In the hilarious musical comedy Something Rotten, a down-on-his-luck playwright in Elizabethan England asks a befuddled soothsayer to predict the next big hit by the writer’s superstar rival, Shakespeare. The seer predicts that it will have something to do with an omelette and a Danish — not Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. The misguided result: Omelette! The Musical.
It’s really not that much of a stretch. Hamlet = classic play. Omelette = classic dish. And when I saw “Omelette Classique” on the menu at the much-buzzed-about Willa’s in the equally buzzy NoHo neighborhood in Tampa, I knew I’d found my next food fight subject: omelettes!
I pitted the Classique at Willa’s against the classic version at The Frog Pond, the venerable breakfast destination in St. Pete Beach (with branches in Downtown St. Pete and Redington Beach).
To be or not to be this week’s Food Fight Champ? That is my question. Let’s break some eggs.
The Omelette Classique at Willa’s
Omelettes ain’t easy — at least not in my experience, as eater or as home cook. They come out either too dry (a bland slab of over-cooked, over-stuffed egg) or too runny (my version — under-cooked and unpalatable).
Willa’s Omelette Classique is neither of these. It is, in a word, perfect. I don’t recall ever having an omelette so light, so flavorful, so fluffy. But it’s not exactly Classique, and that’s a good thing.
Ingredients: The list on Willa’s menu is matter-of-fact: “roasted mixed mushrooms, melted gruyère with nice little side salad.” But how they’re put together is a surprise. The mushrooms aren’t the filling; they’re part of a lovely cream sauce that covers the omelette. The melted gruyére (a Swiss-type cheese) flows beautifully from inside the ideally-sized, neatly folded egg blanket, which is served with the aptly described “nice little side salad” (though it’s not all that little).
Flavor & Texture: Rich, savory, fresh, neither too dry nor too moist — just right.
Sides: Here’s where the omelette classique reaches another level, at least if you order the rotisserie chicken as a side. “The rotisserie oven is the soul of the kitchen,” says Willa’s website, and yes, you can get a bowl of it — chilled, shredded, bright with tarragon — as a brunch side. Delicious in its own right (I took some home and added it to leftover chicken broth for instant soup!), it makes for a sublime addition to the cream sauce and mushrooms — an ideal wedding of chicken and egg. Speaking of sublime, you must also get the warm, fresh-baked zucchini muffin and the cheddar & chive biscuit — both wonderful. The one misstep: the sage fennel sausage my husband ordered with his eggs and grits. Good flavor, but way over-cooked.
Ambience: Chic but relaxed, with amiable, efficient service from the minute you enter the door. Note: The entrance was a bit hard to find at first. The adjacent all-day café, Willa’s Provisions (at the corner of Rome Ave. and Fig St.), shares the restaurant’s almost-century-old industrial building, so as you round the corner from the parking lot and walk down Rome you might get confused as to which Willa’s you want. For brunch, it’s Willa’s at 1700 Fig, a bit further down the block.
Prices: Omelette Classique, $18; pulled rotisserie chicken, $7; zucchini muffin and cheddar biscut, each $4.
Note: The omelette at Willa’s is only available during their weekend brunch, Saturdays and Sundays from 11 a.m.-3 p.m.
The Fresh Mushroom & Cheese Omelette at The Frog Pond
An early-morning breakfast at St. Pete Beach’s Frog Pond is a kind of perfection — light pouring in, old guys talking old-guy talk, parents and teenagers bonding, couples with amazingly well-behaved dogs at the sidewalk tables, a friendly, funny waitress ready with the coffee pot. It’s the apotheosis of beach-town restaurant. But I didn’t expect it to serve the apotheosis of omelette (even though there are 20! — count ‘em 20! — varieties on their menu). I was wrong.
Ingredients: See that “Fresh” in the name? That can be false advertising at some places, where the mushrooms are those awful greyish-brown slimy things that come from a can and have probably poisoned many people’s notion of what mushrooms taste like. For me, canned mushrooms are a telltale sign of a kitchen that doesn’t care, whether they wind up on a pizza or an omelette. So I was elated to see that the mushrooms in The Frog Pond’s omelette were fresh, plentiful and nicely sauteed, and the Swiss cheese (though not gruyère) was very tasty, too.
Flavor & Texture: This omelette was big — that seems to be typical of omelettes and everything else served at The Frog Pond. (My husband’s two gigantic pancakes filled his entire plate — he took half home.) I didn’t think I would, or could, or should eat the whole omelette, but I did. It was that good — not quite as fluffy as Willa’s, but not heavy, either — and the flavors were so fresh and so thoroughly integrated that I happily consumed it all.
Sides: Fresh-squeezed orange juice! Another detail I didn’t expect, and another that elevated the experience. Pork sausage links were excellent, cooked perfectly. The home fries were adequate; the biscuits, alas, were not. I suspect they’re fine with gravy, as they’re usually served, but without adornments they tasted stale and way too chewy.
Ambience: As described above, plus… frogs! Toy frogs, frog cartoons, frog art — all part of the fun.
Prices: Mushroom & cheese omelette, $9.50; pork sausage links, $3.05; biscuits (w. gravy), $4.95
And the winner is…
Both restaurants do breakfast up right (or brunch in the case of Willa’s), and both are top examples of their genres: casual fine dining and beach-town staple. And both do the omelette justice, albeit in very different styles. So in a close call like this one, the extras make the difference. While neither was faultless in this department, I have to give the nod to Willa’s for an experience that was both innovative and supremely delicious. Remember: Get the rotisserie chicken as a side!