Nickel Diner: I Can Haz Bacon Donut?!
It took two words to get me to try Downtown's Nickel Diner for breakfast: Bacon Donut.
I've watched my fair share of Food Network programming, and I've thumbed plenty of food-focused mags, so I've heard tell of this mysterious marriage between sweet fried pastry and the pork product worthy of its own food group. But those concoctions were in other cities, other bakeries. Not my town. Or so I thought.
The Nickel Diner occupies a somewhat unassuming piece of land on Main Street in the part of Downtown that's lower on the list of places due for gentrification. But more often than not, good food thrives well beyond the landscape of "commercial mixed use" construction, so grab some coins for the meter, take a deep breath, and head on in.
Despite what seems like a tiny storefront, the inside of the Nickel Diner is almost cavernous; it has that unique charm of a Manhattan eatery that uses the narrow length and the high ceiling to its best advantage. There is a "throwback" aura to the place, and not an insincere one, nor does it seem like the place is trying too hard to "reinvent" the diner.
In our corner booth we perused the placemat-style paper menu. The bacon donut was a given, of course, but one cannot live on bacon donuts alone (Can one? No.) so we enlisted the help of our pleasant server. Sometimes it's a gamble to ask an employee what they recommend--you know, when they reply to your query of "what kind of meat do you suggest for the kabobs?" with "what kind of meat do you like?"--but we struck gold at the Nickel, because our (reed-thin) server said she ate the food there happily every day and would steer us down the right path.
We wanted one savory egg dish and one sweet carb dish, so she pointed us to one of their most popular items, the 5th and Main, which is a pulled pork hash with poached eggs. Oddly enough, that was one dish that hadn't cropped up in the "Oooh, how 'bout this one?" conversation that evidenced our indecision, so after a quick "Should we? Why not?!" we said "Bring it on!" Other tempting options had been centered mostly in the "Scrambles" section, like the one with ham, leeks, and fontina cheese, or the one with salmon, roasted tomatoes, leeks, sour cream, and chives. For our sweet carb-y dish, our server said she swore up and down by the French Toast, which was a housemade cinnamon swirl brioche. Sounded lovely, so we went with it, passing up the baked pancake and apples dish called the Dutch Baby and some other traditional pancake dishes.
We hit the hash first, and, man, did we hit it hard. Two perfectly poached eggs sat like sleepy eyes on top of a rounded base of pulled pork and potatoes. Our forks tore into the yolks and dug up bites of egg meshed with the hash. Now, people say this all the time, so it's a bit cliched, but, bear with me: The pork melts in your mouth. I'm serious. It has this incredible juiciness, compounded with the sauce's complex spicy-sweet tang, which goes surprisingly well with the subtle starch of the potato and the traditional breakfast egg element. While there was an imbalance of hash-expertise between me and my dining companion--she a more regular hash-eater, me not so much--there was absolutely no imbalance in how we split, then cleaned the plate. Literally, it was all gone, not even a crispy shred of the pork remained. It was divine.
Onto the french toast we went, drizzling syrup onto the generously powdered sugar-coated slices of cinnamon brioche. This was a good dish, but, come on, that hash is a tough act to follow. On my end, the dish was uneven; some bites were moist and cinnamon-y, whereas others were drier, and lacking the sense of rich, buttery indulgence that a brioche tends to have. Of course, while we were digging our forks into the french toast we were alternating with bites of the thick buttered sourdough toast that came with the hash, topped with a hearty spreading of the Nickel's homemade jam, this one being a very seasonal cranberry-apple (and another berry, forgive me for I've lost track of the other fruits in the jam, but trust me, it was tasty). It's not often toast trumps its French battered and fried cousin, but in this case it might have.
You don't think I've forgotten something, do you? Besides the really awesome employees, all of whom were friendly, helpful, and relaxed, and the solid cups of joe we slurped down, and the pleasant environment, what am I forgetting?
Oh. Right. BACON DONUT.
So there it sat on its own little plate. I'll admit, it wasn't what I'd imagined. How does one imagine a bacon donut, you ask? Well, first you have to consider how and where the bacon is added. Is it in the batter, is it draped seductively across the top in slices, is it crumbled into a frosted coating? The Nickel Diner's Bacon Donut is a plain donut with the hint of a maple syrup glaze with crumbles of bacon on top.
The first bite, to be honest, was meh. But why was it meh? That took a few minutes of pondering, and a follow-up bite. It wasn't the mix of pork fat and sugar, because, come on people, that is GOOD. The bacon itself was obviously thick and smoky and sweet, but it was for me the donut's texture that wasn't making this my new best friend (my doctor and my jeans thank you for this, Nickel Diner). It was more of a bready donut, not as cakey as I'd have preferred. And while there was that hint of maple (I saw it pooling somewhat on the plate under the donut) it wasn't enough, and it was too syrupy. But the second bite was better, and the third, and well, you get the idea. After all we'd just consumed, we were able to team up to make it through most of the donut.
Would I go back just for the donut? Perhaps--the novelty is hard to beat. But would I go back for breakfast proper? Oh, absolutely. And I can haz bacon donut, tooooooo!
524 S. Main Street, Downtown
Open 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Weds-Sun (late night hours may happen eventually)