The breakfast connoisseurs

“Everyone thinks of themselves as a connoisseur of the diner breakfast,” my husband reflected as he polished off the last of a fluffy short stack one recent Sunday morning. Although it seemed a bit early for philosophizing, I had to agree. For many, including each of us, college provides a solid foundation in diner appreciation. Fifteen years ago, he was often to be found wolfing down the $2 special in Montreal’s seedier breakfast establishments. As for me, in the early Clinton years, I frequently spent much of the night assembling an issue of the college paper, followed by a bleary group trip to an all-night diner in the greater Washington, D.C., area.

These days, I’m usually in bed by 10 p.m., and neither one of us is on a $2-per-meal budget. Still, though our college haunts retain a slight (and misplaced) glow of nostalgia and exoticism, we agreed that none had been nearly as rewarding to the amateur dinerologist as Market Club, where we were sitting over the remains of breakfast.

For one, there’s the question of whether it’s really a diner. There’s an oval counter, complete with immovable stools; a self-referential print of that famous Edward Hopper painting; vinyl-covered chairs; and cheerful waitresses who greet every customer, newbies and the many regulars alike, with a bright “Hi guys!” On the other hand, you don’t usually find quite so many beer signs at the average diner, and I’ve never heard a diner patron ordering a Bud Light at 10 a.m. on a Sunday morning. Most diners have ketchup on the table, not sriracha chili sauce and soy sauce. And the setting is unusual, as well.

Market Club is really an eatery for the workers at the produce yard on Fifth Street, south of Broadway. It’s easy to miss, it’s open from 5:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. during the week (but is closed on Saturdays), and it pretty much defines the word “venerable.” A blown-up photo of the produce market in 1937 adorns one wall. The rest of the décor is varied, from a Big Mouth Billy Bass to what looked like a broken light fixture advertising Schlitz beer.

The breakfast menu is more varied than many, particularly in the realm of meats. Sure, you can get your pancakes or waffles or other breakfast basics. But you’ll also find on offer almost every kind of meat you can think of, with eggs. In addition to the mundane bacon and eggs, you can get chicken-fried steak and eggs, hamburger steak and eggs, breaded-pork steak and eggs, linguiça and eggs, and much more. Slightly repellent, but fascinating, is the menu’s continued devotion to the meats that time forgot: wiener and eggs, baloney and eggs, and, of course, Spam and eggs.

There’s also a Sunday breakfast special called the Oki—fried rice topped with a fried egg—which we didn’t try, distracted as we were by the other possibilities. There’s a distinct Asian sub-theme at Market Club. Rice is available with any of the breakfasts, as an alternative to more-standard hash browns, and then there’s that soy and sriracha on the table.

I opted, however, for the linguiça with eggs and a side of hash browns, while my husband had the pancakes. They were thick and plate-sized, topped with the egg he ordered over easy, with the slightly floppy bacon at the plate’s edge. Having the egg on top was interesting (and space-saving), but it did mean that the runny yolk got all over the pancakes—an odd combination with syrup.

My linguiça was a triumph: four big pieces, fried until the casing was blistered and almost black at the top, slightly spicy and oozing just a bit of red grease—perfect for flavoring the bland scrambled eggs, which were just OK. I thought there was no way I’d be able to clean my plate, but with a little help from my husband, the linguiça had disappeared by the time we left.

The hash browns were as good as the sausage. Instead of the patty one often sees—crisp outside and soft within—this was a mound of varied textures, from crunchy brown shards to tender shreds. Plus, they had a distinctive flavor that made me pretty sure they were fried to order on the same griddle as the linguiça. Sourdough toast arrived piping hot, and the waitress offered to bring more if we wanted it.

Perhaps the ultimate test of dinerhood is whether you’re offered coffee immediately upon sitting down. We were, and we both declined—I in favor of orange juice, my husband for hot chocolate (though they were out of whipped cream). The orange juice, like everything else, was plentiful and well-priced. We left completely full and just $15 poorer.

If you, too, fancy yourself a devotee of the bargain breakfast, Market Club is well worth seeking out. (I can’t wait to go back for lunch; a promising list of specials on the wall mentioned something about roast pork on Mondays, and I’ll bet it’s good.) Market Club might not offer the $2 Montreal breakfast special, but I suspect its food is vastly better.