This club has all the trappings (minus one) of an exclusive New York City hot spot. There is no sign over door. The general public is not admitted. To get in you must be a member or the guest of a member, and that member better have with him or her the “really cool secret key” to get through the “impenetrable locked door.” And just like the most exclusive of these exclusive places, this one’s fame spreads solely by word of mouth, which, naturally, has caused its desirability to increase exponentially.
The club in question, if you haven’t already guessed, is Fred’s Breakfast in New Hope, which has gained almost mythical status since it opened in the summer of 2008 in a nondescript building next to the Landing restaurant. The important difference between Fred’s and a chi-chi nightspot is not just the hours of operation — 6 a.m. to 11 a.m. every day — but rather the motivation behind it. The idea is not to keep average folks out, but to provide locals with a place to go for a made-to-order breakfast and genuine camaraderie without the interminable waits this tourist town generates, especially on weekends.
The genius behind Fred’s Breakfast — and I do mean genius — is Chris Bollenbacher, who with his wife, Ellen, also owns the Landing. The place is named for the Bollenbachers’ beloved late Burmese mountain dog, although Chris’s longtime buddy, Fred Williamson, is very involved, too. “A little place for a little breakfast for a local crowd” is how the folks there describe it but that doesn’t do justice to the quality or array of the breakfast foods they make from scratch each day and serve at more than reasonable prices.
The menu includes the whole shebang: eggs any way, pancakes, French toast, waffles, oatmeal. All the customary breakfast meats are present, including pork roll and scrapple. Coffee is free and available at all times — you just have to get it yourself. But these delights only scratch the surface. How about excellent housemade corned beef hash with eggs and a side of grits? Or one of two daily savory breakfast strudels, like the vegetarian one with mozzarella, basil, and tomato. Or southern style sausage gravy with fresh biscuits and home fries. Even the English muffins and bagels are made in-house, as are sticky buns and cinnamon buns. Blueberry buckle is the best I’ve ever tasted. Tuesdays feature fresh donuts hot out of the fryer, sprinkled with cinnamon sugar. (The fact that Fred’s is a good 40 minutes from my Princeton home is probably a blessing.)
The centerpiece of the large, window-filled room is a three-sided diner counter that seats 31. I can attest to the fact that, at least on weekdays, there is little or no wait, not because the place isn’t almost always filled but because certain rules apply. First, you cannot leave an empty seat between your party and the next (and, by the way, you are encouraged to strike up a conversation with those on either side). Second, service is prompt and more efficient than at many four-star restaurants — and just as professional, although light-years friendlier. Everyone is treated like a regular from the very first visit.
So how do you become a member of this exclusive club? Only by being sponsored by an existing member, and even then your application (and one-time $10 fee to cover the cost of the electronic key) will be processed only when a spot opens up. I was fortunate to be sponsored by Susan Yeske, the longtime food writer and restaurant critic of the Trenton Times, yet still had to wait six weeks. And this in spite of the fact that I shamelessly tried to influence the powers that be at Fred’s by telling them that I could hardly wait to write about the place.
Since becoming a member I have, as you can well imagine, received more than a few sponsorship requests, many from newly uncovered “friends.” So if you want to join the club you’ll have to inquire/beg elsewhere. Just don’t be surprised if you find your friends have been secretly holding out on you about Fred’s. We members of exclusive clubs can be like that. www.fredsbreakfast.com