Walking through my neighborhood to Tom's Restaurant on a Friday morning, I passed a friend's father taking out the trash in front of his brownstone. He'd lived in Prospect Heights for more than thirty years. "Good morning!" he greeted us. "Are you going to Tom's?"
The restaurant was still a block away, but yes, we were. Tom's Restaurant is that sort of fixture—open since 1936, it's a neighborhood landmark, an American diner with colorful signage and knick-knacks all over and charm to spare. If ever there were a piece of Americana, this would be it. Cops, after-church neighborhood families, skinny dudes in Fedoras share space inside.
You can almost imagine the menu evolving over the decades. At what point did they add a chipotle-spiced omelet to the menu? At what point iced coffee? Some of the neon-colored posterboard signs that paper the walls look older than others. "Try our Pumpkin-Walnut Pancakes!" "Excellent Smoked Beef Sausages!"
Tom's is open from 7:00am all week long, but crowds up a few hours later; as you wait in line, though, waiters will walk along passing out orange slices and sausage bites and coffee. (It's possible to have a meal before you even sit down.)
You don't go to Tom's for the food, exactly—you go for the fact that spicy omelets and chocolate chip pancakes and buttered toast just aren't as satisfying when you make them yourself. The "Mexican omelet" ($10) is reasonably spicy, with tender enough chunks of chicken and a blanket of melted cheese; it's a satisfying meal, if not an unusual one.
Lemon-ricotta pancakes have been the best of Tom's pancake list, in our experience (then again, we love lemon-ricotta pancakes). They're soft and creamy inside but don't seem undercooked, with golden-brown exteriors and a great lemon hit; while they're not quite the best version we've had in the city, they don't cost just $7 in other places in the city, either. Here, they're best in the nude or with a light slather of butter. Pumpkin-walnut pancakes ($7) are a little softer than we'd like, but have a good autumn-spice flavor that goes well with syrup. (Three different flavored butters come alongside any pancake order; here, the cinnamon one worked best.) And if you're just looking for a flavored-butter vehicle (in which there is no shame), the Challah French toast ($5) might be best—a no-frills plate just waiting to be topped.
A super-juicy beef sausage ($3) that must have been fried, so crisp was its exterior, was one of the best things we tried. Order it as a side to a plate of eggs and toast. Really, if you're only looking to drop $5 on breakfast, Tom's is as friendly a place for scrambled eggs (fluffy and well-salted) and coffee (strong and free-flowing) as you'll find.
On a strip of Washington Avenue that's mostly bodegas, take-out shops, and newly minted cafés with WiFi and Stumptown lattes, Tom's Restaurant is a rare look into an older Brooklyn—whose charming quirks and gentle prices make it worth a visit.
782 Washington Avenue, New York NY 11238 (map)