Say what you will about Scottish cuisine, but the Highlanders introduced a fine staple-food to this continent: the mighty oat, universally acclaimed by nutrition pundits as a superfood
—full of fiber and antioxidants that lower cholesterol, stabilize blood sugar and enhance the immune system. And, if you know how to cook 'em, they taste delicious, too. The following eateries prepare particularly imaginative bowls—or plates—of oatmeal, so before you go ordering eggs and potatoes for the umpteenth time, remember Wilford Brimley's advice
and give the oft-overlooked oat a chance; your body will thank you.
Orange on Roscoe
It was with great curiosity that I ordered the pan-seared oatmeal in Orange's luminous sherbet-color confines. "Isn't that just another word for burnt," my friend Mandi mumbled in my ear. Turns out, it's another word for "slow simmered in apple cider and fried on the stovetop." The folks behind Orange have figured out a way to mold sweet, apple-y porridge into thick triangles and cook 'em up like the world's heartiest flapjacks, with mounds of apple rings, golden raisins and cranberries on top. The molasses-colored wedges come drizzled with an apple-cider reduction: Oatmeal art at its finest.
The dish didn't strongly resemble oatmeal to the eye or to the utensil (I took it all down with a fork), but to the tongue, the taste and texture were unmistakable. Sweet, hearty and unique, Orange's oat sculpture is a tasty, nourishing dish that makes huevos racheros look downright dull.
Suzi's Tea & Cafe
For what is first and foremost a tea house, sweet little Suzi's makes not one, but two oatmeal concoctions: the old standby plus a slightly pricier brulee version. According to the menu, the latter would be just what I expected. So while I waited, fiddling with my tea timer, I imagined a French pastry chef in the back, torch in hand, firing a sugar coating on a ramekin of whole grains.
And, yes, that's pretty close to what oatmeal brulee is. Although getting through hockey puck-like surface is a bit tricky with all those lumpy oats marring the surface, I did administer one or two decent cracks with my spoon to reveal the unadorned meal beneath. Raisins come on the side to dress up the dish once the sugar is gone, which was, in my case, rather quickly. Despite the continental pretensions, Suzi's oatmeal is as honest and rustic as the cafe that serves it.
Milk and Honey Cafe
The simplicity of oatmeal preparation can be deceptive; simmering it to the cloud-like consistency achieved at Milk and Honey requires patience, love and a generous dose of cream. But then, the very name of the popular breakfast/lunch spot is an invitation to luxuriate in simple pleasures, so you'd expect them to get it right.
By the time I made it to Milk and Honey, one of my favorite spots in the Ukie Village, I was on my third heaping helping of wholesomeness and feeling particularly critical. But try as I may, I could find no fault with the gleaming, steaming bowl, generously sprinkled with whole walnuts, brown sugar and dried cherries, and accompanied by a wee pitcher of milk. In fact, M&H simmers up the best traditional bowl of oatmeal I've ever had. Just don't tell my mom.
When I sidled up to the counter at Lou Mitchell's, I had a moment of pause before ordering the hot cereal (you have your choice of oatmeal or cream of wheat), with offerings like home-baked jelly roll on the big board. Good thing I was on assignment.
Milk and Honey may cook its oats with cream, but Lou's cooks its cream with oats, until the resulting porridge is a miraculously smooth, uniform consistency. It's well worth the extra buck for a big dollop of homemade cinnamon apples—a five spot will still cover it—and don't feel bad about reaching for the mammoth shaker of brown sugar four or five times during your breakfast. Lou would want it that way.
Other honorable oatmeal mentions:
Enjoy your steel-cut oats the old-fashioned way: with a fresh-squeezed glass of OJ in a room decorated like your grandmother's house.
It's more a coffee shop than a breakfast joint, but former manager Rebekah Albert couldn't let her patrons live on pastries alone. She may have moved to Mexico, but the cold-weather tradition continues here.