Ask friends to suggest their favorite breakfast place and the recommendations come pouring out like hot coffee on a busy Saturday morning. The passion and loyalty is intense as well. At the risk of treading on dangerous ground(s), I picked a few of the most popular breakfast restaurants in Bucks to see what makes breakfast so good at their places. First we’ll visit Fred’s Breakfast in New Hope and then I’ll follow with posts about the Vintage Grille in Fountainville and Vera’s Country Cafe in Ottsville. I’ll also do a future post about other popular breakfast places in Bucks.
Breakfast being the first meal of the day has certain implications. Most folks are not always at their sharpest – unless you’re one of those really chipper morning people – so a hot cup of coffee, delivered quickly, is usually the first order of business. A smile doesn’t hurt either.
Chris and Ellen Bollenbacher, owners of Fred’s Breakfast, understand this well. “One of the things we’ve never liked at most breakfast places is waiting for the first cup of coffee, or having to grab someone for a refill,” they say. At Fred’s the coffee is free, but you get it yourself. The coffee station is directly ahead and on the left as you walk in. Mugs, sugar, cream, milk – everything you need for your first cup is ready and waiting. It also adds to the home-like atmosphere of Fred’s, like you’re in your own kitchen but with better food and cheerful people to serve you. And when you want a refill, you walk on over and fix it yourself. Some members even bring in their own mugs and special sweeteners, which sit on a shelf over the coffee station.
You may have heard that Fred’s is a “members only” restaurant. Don’t be put off by that. Membership is open to all, and the $10 fee is just to cover the cost of the electronic key you use to get in. Why did the Bollenbachers, who also own the Landing Restaurant down the street, choose to go this route? “We wanted to show our appreciation for our regulars, the locals,” they explained. “These are the folks who support us through the winter, year-round. We didn’t want them waiting in line behind tourists in the summer.” What they have ended up creating is a community. Customers – members truly – feel like they belong. People love Fred’s. And why not? The food is fresh, made to order and served with warmth and fun by a cheerful staff.
Fun? Yes. The Bollenbachers say one of the questions on the job application for Fred’s is: “Are you happy, or can you pretend to be happy, at 5 am?” (Guess I won’t be working there.) And the expectation extends to members as well. One of the membership rules (see their website, www.fredsbreakfast.com, for the full list) is quite explicit: “We don’t do grumpy at Fred’s … If you aren’t happy, at least keep an open mind to it, so the rest of us have a chance at cheering you up.” That might give someone like me – who is not a morning person – pause, but don’t worry, this isn’t a breakfast version of Chuck E. Cheese. And even I am willing to smile once I have my coffee and a delicious baked good in front of me.
The kitchen at Fred’s is open, surrounded by a u-shaped counter with 31 stools, which emphasizes the at-home feel. Chris comes in at 4 am to start baking, and the rest of the staff arrives at 5:00 to prepare for the 6:00 open. The menu includes all the breakfast regulars, and then some extras. Like “The New Thing,” Chris’ homemade puff pastry filled with scrambled eggs, ham and cheese, warmed in the oven and served with grilled tomatoes and breakfast potatoes. Then there’s “The New-new thing” or the “Veggie New Thing” with veggies and cheddar cheese. Have I mentioned the baked goods? Almond croissants (with Chris’ own filling, not almond paste), blueberry buckle, cinnamon buns and great bread.
Fred’s Breakfast first opened on July 28th, 2008, just a month after its namesake, a Bernese Mountain dog, passed away. Chris and Ellen were taking a chance with the “members only” concept, but with over thirty years successfully running the Landing Restaurant, Chris felt they could swing it. It was either that or escape to the islands, they joke. As they sum it up on their website, “Everything we do is based on our desire to accomplish only one thing, have a good time, because if it isn’t fun, it isn’t worth it. I am too old, and the islands are too close, for it to not be worth it…” The building had been used by Chris’ father as a wood shop. Sitting on the river, tucked away off busy Main Street, it’s a perfect location for a “locals” place.
“We didn’t want it to be a large breakfast house,” Ellen explains. Instead, they wanted a place where everything was cooked to order, eggs only broken when needed, and omelets made in a pan with butter – not on a grill with everything else. Chris does most of the baking, every day. The cinnamon buns – which they sell 50 – 60 a day – are only baked six at a time. All of this is a bit unusual for a breakfast joint, which depends on turning a lot of seats in order to make a profit. Fred’s feeds 100 – 160 patrons daily during the week, and 200 and upwards on weekend days. “And we don’t stop cooking until everyone in line is fed,” adds Chris.
The most pleasurable thing to do at Fred’s, other than eat the food, is to peruse the “application letters” which cover the walls of the restaurant. Over the past three years, folks wishing to become members have written funny, clever and endearing letters accompanying their applications. Many of them coming from the family dog(s)! My favorite is the one from two pups who beg that a membership NOT be granted to their human owners, because then the normal breakfast leftovers made by “Dad” on weekends will cease.
With strong support at the Landing, Chris and Ellen are able to spend their days at Fred’s, in an office just off the restaurant floor. A half door into the office allows easy access to them, as well as their brood of Bernese Mountain dogs, most of whom came from shelters. Make sure you come in if it’s your birthday because along with a hearty “Happy Birthday” sung by everyone in the restaurant, one of the Bollenbachers’ dogs, Cindy, insists on joining in too.
There are several ways to become a member, says Ellen. Most come in as a guest of a current member but if you don’t know a member, you are welcome to come in during the week (Monday to Friday) to try it out or get on the list. Over the past two plus years, the wait list has run from 6 weeks to up to three months.
Fred’s Breakfast is open from 6 am until 11 am, 7 days a week, closed only on Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. You can find them at 13 East Randolph St. in New Hope, on the web at www.fredsbreakfast.com or by phone at 215.862.7024.
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