Pamper yourself with a weekday breakfast at a swank downtown Minneapolis hotel. Sure, the tab will be higher than your regular Tremendous Twelve-and-coffee routine at Perkins, but aren't you worth it?
Food: Chef Stephen Trojahn and his crew turn out the Twin Cities' deluxe a.m. gold standard. Pink grapefruit is dusted in sugar and torched, brulée-style, for a sweet-tart crunch. Clever variations on the Benedict formula drop the standard ham in favor of tempeh, foie gras or crab cakes, all finished with brightly flavored hollandaise sauces. Carb-avoiders will appreciate the "Japanese breakfast," an exquisitely arranged array of succulent grilled salmon, a steaming bowl of pungent miso soup, a poached egg, spinach and mushrooms. French toast is treated three different ways: raspberry-chocolate, cinnamon and vanilla-almond, and there's a beautiful selection of artisan cheeses.
Setting: Contemporary luxury combined with the serenity of a top-flight spa. There's no better venue for impression-conscious movers and shakers aiming to seal a deal.
Service: Gracious, thoughtful and polished.
Local color: Walleye hash.
Nice touches: The gratis newsstand, featuring six newspapers. The amuse-bouche (mine was a cool basil-melon smoothie). The free parking in Block E's underground ramp.
Bummer: A chilly draft by the windows.
Graves 601 Hotel, 601 1st Av. N., 612-677-1100, cosmosrestaurant.com.Porter & Frye
Food: The Hotel Ivy's menu still bears the imaginative and attentive hand of recently ousted chef Steven Brown (his replacement, Joan Ida, just picked up the reins last week). Tender braised pork is the foundation for an elegant huevos rancheros, usually the sloppiest of dishes. The classic Reuben format inspires a brisket-cabbage Benedict served on a robust rye bagel. Love the decadent oatmeal, topped with golden raisins, an apple pie-spiced butter and a splash of thick cream. Oh, and the pancakes? Divine, with a light, yeasty touch; best of all, the kitchen will send out a single plate-size, nutty brown beauty for just $2.
Service: Pampering and professional.
Nice touches: Pastry basket, a $6 joyride of diminutive muffins, scones and sweet breads. Kudos for the fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice (and the sane price, $3.50) and the warm maple syrup.
Local color: An omelet filled with ham from Tim Fischer's Purebred Hog Farm in Waseca, Minn., and Wisconsin-made Cheddar. The exceptional bacon hails from Jones Dairy Farm in Fort Atkinson, Wis.
Bummer: The generic surroundings. This is a luxury hotel?
Food: A surprisingly brief selection of basic a.m. fare (weekend brunch is far more adventurous), prepared with an eye to detail and a refined touch. An herb-flecked egg-white omelet actually tasted like eggs, roasted potatoes have a hearty salt crust, pancakes are light and lacy, blueberry-topped waffles are crisp outside and tender inside, eggs Benedict follows the model to the letter and the croissant and pain au chocolat are superb.
Setting: The hotel's sunny, stylish and serene Art Bar -- is this Minneapolis or Tribeca? -- is anchored by several attention-getting pieces from owner Ralph Burnet's envy-inspiring contemporary art collection. Who needs the Wall Street Journal when there's Chinese painter Yehan Wang's mesmerizing "WS578," an oversized acrylic triptych?
Service: Lovely and accommodating one morning, smile-soaked but largely absent the next.
Nice touch: The squeezed-while-you-watch orange juice.
Local color: Cream of Wheat.
Bummer: Yes, we get it, this isn't Denny's, but come on, smoked salmon, cream cheese and a toasted bagel should not cost $16.
Chambers Minneapolis, 901 Hennepin Av. S., 612-767-6999, chambersminneapolis.com.Manny's Steakhouse
Food: Finesse is a foreign word at this bigger-is-better steakhouse. Softball-size caramel rolls are served with an additional (translation: unnecessary) pitcher of caramel sauce. A Vikings fullback concluding a three-day fast would have difficulty finishing the artery-clogging combination of golden hash browns topped with red wine-braised Kobe-style short ribs, poached eggs and hollandaise sauce ("the first four bites are heaven, and then it quickly becomes a labor of love," said my server, and he was right). Better to settle for the simple: a perfectly grilled 10-ounce sirloin with a pair of eggs, a tall stack of blueberry-pocked buttermilk pancakes. Skip the flavorless breakfast "sliders."
Setting: Sunlight streams in behind Venetian blinds in both the slick black-and-white dining room and the cozier bar.
Service: Gregarious and observant.
Nice touch: White tablecloths in the dining room, red-checkered ones in the bar.
Local color: Omelets stuffed with Spam, the pride of Austin, Minn. Love that smoky, Wisconsin-made Nueske's bacon, too.
Bummer: The W's built-in chic doesn't filter down to the steakhouse's he-man menu.
W Minneapolis - The Foshay, 825 Marquette Av. S., 612-339-9900, mannysteakhouse.com.Bank
Food: A spicy bite makes the hollandaise stand out in a standard-issue eggs Benedict. A banana-blueberry smoothie could smooth over the roughest of hangovers, and a bacon-eggs-Cheddar-ciabatta breakfast sandwich, served with simple, does-the-trick hash browns, more than satisfies. Decent pancakes.
Setting: If only all mornings could dawn while we're seated in this one-of-a-kind landmark, notable for its style (teak-paneled late Art Moderne), volume (tall and wide enough to accommodate a smallish basketball arena) and light (a honeyed glow, filtered through molded art-glass windows).
Nice touch: Flaky croissants and fruity muffins, baked in-house.
Service: Understaffed and error-prone.
Local color: Fragrant Ames Honey drizzled over fresh fruit and yogurt.
Bummer: Nothing wrong with playing what sounds like the Watercolors station on Sirius, but a lower volume would be lovely.
Westin Minneapolis, 88 S. 6th St., 612-656-3255, bankmpls.com.