DEEP RIVER—The regulars know that a healthy appetite is a pre-requisite for eating at the Whistle Stop Cafe in Deep River, where owner Hedy Watrous aims to see her customers leave well-fed.
The atmosphere at this tiny, sometimes boisterous breakfast and lunch spot, where Watrous and her staff treat customers like family, is as appealing as the owner's inventive menu. Egg dishes, particularly the overstuffed omelets and variations on Eggs Benedict, are crowd favorites.
St. Patrick's Day. She will mix and match foods that she tasted in neighborhood pubs to give the weekend menu an Irish flavor.
Her interpretation of an Irish breakfast is an omelet stuffed with a golden potato pancake, a slice of grilled ham and "bangers" (breakfast sausages). Grilled tomato halves add some color to the plate, and baked beans and butter-slathered wheat toast are a must.
"That's a man's dish," she said as put the finishing touches on a trial run of the Emerald Isle dish. Indeed, the breakfast could easily serve two.
While the Whistle Stop Cafe turns out dozens of orders for its signature egg dishes, burgers and quesadillas, the chef's white board lists daily specials that she creates on a whim.
"I'm thinking all of the time" about new dishes that will tempt customers, she says. Much of the inspiration comes from trips to the market, where Watrous might spy a new ingredient or a seasonal vegetable and decide to build a dish around it. "We make everything fresh here. We always have our own corned beef hash. We cook our own fruit for the stuffed french toast, like caramelized bananas."
Watrous celebrated her 15th year at the grill last November, but the tiny breakfast and lunch spot has been in her family for much longer. Her grandparents, Ed and Lucy Goff, ran the place in the 1930s. When Watrous returned to Deep River in the early 1990s, after operating an Italian restaurant in Key West, Fla., she brought the Whistle Stop back into the family.
>> The Whistle Stop Cafe at 108 Main St., Deep River, is open Thursday through Monday, 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. 860-526-4122.
Tips>> Watrous uses Irish-cut oats to add texture to the potato pancake. She recommends grating the potato right before frying the pancakes; if potato is grated in advance, it begins to discolor as it stands.
>> Use a good-quality ham, sliced about 1/8-inch thick, that isn't too lean.
>> The skillet, preferably a cast-iron one, should be preheated to "smoking hot" before adding the potato pancake, ham and sausage, the chef suggests. A hot omelet pan over medium-high heat is best for cooking eggs.
THE WHISTLE STOP CAFE'S IRISH BREAKFAST>> 1/2 of a medium red potato, skin on
>> 2 tablespoons finely chopped onion
>> 2 tablespoons uncooked oats
>> 1 tablespoon flour
>> Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
>> 1 slice baked or spiral ham
>> 2 links of breakfast sausage