by Sheri Boggs

Up until a few months ago, I never paid attention to the steep-pitched roof and quasi-Swiss windows of the building at the corner of Third and Lincoln. It had been an IHOP and now it was something else. Aside from noticing that the blue roof was now a kind of sea foam green, I found little else remarkable about it.

But then rushing down Lincoln one day, perpetually late for work and sloshing my coffee at the sudden red light, I felt the most disturbing sense of being watched. Where is it coming from? I wondered, glancing surreptitiously at the Dodge Ram on my right. Could it be the Honda Civic behind me? Nope. Pedestrian? Nada. And then suddenly it hit me. There's some kind of animal on that restaurant window.

Yes, if you've been anywhere near Molly's Family Restaurant on Third, you've no doubt noticed the little black and white critter (dog? rabbit? baby panda?) bristling at you from nearly every available window space in the building. "You'll Never Leave Hungry," she encourages, but her imperious body language implies that you don't really have much choice in the matter. Driving past her every day, I couldn't help but wonder, What is that animal? And furthermore, what is she doing there? Why must she judge, nay, condemn me so?

Finally the combination of guilt and curiosity got the better of me, and I convinced my food-reviewing colleagues that we needed to review Molly's. Immediately. And damned if that creature's expression didn't begin to soften the moment we drove into the parking lot. Once inside we learned that not only is the animal a black and white Pekingese (continually mistaken for a Shih Tzu), her name is Molly and her owner - who also owns the restaurant - is very proud of her. We counted no less than seven likenesses of her, including a big 11-inch-by-14-inch portrait, a stuffed animal version and some Molly illustrations inside the menu.

Once we were settled into our booth, we were free to consider what happens when an IHOP is converted into a local favorite hang. Every available table was occupied, and Molly's had the feel of a busy, unintentionally kitschy breakfast joint. The d & eacute;cor is kind of mid-1980s-Mom's-House with lots of pale green chintz, silk flowers and other "country" accoutrements. Unfortunately it also gave us plenty of time to wonder if Molly has a hand in the restaurant's dishwashing. Some of the coffee cups looked like they'd been hit with a Pekingese's lick-and-a-promise. Two had lipstick stains, one had dried food on the side of it and one had a skid mark of coffee on the inside. The silverware wasn't much better - we noticed after stirring our coffee that the spoons had a tendency to bead up in true "greasy spoon" fashion.

Luckily the food arrived before we could ponder such matters any further. Mike opted for the Trio of Eggs ($6.99), which came with browns, four sausage links and wheat toast. His eggs were ordered "over medium" but came looking more like "sunny side up" or even "poached." Still, he was impressed with the generous proportions and tucked in like a trooper. Amy was intrigued by Molly's Mess ($8.35), a concoction of scrambled eggs, potatoes, sausage, peppers, onions and mushrooms all blanketed in white gravy and cheddar cheese. Better yet, half an order was that day's special for a cool $4.99. She found it comforting, homey and at even half an order, more than enough food. I went with the Eggs Benedict ($6.99), which can be had in bacon, ham or "mock crab" varieties. I'm a Benny purist and went with the ham. Everything was just the way it should be - the English muffins were toasted, the Hollandaise tasted as if made from scratch, and the eggs were properly poached. Because the hash browns were a bit underdone, I wished I'd tried the home fries instead. Yet like my companions, I stopped at about the halfway point, unable to eat another bite.

While Molly's doesn't seem to specialize in anything fancy in the breakfast department, they do seem to be well-known for their hearty helpings. The place was packed the entire time we were there and although we were all a little queasy about the silverware-and-coffee-cup situation, we had to admit there was nothing overtly wrong with the food. In fact, the best metaphor we could find for Molly's resided in the fish tank sitting near the cash register on the front counter. The "Fat Lisa Fish," as the tennis-ball-sized Blood Parrot fish is known, seems unable to swim or even muster up the energy to rise to the surface. As we regarded this aquatic marvel, we realized that her whole reason for being could be summed up as no more than "just waiting for a chicken breast to fall in."

The little dog on the window knows what she's talking about. At Molly's you will be fed, and you will be fed lots.

Publication date: 05/06/04

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