My friends must tire of my nostalgia for Santa Barbara, Calif., especially my fondness for a little place called The Cajun Kitchen. There I spent many a groggy but happy morning over giant omelets, French toast, crispy home fries and cornbread. Since my first morning in the Springs, I've searched for its analog, a replacement, a breakfast foster parent, but with little luck. As much as I love its weekend brunch, Gertrude's is not the kind of place I feel comfortable going in shorts and a dilapidated T-shirt, still hurting from the previous evening's activities.
Today, I'm happy to report that the search is over. At Ned's on Manitou, I've found what I've been looking for: a super-casual atmosphere with outstanding pancakes, hearty egg specials, and down-home side dishes that feed the soul. Orange walls, green tables (one hosting a dazzling hot-sauce cocktail party) and a spiffy collection of reefer-madness prints complete the package. Beyond breakfast lies an empire of sandwiches, pizzas, pastas and salads.
Ned's backstory only brings it closer to my heart. The owners met while working at a caf in North Hollywood, less than a mile from where I went to junior high and high school. After moving to Manitou, they had the same trouble I did: They missed their favorite dishes. So they decided to get the band back together and share with the rest of us. But don't let my Cali-addled taste buds throw you off the trail; the spirit, quality and care in their food is unmistakably Manitou.
Leading the way are the large, fluffy pancakes, which are some of the best around. The pecan banana edition drew rave reviews from my wife, a widely respected pancake expert. Although relegated to the kids' menu, the chocolate chip flapjacks offer an express connection to your inner child.
Also available are a bevy of poached egg/hollandaise/English muffin dishes. The standard Benedict is quite good, as are Eggs Manitou, a Cali-veggie version with avocado and spinach, and Eggs Juneau, with salmon. Omelets arrive fluffed and folded around copious filling options. The Z, for instance, is chock-full of bacon, mushrooms and avocado, smothered in melted jack cheese. For those in search of a morning carbo-load, the Angel Fries would be difficult to beat. New potatoes are boiled, grilled and then absolutely covered in cheese, onions and bell peppers.
Breakfast is served all day, but lunch doesn't slouch. Try the tasty Reuben, perked up with a shot of horseradish, or the intriguing, homemade turkey jalapeo sausage sandwich. Ned's also bakes its own breads and offers ice cream and shakes.
Side dishes at Ned's are so good they threaten to steal the show. Zucchini shredders are essentially little green pancakes, themselves light, airy and yummy. Hush puppies hit the opposite end of the spectrum, pleasingly dense with a deliciously savory bell-pepper-spiked corn batter that's fried to perfection. Fried green tomatoes, topped with a spicy sauce, are also delicious.
The kitchen takes its time to get it right, but there's plenty to look at and crayons for the kids. They've already earned a loyal crowd that knows the wait will be worth it. But don't take my word for it go taste for yourself.
Ned's on Manitou
729 Manitou Ave., Manitou Springs, 685-9102
Monday-Saturday, 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. (sometimes until 8), Sunday, 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.