IN SEATTLE NO RESTAURATEURS are more identified with breakfast—let’s call it “blunch”—than Jeremy Hardy and Peter Levy, co-impresarios of Chow Foods and Seattle’s reigning maestros of the morning meal. From the moment the Beeliner Diner grabbed Wallingford by its pajama lapels, an entire city was hooked on Hardy and Levy’s patented blend of atmospheric irreverence, descriptive whimsy, and—there’s really no other word for it—yumminess. In time the seminal Beeliner would close, but look what would go on to open: the 5-Spot on Queen Anne, the Coastal Kitchen on Capitol Hill, the Hi-Life in Ballard, Atlas Café in U Village, Endolyne Joe’s in West Seattle, and Mioposto in Mount Baker. One day in November, we got Hardy and Levy on the phone to talk about their legacy. —KR
So which one’s your favorite?
Both: Are you kidding? screeches, moans Whichever one we’re in! They’re like our children!
Okay, but you must have a favorite breakfast dish.
Levy: All right, I like the Hair of the Dog-wich at the 5-Spot. Fried egg, cheddar, and bacon on a panino. With a Bloody Mary salad. We developed it especially for the hangover crowd. Which is out in force on Queen Anne, I’m telling you.
Hardy: My favorite’s the corned beef hash at the Atlas. Big, beautiful chunks of corned beef. I know it’s good ’cause I grew up with the Hormel version.
As long as we’re talking favorites, mine’s the Kathryn’s Grand Slam, the combo with two eggs, bacon, and buttermilk cakes.
Hardy: That’s the only thing that’s on all six of our menus. We named it after a certain restaurant critic named Kathryn who years ago compared the 5-Spot to a Denny’s. One who actually reminds us a little bit of…laughter…you!
I remember that review!
Levy: It lives on in infamy.
So if my grandma was coming in from Kansas, which of your restaurants would be her favorite?
Levy: Endolyne Joe’s. We’re doing a prairie menu right now. And she could comment on how our pot roast isn’t as good as hers.
And where would I bring my hippest friend?
Levy: Oh, the Coastal Kitchen. It’s urban, very Capitol Hill. You know, each place pretty much picks up the flavor of its neighborhood.
Hardy: Or the Hi-Life. It has the largest of our bars—almost 40 percent of our floor space.
What about my kid?
Both: Any of ’em! We got high chairs coming out our ears!
Hardy: At Atlas, we even have a stroller parking zone.
Are you eating? I hear chewing.
Hardy: Yeah chewing sounds. It’s an eight-ounce grass-fed burger swallowing sound we’re looking at using everywhere biting sound.
And? How’s it taste?
Hardy: Amazing! So juicy! lips smacking People think of us as breakfast restaurants, which we are chewing sounds. We do breakfast all day in all of them. But we are so much swallowing sound more.
Yeah, but isn’t breakfast a great thing to be known for? I thought it was a cash cow for a restaurant.
Hardy: No! That’s a huge misconception. A year ago an egg was eight cents. Now it’s 14 cents. Cheese is up 50 percent from a year ago. Our highest cost of goods is breakfast now.
Levy: To put it in perspective, company-wide we go through 1,380,600 eggs a year.
Holy cow! Er, chicken!
Levy: How about 38,000 pounds of bacon? Or 110,000 pounds of potatoes? That’s a dump truck full of hash browns!
That’s a lot of breakfast.
Hardy: Yeah, 2,833,989 breakfasts to be exact. We counted!
What are the other challenges of breakfast?
Hardy: That every single customer who orders eggs over easy makes them for himself at home. He knows exactly what he wants. Commercially the breakfast cook is probably the most difficult sauté position there is. And competition. When we opened the Beeliner in 1988 our breakfast competitors were pretty much hotels and Denny’s. A lot of people thought breakfast was a lesser meal, period. We aimed to bring the same level of integrity to breakfast as to dinner.
Levy: And we wanted to have fun. Never take ourselves too seriously.