Food films are certainly au courant — last year’s “Deli Man,” Bradley Cooper’s recent “Burnt” and “The Hundred Foot Journey.” Ina Pinkney of “Breakfast at Ina’s” is not exactly Helen Mirren, but she is a spitfire inspiration, a dynamo of a woman who lives life her way.
Like all gourmet entrepreneurs, she was driven by flawless customer service, staff motivation, independence, and perfection of cuisine.
This documentary cinematically fast-forwards through the last 30 days before the closing of Ina’s after three decades as a Chicago comfort food eatery. Ina, a Brooklyn native who had polio as a child, was reared to have adult thoughts because playground folly was not in the cards.
She has a way with words and emotion, but the years have caused her post-polio limp to make restaurant work too difficult. The breakfast queen presides over the dining room with a sign declaring “No Cell Phone Allowed at Ina’s.”
Originally a baker, Ina is frank but fair. Hers is a tough Brooklyn exterior with a marshmallow inside. As customers come to say goodbye, the tears flow.
Ina, who never had children, shocks us with the circumstances surrounding her only marriage. She was smitten with love at first sight by a black man during civil rights tensions, but Ina’s parents severed ties after their initial meeting. It did not mirror Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn’s meeting with Sidney Poitier.
Ina forges on with omelets, fried chicken and waffles. Local Chicago food critics espouse grand accolades. She laughs as she reminisces that the first time she had lasagna outside her kosher family home, she “didn’t die.”
“Breakfast at Ina’s” is worth the 50 minutes to find out how she raised the money to open the restaurant. She is one smart cookie, a la Gloria Steinem. As George Bernard Shaw said, “There is no love more sincere than the love of food.”
Note: A reference to how Ina Pinkney’s husband made a solo sailing trip around the world was removed from the original version of this story.