by ANN M. COLFORD & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & T & lt;/span & he interior of the Viking at 10 am on Saturday looks a lot like the interior of the Viking at any other time -- dark wood, flags overhead, the fire pit burning in the center of the room, and virtually no natural light. There's not a shred of evidence that it's morning. Sometimes, that's just what you want in a breakfast place.

And the Viking is now a breakfast place, at least on Saturdays from 10 am-2 pm. The breakfast menu consists of four items -- meat (bacon or sausage) and eggs, a breakfast sandwich, a breakfast burrito and an omelet, priced at $4 with additional ingredients available for $1 each. But you can also order off the regular lunch menu, greatly expanding the available offerings. In fact, on this Saturday, three of the four in our party opted for lunch options, even though it was definitely still morning (despite the lack of visual cues). That's just part of the hospitality at the Viking.

Our low gray December skies made for a dim morning when we visited, but we still squinted to adjust to the low light inside the tavern. Only a few hardy souls had arrived before us, giving us plenty of choices for seating. Menus awaited us on the table so we began perusing right away, and yet the decisions still took time. Which meal to have, breakfast or lunch? And then which item? Options? It was all fairly dizzying, especially before coffee.

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & T & lt;/span & he only negative in the experience came early, with that coffee: The only coffee lightener available was dry creamer in little packets. I don't do fake cream -- it's half-and-half for me, or nothing -- so I took my coffee black. And the coffee tasted like a standard mass-market bar brew. If you're serious about the breakfast crowd, especially here in the state where Starbucks was born, then you need to have a solidly satisfying coffee.

Fortunately, that was my last disappointment in the visit. After an extended time reviewing the menus, I picked the BLT sandwich ($7) -- hey, it's got bacon; it counts as breakfast -- along with a side of soup. (Side options are chips, soup or fries.) From the two soup choices, I selected the intriguing bacon cheeseburger chowder, a cup chock full of bits of ground beef and bacon, blended with onions and potatoes and a creamy broth with just a hint of cheesiness. It had the warming flavor combination of the eponymous sandwich (earthy, salty, savory), along with the defining characteristics of chowder. (To quote my favorite thoroughly provincial New England cookbook: "Chowder is always white. It always contains potatoes, onions and an identifiable guest of honor.") And this cup fulfilled the requirements. The broth was creamy and full of flavor, with no hint of additional thickeners.

The BLT came on grilled thick-cut soft wheat bread, with a good balance between the coolness of the vegetables and the warm, crisp bacon. Topped with a pleasingly minimal schmear of mayonnaise, it was a tasty version of the classic sandwich.

Like me, Doug went with a lunch choice rather than breakfast. "I know we went for breakfast," he says, "but the breakfast menu didn't entice me much."

He picked the Philly Dip sandwich ($8.75), sort of a cross between a French Dip sandwich and a Philly cheesesteak, and declared it really good. "It's kind of a kicked-up French Dip with green and red peppers, onions and melted cheese," he says. "Why would you go with a plain French Dip if you have the option to spice it up? The dip part was probably a package mix that could have used some more oomph, though."

He was as intrigued by the soup choice as I was, and as impressed. "My favorite part was the bacon cheeseburger chowder, with its nicely smoky flavor," he says. "A bowl of that and a burger or hot sandwich are perfect for a chilly day." Even now, several days later, we're still talking about that soup.

Doug's wife tried the Luau sandwich ($8.25), a layering of smoked turkey breast, ham, Swiss and honey-cream cheese on a Kaiser roll, all topped with pineapple. She was satisfied with its blend of flavors and textures. She tried the other soup choice -- a seafood chowder with lots of smoky bacon and the curious inclusion of cabbage. It too met all the standard chowder requirements to satisfy my regional snobbery, but we all agreed that the bacon cheeseburger chowder was the hands-down soup winner.

Luke was the only one to actually have breakfast (two eggs over easy, bacon, toast and fried potatoes, $4), and he was suitably impressed. "Four bucks, no frills," he says. "The eggs were perfectly cooked and runny as all hell. The bacon was crispy -- sometimes too crispy -- cooked to the point that it became hard to distinguish the veins of fat from the surrounding meat."

His potatoes were cut in a small dice then deep fried, like French-fry cubes. "The little, fairly uniform cubes of starch were salty, crisp and delicious," he says. "And lastly, the Viking made me a believer in rye toast and jam, and for that I thank them."

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & S & lt;/span & ervice was prompt, friendly and comfortable without being pushy. A handful of other patrons wandered in during our visit, but it seems that not a lot of people have discovered the Viking's surprising foray into morning service. Our server -- who's also the bartender -- delivered a pitcher of water when it was clear that we were in no rush to head back out into the cold. As befits the general comfort level at the Viking, we lingered long after our meals were done.

The Viking Tavern

1221 N. Stevens St., serves breakfast on Saturdays from 10 am-2 pm. Call 326-2942.

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