Tempo Café

Tempo Cafe in Chicago's Near North neighbourhood.When I used to stay in downtown Chicago, my hotel was just around the corner from Tempo Café, an amazing 24-hour diner in Chicago’s Near North (I say “used to stay”: it was all of three times!). However, I loved the place and made sure I visited for breakfast at least twice on each trip. Therefore, when I was back in Chicago as part of my coast-to-coast extravaganza last year, and unexpectedly found myself north of the river, I made a beeline to Tempo for a late brunch.

Tempo, along with Boston’s Charlie’s Sandwich Shoppe, is one of my favourite American diners, although compared to Charlie’s, it’s a very different place, slightly more upmarket in layout and feel, but still great value for money. All the usual diner staples are there, but you can also get full meals and everything is available 24-hours a day, seven days a week. Comfort food at its best!

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Charlie’s Sandwich Shoppe Update

The tiling in front of the door at Charlie's Sandwich Shoppe: small, white, square tiles with the number "429" above "CHARLIE'S" spelt out in red and black tiles.Charlie’s Sandwich Shoppe, the quintessential family-run American diner, had been in the Manjourides family since it opened in 1927, serving the people of the South End from 429 Columbus Avenue. I discovered Charlie’s in 2003 and when, in recent years, I started to stay in the South End, it became my go-to breakfast place, dishing up my favourite staples of poached eggs, home fries and griddle cakes.

I wrote about Charlie’s Sandwich Shoppe in 2013, visiting again in 2014. However, towards the end of that year, I heard troubling rumours that Charlie’s had closed. It was only when I returned to Boston in June 2015 that I was able to confirm it for myself. I swung by in the vain hope that it would be open but it was well-and-truly shut, although deep inside I heard sounds of construction. Disappointed, I went on my way, ending up in the nearby Render Coffee.

However, when I returned this year, I was once again walking down to Render, and, instead of finding the empty shell of Charlie’s, or something new in its place, there was Charlie’s itself, looking superficially very much as it had year after year. Intrigued, I stepped inside.

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Ants Pants

The text "Ants Pants Cafe" over the date the cafe was established: 2004In the grand scheme of Philadelphia’s suddenly booming speciality coffee scene, Ant’s Pants is something of a wizened old establishment, having been around since 2004 (although even that pales into insignificance compared to the likes of Anthony’s Coffee House). It proudly states its Aussie inspiration, going as far as to use Toby’s Estate coffee (Aussie-owned, Brooklyn roasted).

The Aussie heritage also shines through in the emphasis on food; breakfast is served all day (well, until closing time, which is four o’clock) and there’s table service, a novelty in American coffee shops. This puts it more on a par with an American diner, particularly with the emphasis on the food, albeit with better coffee than your average diner.

If all this is too much for you, Ants Pants is conveniently split into two, the front part being much more traditional coffee shop, with a four-seat window bar and the counter down the right-hand side. The second part is at the back, down a short corridor past the kitchen, where you’ll find all the tables (notwithstanding the pair out on the sidewalk).

Except that by the time you read this, there’ll also be an outdoor greenhouse at the back with more seating…

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Jany’s

Jany's Diner, on the corner of 12th and WoodJany’s, in downtown Philadelphia, was introduced to me by Greg, of Coffee Guru App fame, my guide during my stay in Philadelphia. For those who don’t know it, Jany’s is an old-fashioned American diner of the type that I adore, akin to Charlie’s Sandwich Shoppe in Boston. Serving typical diner fare (ie good quality comfort food), the food is both excellent and extremely good value for money, with a massive menu to choose from. So, that’s the good news.

The bad news is that, having been run by Jany and her family since 1977, Jany is hoping to retire this summer and is looking to sell the business on. With luck, someone will buy it and carry it on much as it is, but who knows what will happen? So, if you get the chance, check out Jany’s while you can. Or buy it. But don’t change anything!

It would be great if Jany’s was still open, still serving the same wholesome value-for-money food when I next come to Philadelphia.

Update, March 2015: Jany’s is still here! I’ve just called in for brunch on my return to Philadelphia and am delighted to report that Jany’s is under new ownership and going strong. As far as I can tell, other than the addition of Wifi, nothing else has changed 🙂

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Charlie’s Sandwich Shoppe

Charlie's Sandwich Shoppe sign hangs proudly over the sidewalk on Columbus AvenueCharlie’s Sandwich Shoppe is my go-to breakfast place in Boston. Although my first visit was in 2003, I’ve only been a regular since 2011 (if visiting at least once during my annual trip to Boston makes me a regular that is!), which is when I started staying in Boston’s South End. Charlie’s is the quintessential family-run American diner, although it’s now in the hands of local chef, Evan Deluty. It’s so much a fixture of the neighbourhood that it’s even got its own Wikipedia page!

To the detriment of my waist-line, I’ve always been a fan of American breakfasts: fluffy, buttermilk griddle cakes, smothered in maple syrup; a plate full of eggs, fried potatoes with a couple of slices of toast; there are reasons why I put on half a stone whenever I go to America.

Charlie’s supplies these in abundance, along with bags of friendly atmosphere. It’s best experienced sitting on a bar-stool at the counter with a mug of coffee and enough food to last you for the day. There you can watch the regulars come and go, read the Boston Globe, or, increasingly these days, browse your smartphone or tablet. Not that Charlie’s has succumbed to the lure of wifi just yet…

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