Breakfast · Drink · Full Complement · Lunch

Midtown IV, Philadelphia: Like Another Rocky Movie

MIDTOWN IV is a 24-hour, ATM-providing, extensively menu-ed diner that smells vaguely of hot dogs.

The menu has plenty of options, ranging from brunch specials to hamburgers; they offer old-fashioned milkshakes and ice cream sodas. Like a Rocky movie, you know exactly what you’re getting. There are no surprises here, except for the rolling eyes of the harried waitresses, and there’s a certain comfort to be found in the familiarity.

The occasion was a visit from a college friend; five of us gathered at Midtown IV to reminisce, catch up, tease each other, and make new plans. Fitting us into a booth should have been easy enough: we added a chair to the end of the table and our conversation flowed easily over our glasses of water and coffee. But our waitress seemed to take exception to the addition, and despite the emptiness of the diner, she seemed to be put-out by our special requests (“no anchovies in the Greek salad,” for example).

But Midtown IV is open 24 hours. And it serves breakfast all day long. There’s a cocktail lounge in back, but the front restaurant space is taken up by booths, a counter, and a few wall-hugging tables. Portions are just big enough to satisfy, and the coffee pitcher comes by frequently (a necessity, as the coffee mugs are a little on the small side for my taste). There’s no need for gourmet experimentation. Like Rocky, Midtown IV is an institution in its own right and has perfected the art of its own familiar flavors.

HandsConsidering what we ordered, Midtown delivered admirably. Between the five of us, we ordered two of their specials, their french toast platter, pancakes with a side bacon, a Greek salad, fried mozarella sticks and two milkshakes (the vanilla milkshake tasted like marshmallow fluff, the strawberry just tasted pink). The Midtown Omelet Special is a frothy goat cheese and tomato omelet that comes with home fries; the Midnight Special B is three slices of french toast, 2 eggs made to order, and your choice of meat (yum!). Tallying up to just under $50 and leaving us feeling replenished and energized (except for Blake, who overdid it with the giant Greek salad, mozarella sticks and vanilla milkshake), the Midtown put in a decent showing.

Now, I have a few requirements when it comes to my french toast. I was raised on french toast. When I had sleepovers as a kid, my friends would only spend the night if they were promised my dad’s french toast in the morning. It’s that good. I’ve tried to recreate it, but somehow I always fall short.

So when I go brunching, I like to check out the french toast as a baseline for comparison. I like my french toast moist enough that syrup is an option, not a necessity. I want to be able to cut it with my fork alone; I like knives (who doesn’t?), but I also like having a hand free to gesticulate while I talk and to raise my coffee mug for refills. Thickness is a factor, too: too thick, and the fork won’t cut it; too thin, and it’s just not enough for a mouthful. Garnishes depend on the establishment, and I’m not that picky about presentation. If the menu says “french” and “toast,” I’ll pretty much eat whatever they put in front of me. But I do have standards, and a bad french toast experience can break a whole menu for me.

The SpreadLuckily for me, Midtown IV rose to the occasion. They serve diner french toast, which means homey and comforting and soft and golden. As part of the Midnight Special B, I was able to couple my french toast with strips of bacon and a side of scrambled eggs. The french toast was fluffy and light; it’s nothing particularly special, but is the kind of french toast you whip up on gray mornings that beg for comfort food, when you don’t have the energy to go that extra yard and chop up bananas for a garnish. The scrambled eggs were saved by a healthy dose of ketchup (a trick I picked up in Morocco; god bless cafeteria food). Altogether, the special is satisfying without being pretentious. It doesn’t aspire to greatness. It merely wants to feed you good, and does.

I’ll be back, I’m sure, to test out the “we never close” and “breakfast all day” creeds. But, like Rocky I, II, III, IV, V and Balboa, this one isn’t going in my permanent collection.