It's Time for Oatmeal
No, Wait! You, Too, Can Appreciate One of the World's Most Underappreciated Breakfast Foods
I cannot trust a person who does not like oatmeal. Rolled oats, steel cut, instant—whichever you prefer is fine, but to say you don't like it at all? Nonsense. If you do not like oatmeal, that is your own fault; do not blame the oatmeal. Oatmeal is offering itself to you, to do with it whatever you please. If you deny a warm bowl of oatmeal its proper fate, I can't help but wonder: What other greatness is this oatmeal-hating person willing to neglect out of sheer cluelessness?
I suppose an aversion to oatmeal is understandable. No thanks to association (and often conflation) with its sad brethren mush, porridge, gruel, etc., oatmeal has a bad reputation for being the lowest common denominator of breakfast food, often passed over for stacks of fluffy, syrup-covered pancakes or buttery eggs Benedict. Compared to those favorites, oatmeal isn't a treat, it's a chore that's eaten only out of necessity by those looking to lower their cholesterol or regulate their digestive system. Gross.
But do not think oatmeal is only for hippies and health nuts. Sure, its whole grains will fill your belly and clear your arteries (and, ahem, other things), but should you require your breakfast to be served with a side of guilt, oatmeal can do that, too! For example: Molly Moon's on Queen Anne serves a hot bowl of oatmeal topped with a scoop of ice cream every Saturday between 8 am and 1 pm all winter.
If you already love oatmeal, by all means, continue on your righteous path. But those of you who aren't yet convinced, hear me out. The next time you're out for breakfast (especially this time of year when, chances are, you're cold and broke), I implore you to give oatmeal another try. Here are a few good places to start.
Citizen (706 Taylor Ave N, 284-1015)
Looking over the breakfast menu at Citizen in east Lower Queen Anne, you'll be tempted to get the egg sandwich served on a savory biscuit, the French toast bread pudding, or the huevos rancheros. But you do not want those things! They're all very good, yes—Citizen's biscuits (made in-house) would be included in my last meal were I ever put on death row. But you must try their oatmeal ($5.95) at least once.
A generous but not overwhelming portion is served in a big bowl, with three little tin cups of walnuts, dried cranberries, and brown sugar on the side. There's also a little mug of cream. Citizen uses rolled oats (as opposed to steel cut—more on that later), making for a wonderfully creamy texture, not at all gummy. You know how sometimes oatmeal can get sticky and dense? This is not that kind of oatmeal. It's almost like velvet, with the oats, berries, and nuts bringing welcome contrasting textures.
Oddfellows Cafe (1525 10th Ave, 325-0807)
Yes, it's $7 for a bowl of oatmeal with seasonal fruit ($6 without, but you definitely want the fruit), but know this: Oddfellows on Capitol Hill serves up a huge bowl of oatmeal. More than one person really needs, in fact, but you will want to finish it all. Oddfellows uses steel cut oats, which means the grains are cut up into chunky little pieces instead of rolled flat, making for a chewy, tapioca-like texture.
It's served with brown sugar, butter (yes!), and the fruit, which can mean anything from banana slices and golden raisins (what they're offering now, in the dead of winter) to juicy chunks of strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries (making it a pleasure to eat oatmeal on a summer morning). To someone who is just starting or easing back into their oatmeal appreciation, this bowl can look giant and intimidating. Oatmeal aficionados, however, will be in heaven.
Cherry Street Coffee House (five Seattle locations, www.cherryst.com)
Cherry Street's oatmeal ($3.95) is instant—they add water when you order it, then pop it in the microwave for a couple minutes. Not fancy. But don't let that steer you away. It may not be destination oatmeal, but it's quick and pretty tasty. You can order it with or without raisins and/or brown sugar (you'll want both), but what they don't tell you is that the oatmeal itself, whether you like it or not, is laced with tiny pieces of almonds. Terrific, for me—the almonds make for a nice nutty flavor, reminiscent of a bowl of warm granola, and add a little bit of crunch to the instant oats (which often lose any bite—instant oatmeal is essentially cooked twice). But the almond addition is not so terrific for my nut-allergic friend, who nearly made good use of her new EpiPen.
Like all instant oatmeal, Cherry Street's has a slight chalkiness that coats the tongue and only gets more pronounced as the oats continue to thicken in the hot water. But if you make good use of the free cream at the coffee condiment bar, then you can avoid a globular mess.
It's Tuesday-morning-before-work oatmeal, not lazy-Sunday-warm-your-belly-for-hours oatmeal. But it's still good.
Macrina (Belltown, Sodo, and Queen Anne; www.macrinabakery.com)
Is there nothing that Macrina can't do? The bakery may be better known for its breads, pastries, and cakes, but its oatmeal is the best on this list. And one of the cheapest, too, at $4.45 a bowl. This is the kind of oatmeal that turns nonbelievers into believers. The generous serving of rolled oats—slightly thicker than Citizen's, still not at all gummy—comes topped with brown sugar, a handful of sliced almonds, and a mound of homemade fruit compote, which is a dense jamlike combination of blackberries and blueberries. It turns the oatmeal a gorgeous deep burgundy color. It also comes with a tiny white mug of freshly steamed milk. Cute!
When I was most recently there, at a quarter to nine on a disgustingly wet and windy weekday morning, at least five more oatmeals were ordered as I sat and ate my breakfast. "With all the fixins?" they'd ask. Oh yes. With all the fixings, all the time.
As you've no doubt noticed, most of Seattle's oatmeal offerings include variations on the classic fruit/nut/brown-sugar combo. At home, though, you can get really crazy. Experiment with rolled oats versus steel cut (skip the instant—if you're in a pinch, you can cook rolled oats in about two minutes in the microwave). Try cooking it in milk or cream instead of water. Pour on some maple syrup. Caramelize some apples or pears (or both!) and dump that on top. Go for something tropical! Pineapple or mango with a sprinkle of toasted coconut and dark brown sugar would be delicious.
Fill your bowl with spices—cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, allspice—and melt it all together with salted butter and just a touch of granulated sugar. Dust some instant espresso powder over chocolate chips and swirl it all together. Or melt peanut butter or Nutella into it. One morning last spring, I stirred two Cadbury Mini Eggs into a bowl of oatmeal and I think I saw God.
Oatmeal has no limits. If you and oatmeal are not getting along, it's you who's holding up what could be a glorious relationship. Make right your wrong.