CHAMPIONS OF BREAKFAST

The slim, tanned, designer-eyewear patrons from the neighborhood look like just the types to appreciate the restaurant's fresh-squeezed juices--not only orange and grapefruit, but apple, celery and carrot, too.

The full-flavored breakfast platters also stimulate good will. I love strong-scented buckwheat pancakes, and the version here confirmed my prejudices. A heaping helping of yummy apple-raisin compote plopped atop the stack added to the appeal. Syrup? Who needs it?

The waffle is also first-rate, crisp and chewy, right out of the iron. It's lightly tarted up with a few minced pecans and a dollop of butter.

If you're going to spend the day pushing a plow and not a pencil, the egg dishes are a good option. The three-egg omelet comes with outstanding crunchy, skin-on, home-fried potatoes, with lots of grilled onion.

Even better is the Northern Italian frittata, dotted with sausage, potatoes, peppers, tomatoes and mozzarella, all drizzled with pesto. This comes accompanied by lightly seasoned foccacia.

Sourpusses who insist on nutrition should be pleased by the steaming bowl of hot oatmeal. It's the right thing to do, especially since it's zipped up with apples, raisins and almonds. The $2.50 tag helps make it easy to swallow.

But the overwhelming winner here is French toast. I'm not sure what the flavor secret is, but the two thick slabs of sweet, eggy bread are superb. The grilled bananas and puddle of sweet cream alongside show some inventiveness, too.

Just about the only uncompelling touch is the awful basket of thin-sliced white toast that apparently comes with breakfast orders. If I wanted bread like this, I'd have stayed home in my pajamas and fixed it myself. This kind of place should be putting out fresh hunks of baguette or sourdough loaf.

In a city full of wretched Grand Slam breakfasts, Coffee Mill Brasserie is a pleasant early morning alternative. Wake up, and smell the French toast.

La Pila, 2020 North Central Avenue, Phoenix, 252-7007. Breakfast hours: Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Not everyone gets excited over the prospect of pancakes, waffles and French toast at dawn.

Folks looking for something a little more interesting but no less substantial should check out the delightful Mexican breakfasts at La Pila.

It's Norman Fierros' latest venture. People who recall his popular downtown spot from a few years ago can count on the same quality fare.

This is no clattering omelet parlor, stocked with bubble-gum snapping waitresses who call the regulars "Hon." Instead, there's a hushed, corporate feel to this airy place. Linen napkins, white tablecloths and smooth, deferential servers make this a good location to go over your morning presentation in peace or feed a hungry client. And you'll get off cheaply, too--nothing goes for more than $4.50.

The torta con chile is probably the most familiar-tasting breakfast item you'll find. Fast-food places could serve something like it, if they had any imagination. Two scrambled eggs come on a grilled, unmushy Mexican bun. Layered inside are strips of bacon, tomato, melted cheddar and strips of mild green chile.

If it looks like you might have to work through lunch, opt for the machaca con huevo burrito. It's filling: lots of terrific shredded beef with a bit of chile kick, rolled into a flour tortilla, along with potato, tomato, green onions and cilantro.

Huevos rancheros don't rank high on the Mexican novelty scale, but the platter here is sublime. The key is a luscious, spiky red chile sauce that bathes the eggs and corn tortillas. For some tender palates, one bite will provide the only wake-up call they'll need.

Also outstanding is the egg-topped tamale hash, with its crispy edges and perky green chile sauce. This is the dish I'd come back for.

If you're only mildly hungry, canelas con queso should fill in the cracks. It's the kind of treat you'd buy from food stands in a Third World bus station: a crisply broiled, folded flour tortilla, sparingly filled with jack cheese and coated with cinnamon and sugar.

La Pila probably won't make the prospect of crawling out of bed on a weekday morning any easier. But it will furnish enough nourishing pleasure to see you through to the 10:30 doughnut-and-coffee break.

@7col:Original Pancake House:
Apple pancake $6.50 Dutch Baby 5.00 Coffee Mill Brasserie: Buckwheat pancakes $3.75 Northern Italian frittata 5.50

La Pila: Huevos rancheros $3.95 Canelas con queso 1.95 @pq:Chief among the griddled glories is the apple pancake, a holy object that merits extended Sunday worship.

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