Vic’s Daily Cafe – Albuquerque, New Mexico
“When you wake up in the morning, Pooh,” said Piglet at last, “what’s the first thing you say to yourself?”
“What’s for breakfast?” said Pooh. “What do you say, Piglet?”
“I say, I wonder what’s going to happen exciting today?” said Piglet.
Pooh nodded thoughtfully.
“It’s the same thing,” he said.”
Unlike the great philosopher Winnie the Pooh, many Americans, it seems, don’t equate breakfast with excitement. Studies show that far too many of us fuel our bodies with a “gobble and go” mentality that typifies our frenetic lifestyles. In 2007, one food service industry research firm concluded that most Americans spend no more than three minutes shopping for breakfast (at such paragons of nutritional virtue as McDonald’s and Starbucks).
A food and health survey of Americans showed that 92 percent of respondents consider breakfast the most important meal of the day, yet fewer than half (46 percent) of them ate breakfast seven days a week. The most frequently cited reasons for not eating breakfast every day include “not being hungry after waking up” (59 percent) and “not enough time” (54 percent).
Yet another survey, this one commissioned by a bread manufacturer, revealed that breakfast is such an integral part of our daily routine that three-quarters of us say we would opt for a good breakfast over fifteen minutes of extra sleep. The operative word which jumps out from that finding is “good.” Perhaps the reason many of us don’t share Winnie the Pooh’s excitement over breakfast is that we don’t often have a “good” breakfast. I’m not talking “good” as in meeting the recommended daily allowance of whatever nutritional standards are in vogue, but “good” as in delicious, good as in worth getting up for…good as in Vic’s Daily Cafe, a long-time Duke City favorite first thing in the morning and during the lunch hour.
Although it seems Vic’s Daily Cafe has been around forever, founder Victor Pandazis didn’t launch his eponymous restaurant until 1998. The likely reason it inspires familiarity and nostalgia for many of us long-time residents is because for years previous we frequented Andy’s, a bustling breakfast restaurant owned by Vic’s father until closing in 1997. Andy is still a ubiquitous presence at Vic’s where he greets guests, escorts them to their tables and sometimes runs the cash register. He’s lost a step or two, but remains the genial host he’s always been.
The marquee at Vic’s also inspires nostalgia for anyone who grew up reading Superman comics. That marquee features a banner emblazoned with the name “Daily Cafe” encircling the planet Earth, very similarly to the Daily Planet’s logo. The Daily Planet, as fans of the Man of Steel know, was the newspaper for which Superman’s bespectacled alter-ego Clark Kent worked. Coincidentally but not at all surprisingly, the Daily Cafe is frequented by employees of the nearby Albuquerque Journal.
Similar to other popular breakfast destinations in town (Milton’s, Lindy’s and the Western View Diner come to mind), Vic’s embraces its Greek heritage. Commemorative plates and framed posters from Greece adorn the restaurant’s stark walls while the menu is festooned with Greek favorites. Who wouldn’t love breakfast if you had your choice of Greek, New Mexican or American fare, all of it good?
If you show up for breakfast craving something Greek, choices abound. Whether for breakfast or lunch, envious eyes will trail the wait staff as they deliver a platter of Greek appetizers to your table. Nestled on a bed of crispy leaf lettuce are stuffed grape leaves, hunks of feta cheese, lip-puckering pepperonici, plumb and juicy Kalamata olives, fresh cucumbers and thinly sliced tomatoes, all drizzled with olive oil. Wedges of warm pita bread on a plate complete this luscious starter.
The Kalamata olives are among the best we’ve had in Albuquerque. That makes sense because Andy Pandazis came from a village near Kalamai, Greece where the potent olives are grown. Over the years he’s cultivated a network of suppliers who provide high quality products like these olives and the wonderful stuffed grape leaves infused with a pleasant citrus influence.
More breakfast-like is the Athenian, an omelet engorged with feta cheese, spinach, gyros meat, tomatoes and onions. This is one of the most flavorful omelets in town with each forkful delighting your taste buds. Vic’s doesn’t scrimp on ingredients. You’ll be surprised at just how much gyros meat each forkful will reward you with. Wash it down with Farmer Brothers Coffee, a mellow breakfast blend replenished faithfully by the attentive wait staff.
A surprising Texas meets New Mexico twist is available for breakfast, too. That would be the Vaquero, a large chicken fried steak topped with red and (or) green chile and melted cheese instead of gravy. The chicken fried steak is pounded thin and so tender you can cut it with the fork. If the chicken fried steak isn’t enough, it comes with two eggs any style. Left-overs a plenty are a standard at Vic’s.
Even a short-stack of the restaurant’s signature pecan pancakes is humongous at Vic’s, covering the entire area inside the plate’s rim. A short-stack means two pancakes instead of the usual order of four. An order is easily big enough for two. One of the most popular items on the menu, the pecan pancakes are light and fluffy with a profusion of pecans in each bite.
SECOND VISIT – 21 APRIL 2013: Vic’s does a booming business for both breakfast and lunch, but Sunday is when getting a seat is most challenging, especially after the nearby mega church concludes its services. Get there at about 1:15PM (45 minutes before closing time) and you shouldn’t have to wait…long. Rather than perusing the menu while you wait, train your eyes upon the dishes destined for other diners. It’s almost a guarantee that you’ll order something you see headed to someone else’s table.
That approach is how we wound up ordering chicken tenders. My fifty-something friend and colleague Mike Muller considers chicken tenders a last great act of defiance against growing old. They’re one of his favorite dishes. My Kim and I, on the other hand, tend to equate them with McNuggets, a nasty amalgam of sheer, shameful yuck. When we saw large pieces of boneless chicken headed to an adjacent table, we knew these were not of the Golden Arches ilk. Vic’s slices chicken breasts into strips and coats them with a very flavorful batter that renders the exterior crisp while leaving the chicken moist, tender and absolutely delicious. They’re better than the fried chicken at most restaurants. The chicken tenders are served with real mashed potatoes and gravy.
While the nearby mega church may warn against coveting anything that is your neighbors, at Vic’s Daily Cafe it’s a daily occurrence. Whether you call it covetousness or sheer lust, watching a plate of gyros make their way to your neighbor’s table will probably mean you’ll order gyros yourself. It’s a good choice. A large pita is the canvas for a thinly sliced beef and lamb amalgam, chopped tomatoes, red onions, lettuce and tzadziki sauce. It’s a very good gyro with high-quality ingredients. The gyros are served with your choice of one side. Ask for the Greek pasta salad which is made with feta cheese, olive oil, Kalamata olives, tomatoes, cucumbers and pepperoncini. It’s a winner.
“If we didn’t make them, we wouldn’t serve them” is Andy’s response should you ask if the pulchritudinous pastries encased under glass and the sumptuous strudel lounging on the counter are homemade. Vic’s takes great pride in its dessert offerings, for good reason. The banana cream pie is a little wedge of heaven…or at least Gilligan’s Island. It’s thick, moist and absolutely delicious. A word of caution, however, if you’re also going to have the superb cherry strudel, make sure to eat it before you eat the banana cream pie. Otherwise the cherries will be lip-pursing tart.
When many Duke City residents wake up, the first thing they say to themselves in the morning is “let’s go to Vic’s for breakfast.” Vic’s isn’t solely a breakfast destination. The lunch menu is replete with comfort food favorites including several Greek entrees. Whether for breakfast or lunch, Vic’s Daily Cafe can become a daily habit.
Vic’s Daily Cafe
3600 Osuna Rd NE # 105
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 21 April 2013
1st VISIT: 1 November 2008
# OF VISITS: 2
BEST BET: Pecan Pancakes, The Vaquero, The Athenian, Greek Appetizer Plate, Chicken Tenders,