The Egg & I

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At the newly refurbished shopping center on Memorial and Kirkwood that was once anchored by Hungry's and the slightly shady Russian food store, Moscow Market, a change has taken place.  This same change is pervading all of west Houston, as 1960s-era strip malls up and down Memorial are shaking off their old façades in favor of fancy slate tiles, stacked stone and varying shades of beige stucco and old favorites move over to make room for yuppie upstart chains like Pei Wei and Firehouse Subs. In the space once occupied by neighborhood favorite, Hungry's (which has now moved further west on Memorial, past Dairy Ashford), the Colorado-based breakfast chain The Egg & I has moved in and made it their own.  The restaurant is now entirely unrecognizable from the dark, shabby haunt that Hungry's once inhabited.  Instead, high ceilings and streaming light abound.  Adorned with "wall words" and brightly-colored Tuscan-style plates on wrought-iron holders, The Egg & I reminds you of an enlarged version of a cheerful, if suburban, breakfast nook.

Indeed, the entire place is geared strongly towards the suburban demographic, which is no surprise in this highly yuppified part of town.  The waiting area has a flat-screen TV playing "family-oriented" films and cartoons alongside baskets full of toys and Dr. Seuss books (although the screaming child quotient was at zero the day that I went, amazingly).  The chipper service beams with that borderline insane, bright-eyed-and-bushy-tailed enthusiasm not often found in, say, The Breakfast Klub.  Not to say that any of this is a bad thing.

The Egg & I is simply an upscale version of an IHOP or Denny's, with an inviting atmosphere, friendly service and spotlessly clean interior.  There are more gourmet options on the menu than you'd find at a diner, such as Mediterranean-inspired omelettes and frittatas.  Instead of a jug o' coffee, you get your choice of at least five different house-brewed coffees, which are then delivered to your table in, well, a jug.  Actual tea is offered (several varieties of Tazo, to be exact) instead of bags of Lipton when you order hot tea.  And your orange juice and water come in kitschy but useful carafes.  You'll note, however, that the prices are almost exactly in line with your neighborhood IHOP; a shock, to be sure, but a welcome one.

This weekend, I tried one of their famous "crepe eggs," a concoction that has a crepe for a base (I thought it was perhaps a play on words, but no).  Your fillings -- in my case, spinach, bacon, portobello mushrooms and havarti cheese -- are placed on top of the crepe, and beaten eggs are poured on top.  The entire thing goes under a salamander, where the eggs are quickly cooked without ever touching a skillet.

For sheer novelty value, I enjoyed the crepe egg.  I wouldn't order it again, however, as the crepe seemed to dry out the entire dish.  A small bowl of hollandaise sauce served on the side was a nice thought, but didn't quite cut it.  I prefer a standard, slightly gooey omelette any day.

To whit, the Denver omelette my husband ordered was a smash, redolent with savory ham and thick chunks of onions and green peppers.  The skillet potatoes that accompanied both the crepe egg and the omelette were wonderful: crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, with barely a trace of grease.  Although I would have enjoyed grits as my side, I judiciously avoided that choice after spotting a box of Quaker Instant Grits in the kitchen.  Nothing makes a Texan angier than instant grits.

The "winter blend" coffee that I ordered was also surprisingly good, with hints of cinnamon and nutmeg.  The jug o' coffee came in quite handy, after all, as I finished off every last drop and left The Egg & I wired, but happy.  It's a welcome option on this side of town, where breakfast venues are confined to a handful of kolache places, Le Peep or a rather grotty IHOP.  I look forward to going back to try one of their more standard breakfast dishes or perhaps even dropping by for an English tuna melt at lunch.

--- Katharine Shilcutt

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