Why You Need to Make RAGBRAI’s Breakfast Delight Breakfast Bowl

by Emily Kemme
Breakfast Delight's Breakfast Bowl #7

We rode our first and likely last RAGBRAI in July 2019. An acronym for the “Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa,” the grueling ride across one of America’s hillier heartland states has been a summer tradition for thousands of cyclists since 1973. For us, it fell into those “one and done” life experiences. There are plenty of other experiences I’d like to check off. For example, this summer, Dr. K. and I will be exploring the wilds of Weld County, Colorado on our bikes. We’ll be doing it alone, and it’s not likely a breakfast stop for eggs over easy with crispy bacon is on the itinerary.

Even so, I appreciate that 2020’s RAGBRAI will be virtual. Because cyclists can log the miles social distancing style, I figured I’d train for the best parts of it. While putting time in the saddle is important in order to see the best of Weld County, the first essential is breakfast. You gotta have a goal to ride for, right?

The morning break at Howell’s Greenhouse is pretty much like a night out at the fair, rolled out in true Iowa style. There’s corn cob shooting, Goat Yoga, beer biking, and of course, the best breakfast vendor on the ride — Breakfast Delights.

You can see why there’s no chance RAGBRAI will ride for real during COVID19’s summer. Above is just one example of hundreds. Sweaty bikers socializing elbow-to-elbow at Howell’s Greenhouse near Cummings, Iowa is just one snapshot of what happens during the week of RAGBRAI.

Anticipation for Breakfast Delight’s Breakfast Bowl #7 pulled me through my RAGBRAI week.

That first morning, we crawled out from beneath our soggy tent, one tent of thousands staking claim to a few square feet of trampled, muddy field ringing an industrial park in Council Bluffs.

The night’s drenching rain had been interspersed with assertive lightening bolts branching from one end of the sky to the other. Maybe the opening of the heavens above Council Bluffs was intended to be part of the fireworks presented by the ride organizers. But they overdid it when ordering the lightening. It was so excessive that I clamped down on my middle of the night need to visit a KYBO — Iowa-speak for port-a-potty. Given nature’s pyrotechnics, the trade-off between bladder discomfort and coffin shopping made that decision easy. I figured it was best to hold it until morning.

As it turned out, it didn’t matter. I could just as easily have gotten up for the 2 AM pee. When our alarm went off at 5:30 the next morning, the rain was still deluging and the lightening hadn’t abated. We dressed quickly (including a lightening-fast KYBO visit), and set off on our bicycles. Wrapped in our rain dampened blanket, we would have preferred to roll over and snuggle down into the deflated air mattress until the storm blew through.

But we had already made Smart Decision #1: get on the damned bike.

On that first day, while the official purpose was to outride the storm, the real goal was a breakfast bowl.

When you’re riding RAGBRAI, each morning’s highlight is arriving at the breakfast host town. To get there is a pedal of about 17 miles, give or take a few. With a first-day mileage count of 59.9 miles and 2825 feet of climbing, we had to get moving. Note: see Smart Deduction #5, below.

We learned after Day 1 that RAGBRAI mileage statements are estimates. By the third day, we had reached Smart Deduction #5: always add 10 more miles to the daily grind. Groan of pain is optional, except in my case, where it’s expected.

As we cycled in a surge of other biking enthusiasts up and out of Council Bluffs, Iowa, I pointed out a number of quaint-looking breakfast cafes dotting the streets. Dr. K. shook his head, motioning me onward and upward. A cozy coffee shop with eggs, bacon, and hash browns was not in my future for the next seven days.

Seventeen miles later, chilled to the bone and wondering what in the hell we’d gotten ourselves into, we regrouped with our speedier cycling friends.

They were so speedy they were already in line near the vendor Breakfast Delights. Mind you, when I say near, I mean we were easily one block from a black canvas tent dotted with neon pink signage, the advertisements for Breakfast Delight’s delights.

Under that oh-so-far-away tent, rows of servers dished up bowlfuls of eggs scrambled with onions, potatoes, peppers, and Iowa pork sausage. They spritzed whipped cream over berry-strewn French toast, directed inquiries about where to find hot coffee, all the while engaged in idle chatter and making fast change.

Our friends were seemingly miles ahead of us in line. Somewhat cynical, we mused aloud as to whether there might be a faster, dryer, breakfast option. Stupid Mistake #2. Turning to look at the pair of idiots behind them, the couple in front of us swore there was nothing better to be found in the town of Neola, (pop. 869). In fact, they could swear on the frame of their last bicycle that it was the best breakfast to be had in the STATE of Iowa that morning.

Behind us, a cyclist dressed in a U.S. Air Force kit grunted his agreement. During the week, as we watched the USAF team fly past everyone else on Iowa’s perilously patched and pitted roads, we soon learned he was the real deal, and therefore worth listening to.

So we waited in the endless line. It turned out to be the best breakfast I’ve ever eaten.

breakfast bowl
When you set your sights on the pink and black signs at Breakfast Delights, you know a Breakfast Bowl #7 is in your near future.

There is something truly magical about finding a sliver of concrete to park your sodden bike shorts, while, still shivering, you dig into a warm styrofoam bowl brimming with an egg scramble, doused with plenty of salsa. Hands shaking, you can’t prevent an audible sigh of relief from escaping your lips after that first bite.

Hunger might have had something to do with it. There was also relief: We’d completed the first 17 miles of 462 that week, had outridden the lightening (but not the rain), and were that much closer to food.

Food is such a simple solution when you’re drenched, freezing cold, and pretty damned sure you’ve signed up for something you had no clue about what you’d gotten yourself in for.

Living in lockdown for months can engender similar dispiritedness.

In honor of last year’s RAGBRAI, and the RAGBRAI that won’t happen (in real time) during this year of the COVID-19 pandemic, I concocted this breakfast bowl to cheer us up on Mother’s Day morning a few weeks ago. Even though we’re not peeing in KYBO’s, we’re still immersed in hand sanitizer up to our elbows. Whether it worked to keep us clean biking through the wilds of Iowa is equally the question these days as we lather up for 20 seconds of hand washing to keep the virus at bay.

But whether it’s breakfast while biking, or breakfast to keep up the quarantine spirits, food that dredges up good memories is always a good idea.

Layer the breakfast bowl as follows:

1. Hashed browns: it’s easiest when made from frozen, shredded potatoes but you can also make your own
2. Scrambled eggs: click here for how to make beautiful silky scramblers
3. Pork Green chili: canned enchilada sauce and frozen or canned Hatch green chilies are the key here
4. Breakfast sausage, cooked according to package directions. Slice into knuckle-sized pieces. Featured is Polidori sausage from Denver. 
5. Avocado slices: veering away from the RAGBRAI Breakfast Delights’ original, but this is the Colorado version (also note Pork Green Chili exception, above)
6. Salsa: as little or as much as you’d like. My personal belief is eggs are a salsa delivery device.
7. Sour cream 
Note: sprinkle a bit of shredded cheese on here, too — if it’s not too much. But then, this is supposed to be over the top. Go for it!

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Vernell Lyddon May 27, 2020 - 4:00 pm

Looks so good!!

Louise Odle May 26, 2020 - 10:52 am

Roger and I did RAGBRAI. It was a thrill. Approximately 10,000 bikers.

Emily Kemme May 26, 2020 - 10:56 am

It was a thrill! What year did you ride RAGBRAI?

Louise Odle May 26, 2020 - 10:57 am

I would have to check for sure but probably around 1988.

Rhonda Tipsy Gypsy Ray May 26, 2020 - 10:52 am

Looks great!

Dawn Stone May 25, 2020 - 5:45 pm

How many animals died for this 5 minute meal?

Laurinda McDonnell May 25, 2020 - 2:48 pm

That looks delicious!!!

Darlene Hillman May 24, 2020 - 2:39 pm

Looks good!

AK May 23, 2020 - 1:57 pm

Great piece-I must admit that it does not look like something I would enjoy.
Love you so much.

Judi May 23, 2020 - 12:19 pm

My mom made some pretty great scrambled eggs and were always a family favorite – and to your point, she always did them low and slow. Patience. As I grew up with these, I always thought I’d had the best scrambled eggs on the planet…….until I went to France. I used to spend some time in Marseille for work and the talk of my colleagues were the scrambled eggs at the Sofitel Hotel in Marseille. So the first time I went, obviously made trying them a priority. As you probably know the breakfasts in french hotels are always top drawer, with such a variety of delectable delights to choose from. But still made eggs my choice – I had never had, in my life, silkier, creamier, buttery eggs. They sat heating in one of those domed chafing dishes. I couldn’t figure out how in the world these eggs could be so rich??? As I sat stuffing one fork full after another in my mouth, I observed a chef come out from the kitchen and poor at least a cup of heavy cream, into the eggs that had been sitting there. He then stirred it all in, reviving the previously cooked eggs to “just out of the pan” status and making them once again those unbelievable eggs. Good trick for bringing eggs up when making a ton for a crowd! And learned that the more butter and cream or half and half or 2% you add at the beginning, the better they are (well, not for your health, but hey)! I’m going to try your bowl this weekend!

Emily Kemme May 23, 2020 - 2:03 pm

I remember your mom as a fantastic cook. I’m sure her eggs were wonderful. I love your reminisces about French hotel breakfasts, because yes, they’re over the top incredible. It’s probably because the French throw caution to the wind when it comes to cooking with fats. But they walk so much it seems to balance their health. I’ll give your cream (and more butter) suggestions a try! Thanks!

Twyla Surritte May 23, 2020 - 10:44 am

Uh yes please!

Emily Kemme May 23, 2020 - 10:45 am

This could easily be whipped up on a Clifford journey. Or when/if we all get together, I’ll make it!

Donna Lakin May 22, 2020 - 7:38 pm

Emily: Another great column and I love the story of the IOWA ride. I was born in Centerville, IA, oh so many years ago! However, my family migrated to Greeley when I was twelve. You and Dr Kemme (Doug) are so brave to do all this and extraordinary other things you are supporting during this pandemic and the lockdown. Thanks for you support of the first responders at UC Health and probably other places I don’t know about. Stay safe, stay healthy and wash your hands a lot. :). Donna

Emily Kemme May 23, 2020 - 10:46 am

Thank you, Donna. We rode through Centerville (it was one of the overnight towns) and thought it was so cute. We love Iowa! Our son went to college there, which is why we rode RAGBRAI — but just once! Wash your hands a lot and stay well, too.


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