Think ’Fast

Think ’FastThink ’FastThink ’Fast

L enny Fritz opened The Pantry in 1987 with every intention of starting a full-blown food op: breakfast, lunch, dinner, catering. But as the work days got longer, he cut out the dinner. As family obligations became more consuming, he cut out the catering. And in the end, The Pantry became what it is today: a cozy nook on upper State Street that does one thing well.

Breakfast.

The weekend, of course, is the busiest. Each Saturday and Sunday morning, Fritz says, The Pantry serves about 400 people. The line runs out the door and around the corner.

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Once at your table and browsing the menu, it may at first seem a simple rundown of breakfast standards: fresh fruit, cereal, pancakes, omelets. But if you look more closely, you’ll notice the twists.

For starters, there’s a Grapefruit Brulée ($4.00), involving grapefruit, sugar and a torch, giving the fruit a crispy, caramelized mask. Further down the menu, you’ll find a category called “Bakeries, Cakeries & Waffles” with sweet morning classics—and some dishes you may not have seen before.

A must-try are the Cinnamon Roll Pancakes ($4.75 small stack; $7.70 regular), as beautiful to behold as they are to eat. They’re made by squirting a spiral of cinnamon, sugar and clarified margarine into the pancake batter after it’s already on the griddle. Once the sugar has caramelized and the pancakes cooked through, they’re topped with another spiral: of gooey frosting, made from cream cheese, margarine and powdered sugar.

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Among the restaurant’s egg-based dishes, it seems you can’t go wrong. Customers have the choice of the popular Spinach and Feta Omelette ($10.25), the Tofu or Lox Scramble ($10.75 each) or any of several versions of Eggs Benedict and Florentine. I went with the “Salmon Benny,” as Fritz called it, in which two beautifully poached eggs were covered with a thick and golden hollandaise on grilled English muffin halves. Under soft yolky domes laid the smoked salmon and the muffin, like a warmer, gooier, more savory version of bagels and lox.

Found on each of The Pantry’s egg plates is a side of carefully crafted home fries. Fritz, pictured third, explains that while most regular potatoes will start to turn black on the griddle before the whole’s been evenly browned and crisped, the potatoes The Pantry uses have a higher starch content, allowing them to hold up under heat so they can reach, more often than not, the desired color-crisp quotient. “You can’t just put paprika on [a potato] and call it a day,” he says.

Since many of The Pantry’s customers come from the surrounding East Rock neighborhood, a good number of its diners are Yale graduate students and professors. When school is out and students are gone, customers are mostly New Haveners. In the interim period—between the end of the school year and summer, when students are graduating—it’s flooded with families of Yale students, including some famous parents. This past spring, NYC mayor Bill de Blasio dropped by to eat with his son Dante, an undergraduate. One of the mayor’s security guards waited in line, with the De Blasios pulling up just in time to be seated. Another politico, Yale alum Howard Dean, has eaten there several times.

One day Steven Spielberg came with his wife and kids. They weren’t recognized, Fritz says, and waited for a table just like everybody else. (Spielberg got the Lox Scramble.) Singer-songwriter Jackson Browne also came and went unnoticed—even though Fritz had been the one to seat him. Fritz found out who it’d been the next day from a regular customer.

The Pantry treats most everyone the same, you see. The only requirement is an appreciation for what The Pantry promises: a damn good plate of breakfast.

The Pantry
2 Mechanic St, New Haven (map)
Mon-Sat 7am-2pm, Sun 8am-3pm
(203) 787-0392

Written and photographed by Daniel Shkolnik.

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Daniel is an aspiring novelist. He owns a Yale sweater he will never wear and takes his Faulkner with vermouth and his vermouth with an orange wedge. An avid traveler and retired hooligan, he was kicked out of the largest club in Africa for breakdancing, joined an Andalusian metal band and, while in Istanbul, learned to read the future in his coffee grinds. Despite the omens he finds at the bottom of his morning joe, Daniel continues to write.

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