by Sheri Boggs

It was one of those Thursdays here at The Inlander. For many of us it was our first full week back to work and the mood all around was -- how does one say? -- dank. Christmas was just a garishly bright, alcohol-soaked memory, and spring, we all realized, is still many months away. Thus it was that when the subject of the food review came up, our thoughts turned to only the most comforting, most starch-and-calorie laden foodstuffs to be had. In a word, breakfast.

It turned out there was only one place to go. After quickly searching the archives to make sure we had not reviewed the Chalet in recent memory, we all loaded into one small, road-grimy car and made haste to the corner of 29th and Grand Blvd. The Chalet provided just the solace we needed. This Alpine-themed South Hill institution is as sweetly soothing as a cup of Swiss Miss cocoa, and the interior felt enough like a ski lodge that we were all able to pretend -- at least for an hour or so -- that we were taking a break from slaloming down some peak north of Nelson and not just playing hooky from our desks.

One of the first things we noticed was the sign by the cash register that reads "Because Nice Matters." The Chalet is famous for its pleasant and efficient service, and our experience was no different. Our server struck that magical balance between hovering and neglect, achieving a perfect level of cheery attentiveness. That, and the unpretentious d & eacute;cor (featuring plants in handmade macram & eacute; hangers, ceiling beams and a little Bavarian loft area), made us feel right at home.

Amy and I wrangled over which one of us would get to order the Eggs Benedict while Michael warmed up with his very own carafe of piping hot coffee. Amy finally volunteered to order the Biscuits and Gravy ($5.79), leaving me to partake of the Eggs Benedict ($6.29). We were all impressed with the Chalet's presentation, since breakfast foods are notoriously kind of beige-y and hard to dress up. The Eggs Benny came with a generous application of shredded cheddar, and the hash browns on our plates were nice and golden.

Michael's French Toast and Egg plate ($5.49) arrived with two slices halved and arranged on the side of the plate, while a central whole slice provided the foundation for a poached egg in a small dish; two sausages were lined up front and rear. The French toast had a delicious buttery flavor and was among the best in his personal French toast recollection. With both the bread and the sausage, the chefs of the Chalet avoided the typical coffee shop over-cooking. Amy was similarly pleased with her Biscuits and Gravy, declaring them to be simply a fine example of good, no-frills home-cookin'. As for the Eggs Benedict, these passed the test. I like to order Eggs Benny when we do breakfast reviews, not just because it's completely, unreasonably delicious, but also because it's one of those dishes that can be easily messed up, thus making it a good "test" selection. These were perfect, served atop crispy English muffins with just the proper intermingling of thinly sliced ham, poached eggs and ever so slightly tart Hollandaise sauce.

We had plenty of food but wanted to give the Buckwheat Pancakes a spin ($3.69, short stack). Michael expressed a wish for them to be fluffier and less leathery, but Amy and I found them both toothsome and full of assertive buckwheat flavor. When the breakfast carnage was over, we three lolled in our booth like satiated lions.

Owner Jay Arrington has only helmed the Chalet for about three and a half years, but his experience at such other solid family-friendly eateries as Marie Callender's and IHOP serves him well. With more than 30 years in the business, he knows his staff is just as important to the Chalet's success as the great eats.

"I'm lucky to have such great personnel," he says, adding that his crew is excellent on every level, from the dishwashers up through the cooks.

On a wintry day, with gritty snow piling up in banks everywhere we looked, the Alpine haus d & eacute;cor of the Chalet seemed especially cozy. Breakfast seemed warmer and more inviting simply because of the contrast with the icy outdoors. Our mood mellowed by the good food and easy surroundings, we returned to work with renewed commitment (or at least a reasonable facsimile thereof).

Publication date: 1/15/04

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