakfast buffets. I, of course, have more examples – some of which are not served at hotels which is just inexcusable. Any restaurant claiming brunch service should never be serving a buffet. I don’t care if it’s cheap, all-you-can-eat and includes a mimosa. There is no excuse. If you want to serve brunch or breakfast, do it right, god damn it.
I once made a poor decision in giving in to my friends not wanting to spend money on breakfast, after an overnight stay at Foxwoods. The nice brunch in Fox Tower—or whatever it’s now called—was sort of expensive, though I don’t remember the price per person. Something I didn’t know: Foxwoods offers a ‘free’ breakfast buffet in the older part of the casino. And it’s gross. I’m talking below the level of hotel breakfast buffet, just downright unappetizing. Even when hungover. That is pretty bad.
Perhaps sometime in the near future I will share more positive breakfast and brunch experiences to let you know where you should go or stay if you’re looking for real food that is not sitting atop sternos and getting drier by the second.
Until next time,