Hobo-style hash browns, a hearty Iowa classic

By Amber Williams

The average individual might think he or she likes the classic-style hash browns as they’re traditionally prepared, thinly-grated potatoes flattened with a spatula onto an oily griddle, salted, peppered and draped in melted cheese. But settling for anything less than a hobo-style hash brown skillet is a deprivation to the senses. After the taste buds have been corrupted to the latter, no meager substitute will ever fully satisfy again.

The Cozy Café calls this dish “The Cozy Mess.” It goes by many names depending on the restaurant. Find similar versions at Denny’s, Tally’s, Papa Kerns Café, Olde Main Brewing and Mullets.

The Cozy Café calls this dish “The Cozy Mess.” It goes by many names depending on the restaurant. Find similar versions at Denny’s, Tally’s, Papa Kerns Café, Olde Main Brewing and Mullets.

Almost every eatery that serves breakfast serves the comparably duller classic version. But a breakfast menu dubbing this dish by a signature name is a sure sign that this dining experience will be just that, an experience. In Des Moines and Booneville, The Waveland aptly calls this entrée the “everything hash browns.” In Southern parts of the region, folks refer to it as a “hobo skillet.” But Cozy Café deserves the credit for the most honest of the descriptions, calling it “the cozy mess.” And what a mess it is — a wonderful, warm, comforting, hearty, have-it-your-way kind of mess that will make a quitter out of the beefiest of men and a late morning cat-napper out of just about anyone.

That’s why this entrée is most commonly offered in either full or half-order options, the former of which is a commitment that, if fulfilled, is sure to zap you of your energy. At diners where the menu includes regular hash browns, it’s usually not a problem for the line cook to customize it a la carte — fresh garden flavors of green and red peppers, onions, mushrooms and tomatoes, heated with a sprinkling of sliced jalapenos waiting beneath the crispy hash brown cover. Diced ham, slices of sausage and baked bacon bits add that salty protein every hearty Midwestern breakfast requires. A pair of over-easy, dip-able fried eggs on top makes a flavorful lubricant.

For those who care neither about wellness nor the waste line, homemade sausage gravy makes an almost sinister side, tempting you to smother the dish with an Iowa classic-style sausage gravy, damn the consequences. RELISH

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