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Buttered Roll Redux: A Lowly Breakfast Food Begets High Drama

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One article on the buttered roll and a writer gets flamed.

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Liz Barclay for The New York Times

My first reaction, of course, was denial. “Your piece is trending!” a well-intentioned friend texted me. Even as my heart sank — I’ve lived with the internet long enough to know those are never words one wants to hear — I assumed he must be mistaken; with the amount of breaking news stories in the world, who could possibly be that interested in a little essay about buttered rolls?

I’d written the piece — an ode to the hard roll with butter that’s so popular as a to-go breakfast — really for my own pleasure. I’ve always liked exploring things we tend to take for granted, and I have a soft spot for underdogs. I’d been thrilled, while researching the piece, to find out how many others had fond memories of the buttered roll, and had liked the idea of it giving some people a smile on their morning commutes. I was also very excited to show it to my local coffee vendor, Peter, whom I’d quoted.

The buttered roll isn’t fancy or expensive or even especially good. But, at least in the metro area, it’s reliable and ubiquitous. In New York, they’re on every corner — plus the coffee cart mid-block — pre-buttered and prepackaged, fast and cheap and extremely in control. And while the component parts of butter and rolls are universally available, the Buttered Kaiser Roll is not a breakfast staple in most of the country — especially not as an official menu option. (I can see why; it’s pretty crummy.) Could I walk into a diner elsewhere in the U.S. and ask for a Kaiser roll with butter at 8 a.m.? Yes, I could, and I have. But why would I, when I can get so many other, better, buttery breadstuffs — say, a behemoth cinnamon bun in Oregon, or a buttermilk biscuit in Nashville, or a fresh muffin in New England? And yet, I love…

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