Food: Filling the Void

When it comes to breakfast, Brattleboro can be deceptive.

Given its rambunctious nightlife, you’d think it would be a hungry town in the morning. You’d imagine it having at least half a dozen grilles in town, frying up pancakes and eggs, competing for business. But for all its many charms and fine culinary offerings from noon onwards, you really have to go out of town to find a decent greasy spoon.

Both the Coop and Mocha Joe’s Cafe offer excellent coffee and baked goods, but aren’t the kind of place you go for a plate of steaming eggs made to order with a waitress checking on your caffeine intake regularly. The one boxcar diner in town has been transformed into the fine restaurant T.J. Buckley’s, a venue for succulent and satisfying culinary creations served only during and after dusk.

Over the years, I’ve found the best place to greet the morning in Brattleboro is at the Backside Cafe. The restaurant looks out over the Harmony parking lot, behind the shops on Main Street. Its entrance is just a little bit hidden.

There are a set of glass doors near one of the entrances to the lot (a pizza joint used to be next to the doors, but the spot is vacant now), beyond which are a set of stairs leading up to the cafe. The nondescript entrance and stark hallway give way to a bright, spacious restaurant with booths lined along large windows that give a wide view of the city’s backside. The wooden booths are deep and tall, good for preserving the intimacy of a one-on-one or containing the noise of a small crowd.

Though it’s open for breakfast and lunch and the waitstaff keeps your mug full, the cafe feels more refined than a diner or a greasy spoon. The pace is relaxed and it’s easy to get reflective with a coffee in your hands and the sun in your face. Framed by lush plants, surreal oil paintings by Paul Hodecker are on display throughout the restaurant. They’re rich with detail and imagination, and the images are finely rendered—so I’m told by painters who have gotten lost in them, waiting for their food to arrive.

The Backside Cafe serves a lavish brunch with fine Bloody Marys, but its menu is not pretentious. It serves mainly omelets, sandwiches and chili, all with generous helpings of fresh vegetables and flavorful cheeses. The bacon is reliably crispy, and I generally get, and enjoy, the eggs Benedict.

The last time we were there, my companion and I both had omelets. Though both dishes arrived at the same time, piping hot, my Western was a perfect mix of cheese, egg, ham and well-cooked vegetables, whereas my partner’s omelet was not. Though drenched with cheese and encased in well-cooked egg, the vegetables themselves had not been sauteed. They were too crunchy.

We considered launching an investigation, but decided to let the trail go cold as the waitress warmed our coffees.

These things happen, and no doubt we’ll return for the Backside’s warmth, the cozy nooks with a view. It’s the best breakfast bet in Brattleboro.

Author: Mark Roessler

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