Dining Out- Breaking Past Fasts

by Michael Bowen & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & W & lt;/span & hen people say they don't have time for breakfast, I look at them in blank incomprehension. "I always make time for a nice, wholesome breakfast," I inform them, beaming my cheeriest Young American smile.

The Non-Breakfast People squint sideways at me. Their lips curl upward and their fingers reach to tap another cigarette out of the pack.

But me? Golly, I live for breakfast. I set my alarm and get up early just so I'll have time for it. (Who needs sleep? There are pancakes to be eaten.) Quite often, my first waking thoughts focus on the orange juice, the cereal, the toast.

With your day still stretched out before you, breakfast is the most optimistic of meals. By lunchtime, however, too much reality has set in -- and by the dinner hour, all I want to do is go home, stumble into bed and fall asleep. And dream about breakfast.

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & I & lt;/span & like breakfast so much, in fact, that usually I eat two of them. Here's my idea of a great Saturday morning. First, I sleep in. Then I begin with a sensible breakfast: orange juice, toast, cereal, two cups of coffee, a glass of milk, another bowl of cereal, French toast (or pancakes, or waffles, but definitely something from the Syrup food group), then eggs and hash browns, a fruit cup, probably some applesauce, maybe some bacon or ham -- and could I have another couple of flapjacks? Don't hold back on the syrup.

Next -- some of you will not find this surprising -- I go back to sleep.

My ideal weekend morning really cranks into gear, though, when I wake up yet again and have yet another breakfast. (This time, definitely the Belgian waffles.)

Of course, given commitment and determination, any old day can be redeemed by the practice of second breakfasting. When I awakened on a recent workday, for example, I discovered that there were only a couple of old muffins around the house. I even had to go out for coffee.

I felt cheated. I needed to achieve Breakfast Satisfaction. (If my first breakfast is skimpy, I can get cranky.) I needed to go to the OLD EUROPEAN.

Being involved in the solitude of professional research as I was -- I was alone, it was early afternoon on a weekday -- it seemed only appropriate to put in an order for not one but two second breakfasts.

"I'd like the Vegetable Eggs Benedict and the Potato Pancakes," I said to the waitress, and I daresay there was a chirp in my voice.

She smiled back. (She works at Old European; she understands Breakfast People.)

The sea foam green, peach and mustard interior of the Old Euro seemed especially bright and cheerful on this sunny day. The fresh-squeezed orange juice ($3), however, was disappointing (because served at room temp), but that was not about to deter me on my quest.

The potato pancakes ($7 for three, and very filling) present strips of potatoes in a creamy sauce -- almost like a light casserole inside a pancake. They're warm and crumbly, with bits of German sausage thrown in, and they arrived with two ramekins of applesauce. (But no syrup.) These heavy (but tasty) pancakes were almost like battered hash browns, so that the side of browns that came with the eggs benny almost became superfluous. (Almost, but not quite. I conquered them.)

As an Old Euro veteran of many midday second breakfasts -- I'd known the satisfactions of their stuffed French toast ($7-$8), the Hungarian goulash ($10), the aebleskivers ($5) -- I tried to remember to pace myself.

But the veggie eggs benny ($9) beckoned, and I rose to the challenge. Diced tomatoes and artichoke hearts were sandwiched between fried eggs and English muffin halves. The artichoke hearts added surprising tang, a good complement to the hollandaise sweetness.

At first, I demurely dipped my Egg BeneMuffin bites into my dainty little ramekin of lemon-yellow sauce. But this was like smoking without inhaling. Soon I was slathering on the hollandaise.

I was sampling breakfasts here, right? I needed to survey as many meals as possible. I figured I could box up whatever I didn't eat. It became the day's third breakfast.

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & I & lt;/span & carried boxes away from a recent midmorning second breakfast at the WALL STREET DINER, too. I'd ordered the California Scramble and the Buckwheat Pancakes. Wall Street offers eight different kinds of scrambles ($8-$9), and while this one featured avocado, spinach, tomatoes, onions, green peppers and jack cheese, it was -- there is no other way to put this -- bland. When a scramble's most distinctive flavor is the bed of hash browns that it's served on, something is amiss. Even the onions and peppers failed to stand out.

The buckwheat cakes were thick and heavy -- there's no way even I would order a full stack -- and a bit on the dry side. But once they soak up the butter and syrup, they were delicious.

And Wall Street offers the hominess important to any second-breakfast experience. Vintage plates and photographs line the walls, and I love how green ferns and white trellises fill the space just outside the south wall. The Wall Street was packed midmorning on a weekday, full of college kids and retirees. And the wheat toast was truly exceptional.

Second-breakfast opportunities abound elsewhere too. Business lunch downtown? I steer colleagues to FRANK'S DINER, where my standard order is Frank's Special: pancakes, links, eggs, hash browns and gravy, toast. It's humongous. On a recent afternoon visit, service was a little too attentive -- for the number of times our waitress refilled our water glasses and coffee cups, I think she set some kind of record. But all-day diners like Frank's are some of the best places for satisfying those second-breakfast cravings.

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & T & lt;/span & he urge to indulge those cravings can strike at unexpected times. Consider a recent weekday morning, when I arose ridiculously early to meet some deadlines. In the predawn darkness, I had juice, coffee, bagel and cereal, read some local daily paper or other, did some writing and grocery-shopped, all before my daughter awakened. I'd also found time to pick up a smoothie and -- being well into sleep debt and faced with a big workload -- decided to have my first-ever Red Bull. This was on top of my usual two cups of coffee in the morning. This was also a significant miscalculation.

I returned home to help send my girl off to school. And no daughter of mine was going to start her day without a wholesome breakfast full of generous portions. So I set about a Major Breakfast Preparation Project. I warmed up frozen waffles, I poached eggs, I poured cereal, I sliced fruit, I toasted toast. (I'd had a Red Bull, I was in the zone.) I kept flinging plates at my fourth-grader, fortifying her with foodstuffs.

Right about when I asked if I should whip up some pancakes, I glanced over at my daughter, who sat surrounded by large mounds of uneaten breakfast, her large and questioning eyes staring at me.

Perhaps I'd overdone it a bit.

Once she left for school, however, all that food did not remain uneaten. After all, a man needs the comfort of a second breakfast.