And the winner is... One restaurant bests the eggs-cellent competition to be crowned Breakfast Bowl champion

Banyan Coffee & Tea (689 Dr. Martin Luther King St., St. Petersburg, 727-896-6100, is quaint, a cozy coffee shop thanks to wooden banquettes and corner benches, Fiestaware plates on the counter, cast-iron implements on the walls and a whiff of age and history preserved in the St. Pete building in which it resides.

The coffee, of course, is excellent, as are the bagels delivered daily from St. Pete Bagels and the flaky, fresh-baked scones stuffed with Nutella or fruit that are stacked on plates by the register. For a heartier breakfast, you’ll need a sandwich.

Banyan’s sandwiches are why this limited breakfast spot made it so far in the competition. For a dollar extra you can have one on a bagel, but better to stick with pressed, crackling Cuban bread. Bacon, egg and cheese are a simple formula — even with the option of fresh spinach offered here — but the beauty is in the details: thick, meaty slices of bacon; egg that’s fried gently, with enough liquid yolk to ooze out and sauce the bitter spinach; aged cheddar cheese used subtly, accenting instead of taking over.

You can also have the sandwich fixings stuffed into a burrito, with queso instead of cheddar, and the offerings expand a bit during Sunday brunch to include omelets, grits and decadent brie and bacon scones topped with peppery sausage gravy.

In the end, however, Banyan’s limited — but excellent — breakfast menu precludes it from taking the top spot in this tournament.

Bowled (3451 Fourth St. N, St. Petersburg, 727-895-2695, is not a breakfast specialist, opening early only on Sundays for a weekly brunch. That doesn’t mean it can’t hold its own, however.

Take an oft-abused staple like biscuits and gravy. Here, the gravy has the deep flavor of sage and pork throughout, with just a hint of heat to give it some life, atop flaky buttermilk biscuits that serve as an ideal vehicle for the main attraction. Bowled’s benedict is also a winner, the eggs poached right and served atop a half-dozen options from braised beef to grilled squash. The crab and asparagus version shows the skills of a kitchen used to cooking dinner, the asparagus tender-crisp and the crab seasoned enough to shine through the rich toppings.

There are Bowled’s signature, well, bowls loaded with scrambled eggs and fixings, crepes stuffed with sweet and savory options, and the usual omelets and French toast.

Shrimp and grits, however, come bone dry, the shellfish tasting like nothing more than the flour that coats them, and sides of homefries are deep-fried instead of crisped on a griddle. That may not discount the restaurant from a win, but it is a clear sign that breakfast is just one of many facets of this restaurant. Good, but not a winning breakfast.

Three Coins Diner (7410 N. Nebraska Ave., Tampa, 813-239-1256, is a more classic breakfast joint, with an extensive list of morning standards that the restaurant serves 24 hours a day. It’s short-order heaven, where all you need to know is how many eggs, how you want them cooked, which meat on the side, and white or wheat.

Those meat options are the biggest draw, with items like two fried pork chops or a slab of griddled steak side by side with the more traditional ham/bacon/sausage trinity. You can even have salami chopped into your eggs, a world-class combination that is usually reserved for weekend home-cooking.

The pancakes are fluffy and sweet, the omelets are overcooked but stuffed to the breaking point with fillings, and the waffles are crisp and fluffy. But, like I said, it’s a short-order place. No real surprises, if that’s what you’re looking for when it comes to breakfast. To win the Breakfast Bowl, you need both tasty standards and a little something extra.

Lenny’s (21220 U.S. 19 N., Clearwater, 727-799-0402) has “extra” covered, thanks to one of the most extensive and comprehensive breakfast menus you’re likely to find in the Bay area. No wonder, really, since Lenny’s has specialized in the morning meal — and been rewarded for its efforts — for decades.

That devotion to the morning’s culinary arts means that besides all of the usual breakfast standards — and I do mean all — Lenny’s bakes its own bagels fresh every morning, sections oranges and grapefruit for its fruit plates, makes its own chunky lox spread, and serves baskets of piping hot danishes that are a necessity for every table.

More importantly, Lenny’s does almost all of that very well, from the crisp fried scrapple to matsoh brei, from poached eggs to stacks of tall pancakes. It even looks the part, with decades of tchotchkes covering the walls — much of it focused on Philadelphia sports teams — aged wood separating the rooms and overstuffed vinyl booths in a 1970s green throughout.

There are details you might change — like the mound of gooey caramelized onions slapped on top of, instead of cooked with, the homefries, or the dry feta used in the omelets — but the overall experience is topnotch, easily worthy of the Breakfast Bowl crown.


That honor, however, goes to Pinky’s Diner (3203 W. Bay to Bay Blvd., Tampa, 813-831-9339, Walk into the restaurant on the weekend and you’ll likely have to wait a few minutes, although the self-serve coffee station lined with mismatched thrift store mugs makes it easy to bide your time, especially once you get a taste of the excellent joe. The thrift-store chic continues in the interior, with vintage soda advertising and an odd array of furniture arranged throughout the tiny space. It’s too well-designed to be cluttered, but still manages a seriously homey vibe.

You can get the standards here, and you should when it comes to Pinky’s incredible pancakes. Almost absurdly thick and fluffy, a short stack is a tall order that tastes even better than it looks, rich and sweet with a depth of flavor that’s often missing from even the best breakfast spots.

Pinky’s other specialties include frittatas that can be a tad dry, jalapeno grits that are almost more soup than side, sandwiches on Cuban bread that easily rival those at Banyan across the Bay, and fresh muffins still steamy from the oven. But before you decide, you’ll need to check the specials board.

On one occasion, Pinky’s decided to amp up its already excellent benedict with hollandaise fortified by tomato and thyme. The bright acidity of the tomato cut right through the rich sauce, making the golden yolk of the egg and the crisp-grilled turkey sausage shine.

And, perhaps most important of all, Pinky’s potatoes are hands-down the best of all of the Breakfast Bowl’s Final Five.

Pinky’s is the Breakfast Bowl Champion.


Photos by Todd Bates.

Editor's Note: In today's print issue of CL where this article appears, page 18 — which reveals the winner — was accidentally omitted. Call it the curse of the Breakfast Bowl or just bad luck, but anyhow, we'll be righting this wrong by adding that extra page in next week's issue. The full version is below, so read along to find out who took the crown.

Say what you will about popularity contests, but the CL Breakfast Bowl managed to produce some terrific results. The five restaurants that overcame the other 59 competitors are all worthy spots for a morning nosh, all winners whether you focus on voting tallies or take a trip and experience them for yourself.

Which is what I did, with the help of some friends, in order to crown the ultimate Breakfast Bowl champion. Sometimes, a little in-person reconnaissance can settle a score much more effectively than an online poll.

Lenny’s, Bowled, Banyan Coffee & Tea, Pinky’s and Three Coins Diner all have their own breakfast quirks, specialties and vibes, but only one can wear the crown — like a splash of Hollandaise atop a Beautiful benedict — of Breakfast Bowl Champion. Which restaurant reigns supreme?

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