The Pantry can’t really be called a hidden gem. Not with lines snaking out the door and down State Street on weekend mornings. But with the Yankee Doodle and the Copper Kitchen long closed, The Pantry has become one of “the” places to go for a great breakfast.
Owner Lenny Fritz opened The Pantry in 1987. He started his culinary career in the ’70s at a sandwich place by the Meriden Mall called Lettuce Please You. After graduating from the Culinary Instituted of America in 1983, he worked for hotel chains in Minneapolis, Los Angeles, and Myrtle Beach. In Dallas, Fritz would cook for 2,500 people at Dallas Raiders parties.
When he moved back to Meriden to take care of his ailing father, he looked for work in New Haven. His idea at the time was to make a little cafe, get it running, then open up a couple more restaurants. He didn’t intend to be the one doing all the cooking. He started with breakfast and lunch, then expanded to dinner and catering. But the days became too long for his growing family, even with his brother Art covering the front. Now that Art retired after 24 years, The Pantry closes if Lenny is not available to cook.
Since they were already serving 100 breakfasts a day, they cut out lunch and now it’s breakfast all day long. On weekends it jumps to about 300 breakfasts, so with only 10 tables you’ll be asked to wait to sit down until all in your party arrive. “During the week it’s totally different,” Fritz says. “People stroll in and grab a table. Folks have meetings. It’s pretty steady. We have thousands of regulars.”
Fritz says, “We go through a real lot of fresh produce, especially spinach; tons of strawberries, cantaloupes. On a Saturday and Sunday … it’s anywhere from a fifteen-minute to half-hour wait for a table. So when people sit down it’s a good idea for people to get a fruit plate for something to nosh on while they are waiting for their entrees to come.”
Freshness counts in big and small ways. Fritz makes the Hollandaise fresh every day. And those aren’t your typical home fries. Fritz uses Idaho potatoes that cost three times as much as the more typical Maine spuds. Idahos have a higher starch content which produces a more flavorful fry that stays beautifully golden brown.
“Every week we do different specials,” continues Fritz. “Last week it was hot Italian sausage with two eggs, home fries and toast. This week we’re doing huevos rancheros. Right now we’re doing apple cinnamon pancakes but we will be doing pumpkin pancakes with cinnamon swirl, turn it over, caramelize it, and do frosting on top. That will be for fall. Right after Thanksgiving we will do gingerbread pancakes, always popular.” They were, at least, until the cinnamon roll pancakes came along. “People are concerned we’re not going to have it the next time they come in so once I put it on the Specials board I haven’t taken it off,” says Fritz.
One thing that has remained a constant at The Pantry is the background music. Art loved jazz, and it pipes in all day. Lenny says, “I think that jazz is the one kind of music that everyone can eat to.”
The average check is $10 a person but you can get out of there for a lot less. A short stack of pancakes is $3, a side of bacon is $2.75. There’s a lot of customizing. “That’s the thing for breakfast, every one knows exactly what they want.” If you want just a single pancake, you can get it at The Pantry, no problem.
• The Detes: 2 Mechanic St., New Haven, 203-787-0392. Open seven days. Monday through Saturday 7 a.m. – 2 p.m., Sunday 8 a.m. – 3 p.m.
• Price Range: Average check is $10 a person, but you can get out of there for half as much.
• Style of Food: Traditional breakfast.
• Favorite dishes: California Benedict, spinach and feta omelette, the salmon Benedict, cinnamon roll pancakes, gingerbread pancakes (in season). bagel, cream cheese and lox
• Vegetarian/Vegan/Gluten-free offerings: Yes
• Drinks: coffee, tea, Foxon Park sodas
• Outdoor seating: no