With a busy weekday schedule and mornings that don’t provide the time for food, weekends have become the only days I am able to eat a meal that resembles breakfast. But that just gives me all the more of an excuse to go all out when I do get the free morning (or early afternoon depending on the night before). And this Saturday, with the need to feed, I decided to go to Zeke’s.
Situated across from one of Gloucester, Massachusetts’ quintessential harbors, Zeke’s Place has been providing the breakfast essentials and extravagants for over three decades. The small dingy gray and brick storefront boasts little curb appeal except for the colorfully kitschy flags hanging outside and a small bench for if the wait is long. But, once you open the dented screen door, you know you’re in good hands.
The smell of freshly baked bread, the sizzle of eggs on the flat top, and constant murmur of other patrons welcomes you into the warm and inviting open kitchen and dining room of Zeke’s. Wrapping around the small but efficient open kitchen rests a wide wooden counter, the varnish worn out and sticky at parts — signs of years of holding up coffee mugs and the elbows of the fishermen that come in to grab their breakfast before heading out to sea every morning. The small dining room hosts a motley crew of tables and chairs that make you feel like you’re in someone’s home rather than a restaurant, giving the whole place a feeling of relaxation and comfort.
With the option of a table or the counter, I chose the counter with its view of the two-person staffed kitchen and the added convenience of no wait time. Because of the small size of the dining room, it tends to fill up quickly but I have never had to wait for a table longer than fifteen minutes. The waitress greeted me with a smile as she cleared the plates at the seat next to me, offering me coffee and a menu. I gladly accepted and as I sat pondering the extensive menu, she reminded me to check out the specials posted on the wall as well. Presented with a wide array of choices, my head began to spin with images of scrambled eggs and hollandaise sauce, so I took a sip of the perfectly warm cup of coffee in front of me to clear my mind. If there is one thing that makes or breaks a breakfast place for me, it’s their coffee. Served in those thick-walled diner mugs, Zeke’s coffee is robust and strong—with a splash of cream, it’s the perfect wake up after a long night.
Distracted by the art hanging on the walls (all done by local artists and up for sale) I had not made a choice by the time my waitress made her way back to me. “Need a warm up?” she asked gesturing to my coffee mug with the pot in her hand. I nodded and got back to business. As a vegetarian, I often find my choices limited when going out to eat. This is especially true when going out to breakfast, as items like steak and eggs, chorizo scramble (a pork sausage popular with Gloucester’s large Portuguese community), and of course, piles of crisp and greasy bacon, monopolize menus. But, Zeke’s is different in this aspect. Besides serving every type of meat possible, be that designated breakfast meats or the unusual, it also serves a large array of meat free, and filling meals. Choices like Wendy’s Melt, a twist on the classic egg sandwich, offers a pile of seasonal vegetables on top of a bed of eggs and perfectly melted cheese or the Paleo- Breakfast bowl, provide a guilt-free breakfast option. And, while Zeke’s is on the pricier side of the breakfast spectrum, two people can always count on leaving happy and full for under $30 dollars (and that includes a generous tip).
No matter what you choose, Zeke’s offers more than just the stereotypical home-fried potatoes or hash browns to accompany your meal. Besides these classic options, you have the choice of homemade baked beans, southern style grits, and Zeke’s spiced sweet potato hash to go with your meal. All options are delicious and made to order, ensuring an optimum level of satisfaction. Another place that Zeke’s stands out from other breakfast places is in their bread. Freshly baked every day, they offer all the typical choices — wheat, white, rye, sourdough, pumpernickel, etc. But they also offer the sweeter options as well: banana nut bread, blueberry bread, lemon poppy seed, and pecan rolls. And of course my favorite, nissu. A Gloucester favorite, this braided bread was brought over by Finnish immigrants and boasts a lovely blend of cardamom and anise flavor that faintly reminds me of black licorice but way better.
Wanting to try something new but failing at making a choice, I landed upon my standard order—freshly baked sourdough toast loaded with smashed avocado and house-made pico de gallo, topped with two eggs cooked however you like (I prefer poached or fried for the runny yolks) and your choice of side. As it was a busy Saturday morning and there are only two people working the kitchen, my meal took a little bit longer than I would have liked but it was no problem as my waitress made sure that my mug was never empty. When it did finally arrive, I was not disappointed. The poached eggs were cooked flawlessly, a solid white wall opened up to a golden stream of yolk. The home-fried potatoes were first fried and then crisped on the stove-top, creating the ideal layer of crunch followed by a soft center and seasoned to perfection. The pico was fresh and tart. The optimum mixture of tomatoes, purple onions, and lime juice, it went flawlessly with the smashed avocado and toasted sourdough.
To say the least, I was not disappointed. And as it turns out, most of Zeke’s patrons haven’t been. Recently listed as one of the Best Breakfast Spots on the North Shore in North Shore Magazine and featured on Phantom Gourmet, Zeke’s popularity has begun to spread across the A. Piatt Andrew Bridge. As Gloucester’s reputation as a summer destination spot grows, so does Zeke’s reputation as a hidden gem. While the dining room fills up with tourists and summer residents in their over-sized sun hats and Sperry Docksiders during the warm months, it’s the locals and regulars that gives this place its personality.
Eating at Zeke’s is like going over to your grandmother’s house for breakfast—warm, friendly, and always filling. And as long as the fishermen and locals that have been counting on Zeke’s for their breakfast fix continue to fill the restaurant, you can count on Zeke’s serving the best and freshest breakfast on the island.