It's such a gustatory delight that it's a shame to box it into one small corner of the day. Any time is right to come down on biscuits and gravy, pancakes, waffles and crepes. Anytime. But nighttime is the second-best time to enjoy a hearty breakfast. For no other time of day so closely parallels the strange, malleable mental space of morning.
We set out to discover where a person could stumble into a stack of pancakes in the middle of the night. The pickings were slim. The first answer, though, was the SATELLITE.
For obvious reasons: It's open later than any other joint downtown. It's the shore upon which all the freaks, punks and disaffected flotsam of the city invariably wash up (meaning it makes for unparalleled people-watching). And it makes a fairly mean breakfast. We'd recommend sitting at the counter and taking on the breakfast burrito, an enormous unit of meat and cheese and other Mexican deliciosities broken over a bed of tater tots -- highly satisfying. Finish that thing off and you'll either be out cold until morning or suitably fueled for another several hours of binge-drinking and assorted mayhem, depending on your digestive disposition.
Once you get outside the Satellite, your options to narrow to a number of chain restaurants -- most notably DENNY'S, Shari's and Perkins (the former tend to be open 24 hours; the latter stays open late but not all night). Their chaininess isn't inherently a bad thing. They all serve up perfectly acceptable morning chow, and they each offer unique dining potential.
Take the PERKINS on Division, just across the river from downtown. That location, kitty-corner across from Fast Eddy's, Talotti's 211 and the up-and-coming area near the Community Building (and that so-called "University District" we keep hearing about) makes it a pretty righteous stumble-in from downtown. And the low booths create an open space that works well for big groups -- of late-night studiers, of rabid and triumphant sports fans, whatever. And it's all kind of cute. Chintzy valances decorate the windows, there's plenty of "tasteful" art on the walls, golden oldies mingle with the sweet smell of breakfast in the air.
The menu is omelet-heavy, with a balance of pancakes, Benedicts and a handful of breakfast sides. Everything looks almost uniformly terrible on the menu, but don't be fooled. It's less than terrible. We stopped by for too-sweet kielbasa and a Benedict and were pleased.
While Perkins is a good place for the big group get-together, though, SHARI'S is a fine place for small groups to hatch terrific schemes -- with its rabbit's warren of small, high-backed booths curving away from the front door. Your mortal enemy could be just on the other side of the room and you'd never know it. So you hunker down low and tuck into some Cinnama-sation (some kind of weird French toast, we reckon) and pore over their glossy, conveniently tabbed menu. Pretty much anything here is a good choice. They don't take a lot of chances -- except on the takeaway quiche, a strange business model indeed.
Most people assume the chain restaurant offerings end here, but there's an overlooked strain of late-night breakfast providers that are equally worth checking out. They may not be scoring high marks in the Michelin guide, but local truck stops -- especially the three local Flying J franchises that dot the area from the West Plains to Post Falls -- are some of the best places for a late-night meal.
That's in part because they're so damn weird. Take the FLYING J on Broadway in the Valley. Strange characters drift in and out, each table comes with a telephone connecting to pass-information hotlines and tabletop ads for everything a trucker might need (driving gloves, powerful flashlights, drug-dealing briefcases). And it's bright as an operating room inside -- possibly as a means to try to keep road-weary drivers awake.
Dimming the lights would make the dour-faced but kindly waitress a little less intimidating, and it might distract from the crunch of the hash browns, but no matter. This is an anthropological mission -- a glimpse into a life that's often forgotten and overlooked. No one knows you here. It's the kind of place Cannery Row's Doc would have escaped to, to order a beer milkshake without fear of embarrassment. It's that weird, tired, wonky place in the brain -- synapses misfiring -- just before the sun rises. The perfect place to fill your empty spaces with eggs and gravy.