Laura’s Mike’s Mess
My first year of college I wasn’t quite ready to leave the comforting embrace of my small hippie college town. Unfortunately, I found it a little bit tricky to find a job in that town. I graduated during the last serious plunge in the employment rate, in 2001, and it was not a good time to be a newly graduated Lit major, I can tell you that. I ended up working in various coffee shops and restaurants before I finally landed that first desk job, and while I was certainly extremely poor and had to defer payment of my student loans for too, too long, I wouldn’t exchange the experience for anything. I met great people, I had a lot of fun, learned to carry multiple cups of coffee at once, and I discovered what remains to this day my favorite breakfast: The Mike’s Mess from Zachary’s, in Santa Cruz, California. This year, I decided I need to try to make it myself.
I will be completely honest: I didn’t get it exactly right. The Mike’s Mess is a frittata-like dish comprised of bacon, mushrooms, eggs, and the magical Zachary’s potatoes, topped with cheddar cheese, sour cream, tomatoes, green onions, and salsa, if you like things spicy. The potatoes are key. Zachary’s makes their potatoes with lots of onion, lots of turmeric, and some other ingredients that would never reveal to me. I think I came close this time, but the exact flavor is still eluding me.
I also opted not to include the tomatoes, because it is the dead of winter and they would not be any good at all.
Now, despite still missing one elusive ingredient in the potatoes, this came out pretty darned close to the Zachary’s version, and might have been exactly perfect if I’d cooked it for just two or three minutes less. Yes, my version was a little more dry than I remember the original being. But it was still a wonderful Sunday morning breakfast to share with the boyfriend, and a little trip down memory lane for me. It also made me realize how much I want to get back to Santa Cruz this year.
Laura’s Mike’s Mess
For the potatoes
- 4 medium Russet potatoes
- 1 medium to large onion, sliced, not diced
- 2 tablespoons olive or vegetable oil
- 1 teaspoon turmeric
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- salt and pepper
For the Mess
- 4 or 5 strips of thick cut bacon
- 1 cup sliced mushrooms
- about 1 1/2 cups of potatoes
- 6 eggs
- 1/2 cup milk
- about 1 cup shredded cheddar or muenster cheese
- sour cream, salsa, tomatoes, and green onions, to garnish
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, and cook the potatoes for about 10 minutes, until they are just cooked through but still firm. Remove them from the pot, cool, and slice.
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet, and add the onions. Cook until the onions are soft and beginning to brown, then add the potatoes, turmeric, and garlic powder. Stir well, so all the potatoes are well yellowed from the turmeric. Cook until the potatoes are soft and just beginning to brown, and season to taste with salt and pepper.
You can make the potatoes ahead of time—mine kept in the refrigerator for a few days and were just fine when I used them for the Mess.
When you’re ready for breakfast, preheat the oven to 350F, and heat a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Cook the bacon until it’s just crispy and remove to a paper towel-lined plate. Drain a little of the grease if you want, then add the sliced mushrooms to the remaining bacon grease. Add a little salt, and cook until the mushrooms are soft and beginning to brown. Meanwhile, cut the bacon into bite-sized pieces. When the mushrooms are ready, stir the potatoes and bacon back into the skillet, and cook until the potatoes are warmed through.
Whisk the eggs and a bit of milk (if you like; you can also just use eggs alone), and pour the egg mixture into the skillet. Let it seep around all the potatoes and mushrooms and good things, and cook on the stove top for about a minute. Then stick the skillet into the oven and cook for about 15 minutes. Remove the skillet from the oven, sprinkle the cheese on top, and bake for another five minutes or so. You want the eggs to be set, but not too dry.
If you want to go full Zachary’s style, serve the whole darn thing on a plate, topped with sour cream, tomatoes, green onions, and salsa. I served it in slices, and they were just as delicious, if less monstrously filling.
This is a seriously tasty breakfast, but if you ever find yourself in the Santa Cruz area, I highly recommend stopping by and trying the real deal for yourself. Zachary’s is crazy busy on weekends, but you can get in without a problem on a weekday morning. And it is so worth it. Not only is the Mike’s Mess phenomenal, but they make their own breads, serve perfect sourdough pancakes, homemade chili, and salsa, as well as the legendary potatoes, and they serve up a unique beverage called the Velvet Hammer, consisting of Guinness and Champagne. Sounds terrible, but trust me, it’s worth trying. Zachary’s is always a highlight of my visits back to Santa Cruz.