For me Fred’s is nostalgia. My childhood, teen years and early twenties paused in a tight, wood-paneled dive covered with pennants from Notre Dame University to the College of Lake County (our local community college, where many of my friends and myself took classes). Fred’s is Saturday mornings with my Dad (then separated and eventually divorced) joking with the waitresses as my sister and I rolled our eyes. It’s five AM drinking coffee from the first pot of the day, after a night of shenanigans and driving around with my best friends who are now sitting across from a couple of cops getting off the late shift.
It’s also great coffee and amazing, greasy food cooked on a well-seasoned griddle. Fred’s is the kind of place my love of brunch/breakfast was born in and I would happily die there at the counter after my coffee.
I love sitting down to Fred’s on a Saturday morning to take in a nice cup of coffee and the friendly sass of the three sisters who wait on you. The coffee by the way is perfect, both in temperature and taste. I am always happy to find that it hasn’t changed and that as soon as it’s poured I can take a nice big gulp and wake myself up a little. It’s not really bitter, but instead smooth and not too fussy. Just damn good coffee.
If you like saucy waitresses the three lovely ladies here will keep you giggling nervously and on your toes for the entire meal. It is pretty busy on Saturday mornings, so my friend and I wasted no time in picking what we wanted and ordering. Holding a table too long in this joint may get you in hot water with the patrons standing expectantly near the door and ready to dive into a booth before the table is cleared.
Since they had it this morning, I needed to order the Cream of Chicken and Rice soup. There is just something about it that makes you feel all warm and cozy, and with fall starting to creep in that was especially nice. Although the cup they gave me was overflowing, after a few tasty spoonfuls I used my Oma’s diner hack (the addition of two creams) to add just an extra touch of velvet to the already luscious and savory elixir.
Not too long after I finished the soup, our splendid array of food arrived. For me the daily special of Eggs Benedict was joined by a half order of Biscuits and Gravy. My buddy got her regular order of a Broccoli and Cheese Omelet with bacon almost burnt and pancakes (which she just learned today that she could get instead of toast). Both of us have been coming since we were kids with our families so it’s amazing that such an institution can still surprise us occasionally. We both also got the incredible hashbrowns (mine with onions, hers without), the griddle being the thing that differentiates them from other breakfast/brunch places I’ve known. Here the hashbrowns are cooked through in a soft sumptuous manner, steaming under a metal lid after being doused in butter. When I finally get a spoonful the caramelized onions punctuate the starch with a mellow sweetness, yet they have some nice, slightly crispy bits along the edges. They are even better with a little oozy yolk running through them.
I don’t think I’ve ever gotten their Eggs Benedict before, but it made me smile. The thick cut ham was unctuous and satisfying on top of a pleasantly toasted English muffin. The poached eggs were perfectly cooked, the rich yolk exuding from them complemented both the rest of the Benedict and my lovely hashbrowns. Last of the Hollandaise sauce was a nice completing, creamy touch to finish out the dish.
My Biscuits and Gravy was solid, but I think living near the South has opened my eyes to what is out there. This Yankee attempt is what first introduced me to the love I have for this Southern staple, so it still tastes like home in a way. However having the Biscuits and Gravy experiences I’ve had I found this dish didn’t hold up the way the rest of my meal did. The biscuit was dry and lacked the fluffy, butteriness I’ve come to love and expect. The gravy, though nicely seasoned with a good sausage and nice bit of peppery spice, lacked the decadent creaminess I’ve come to connect with Biscuit Gravy. That being said it was still totally adequate offering, which I ate most of.
My buddy’s Broccoli and Cheese Omelet is almost literally the only thing she orders. Only once in the tens of times and thirteen plus years I’ve known her has she ordered something different. It was New Years day a few years back and she got a special French Toast, I actually remember I waitress gasping in surprise. That little anecdote being shared, I get why she does. It comes cheesy with a little bit of green to feel good about wha you are eating. Mostly though it’s the nice fluffy omelet, with just a touch of crispness from the aforementioned fantastic griddle. Each bite is just delightful. The pancakes also seemed good as they were easily finished before we left.
All-in-all it’s always lovely to come back, with the food here is a nostalgic reminder of simpler times in my wilder youth. The people I come with also make this a special place and I hope it will always be here for us. The food is still as solid as ever, both my friend and myself finished all we ordered, save a small box with a half a biscuit covered in gravy.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my little stroll down this dive from my memory’s lane. Until next time keep eating and drinking amongst old friends in places that feel like home.
Today’s Featured Brunch: Fred’s Diner, 225 Center St, Grayslake, IL 60030