Le Peep: The proof is in the powder
I hadn't been to Le Peep in well over a decade -- since I discovered eggs Bennie made from scratch are better -- but I noticed that the recent chain-restaurant survey in Consumer Reports put Le Peep among the most popular restaurants in the U.S., ranked on taste, value, service and mood.
J. Wohletz The lacy-edged pancakes at Le Peep.
Although I was skeptical about the control group in this corporate-chain eatery experiment, I thought perhaps, just perhaps, this meant that Le Peep had improved. So
J. Wohletz Le Peep at City Park.
I visited the Le Peep location at 1875 York Street to see -- and taste -- for myself whether or not it had improved to the point of being good-list-worthy.
I breezed into Peep's around noon, when the dining room was filled with a brunch crowd -- of almost all elderly patrons. The outside of the restaurant features rows of patio tables for some munch-gazing over at the traffic on York Street, and the inside dining room looks like it was decorated with things bought at Sears -- pink tablecloths on some of the tables and terrible prints of "rustic" objects and scenery.
My server returned much later with a mug of coffee, and it was stale-tasting, over-roasted and over-watered. By the second sip, I was thinking that my years of buying Starbucks have spoiled me to lesser brands of coffee. (FYI: Folger's coffee now tastes like boiled carrots after a cup of dark-roasted Komodo Dragon.)
Brunch delivery took around forty minutes, and I was pleased with the pancakes. The Lumberjack Breakfast is two eggs, any style, with the choice of two bacon strips or two sausage patties or links, Peep's signature "Peasant Potatoes," and two pancakes, which I figured would be small -- but they weren't. These two cakes were plate-sized, smoking hot, fragrant with whiffs of vanilla, and were that perfect pancake-brown color that was past khaki, but not quite to espresso. And the lacy edges were culinary art.
.Le Peep's cooks made my sunny-side up eggs perfectly, with the yolks wet and jiggly but stable, and the whites solid. I chose the sausage links for variety, and they were crisp-jacketed and tasted of sage, but very mild -- I prefer sausages with some spice-heat. The potatoes were also mildly-seasoned, heavy on the parsley, and unfortunately chilly -- leading me to suspect that they were cooked ahead of time and held.
J. Wohletz Eggs Benedict with powder-mix Hollandaise sauce.
Eggs Benedict, done in five or more different styles (at this location there are Harvest, Salmon, Farmer's and Crabby Patty styles), are what originally put Peep's on the map, and I recall enjoying them back in the day -- before I realized that Peep's used Hollandaise sauce from a mix, and fresh is far superior in flavor and consistency.
The two English muffins were under-toasted, the two ham slices were overcooked to a fault, but the coddled eggs were cooked to an unimpeachable over-medium. The potatoes were chilly, again, but "Mom's Sassy Apples" side was sweet, tender-crisp, and bathed in light cinnamon syrup. The brown ceramic skillet-plate was also inexplicably garnished with lettuce and tomato slices.
The Hollandaise sauce was pretty obviously not made to order, slightly grainy and the consistency of package-mix gravy. It was mild, lacked the lemony flavor inherent to a homemade sauce, and had a faint aftertaste of chicken.
I looked a few times to ascertain the mood of the other diners. Everyone else was grazing placidly, and seemed to have no issues with the semi-decent food and the snail-assed service. Some older folks have piles of patience, and aren't as keen to enjoy overly-perceptible spices in their meals. Older folks vote for things as well.....perhaps the reason Le Peep made the Consumer Reports list is because older people like this place...
I wanted confirmation on the authenticity of the Hollandaise sauce, so I asked one of the managers point-blank whether or not it was made from a mix. He confirmed that it was, and said it was Knorr brand -- the same stuff sold in packets at grocery stores. Just add butter and milk, heat and serve.
But not to me. Le sigh....
I don't think the food and service I've eaten/experienced at Le Peep was the worst I've ever had, but neither are those things high-quality enough to warrant the restaurant gracing the top end of a popularity list of any kind. I look at my most recent dining experience at Peep's as yet another modest, peripheral reason for people under the age of retirement to vote -- for everything, including favorable restaurant picks.