MORN A MAN CAN TAKE

Munch a Bagel, 5114 North Seventh Street, Phoenix, 264-1975. Hours: Breakfast and Lunch, Tuesday through Sunday, 6 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Are you one of those morning people who wake up at full speed and leap out of bed hungry and rarin' to go? Do you race to the kitchen and immediately fix eggs, toast and coffee to get your metabolic engines operating at full throttle? After you're fully stoked, do you then eagerly rush out to do battle with the world? Me neither. But through some cosmic irony, I ended up marrying one of these alien beings.

My wife nudges me into where-am-I consciousness at 6 a.m. on Sundays and says things like, "What do you want to do today?" and "I'm starving, get up and have breakfast with me." I, on the other hand, face dawn with all the enthusiasm of a condemned man looking at an early-morning firing squad. When I'm roused by the day's first shafts of light, my initial impulse is to draw the covers over my eyes and pray that it's all a ghastly mistake. Get up and do something? Cryogenically frozen bodies are more inclined to movement. And, naturally, I'm not remotely hungry. My idea of a good breakfast is, well, lunch. Still, I recently summoned up the energy to make the rounds at three breakfast spots. One meal turned out pretty well, another was fair and the third was dull enough to put me right back to sleep. Munch a Bagel, a longtime meeting place for Valley early risers, was the pretty-good entry. The place changed hands about eight months ago, and though it's now Greek-run, it still puts out a hearty, Jewish-style breakfast: bagels, blintzes and matzo brei, a sort of a matzo omelet. The dining area is bright, airy and a bit sterile, filled with patrons deep into coffee and the morning paper. The predominant shade is, appropriately enough, salmon, the same color as lox. An assortment of live and artificial plants gives the room a bit of life. But framed photos of various American cities don't--I've seen the same ones in at least a half-dozen other restaurants. Once spring arrives, the umbrella-shaded patio looks like a pleasant alternative.

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Pischke's Paradise

7217 E. 1st St.
Scottsdale, AZ 85251-4401

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Central Scottsdale

The counter people told me the bagels and bialys are made at Karsh's Bakery across the street, using a Munch a Bagel recipe. The bagels are decent enough, and the bialys surprisingly good. You can get either one heaped with generous amounts of lox, onion and tomato by ordering the minimunching platter. But anyone expecting a New York City-size schmear of cream cheese is going to be disappointed. You get just a tiny plastic cup, containing barely enough high-fat spread to impede the flow of blood through your arteries. Blintzes are a well-fashioned breakfast option, perhaps better suited for people who will work off the calories tilling the lower forty than those who burn energy shuffling papers from their desks. You get four doughy pouches, with a homemade look and taste, stuffed full of sweetened farmer cheese, accompanied by plastic cups of sour cream and strawberries. Matzo brei, another ethnic specialty, didn't work for me. There are two schools of thought about the optimum preparation of this dish. The kitchen here obviously belongs to the scrambled-and-soggy school. I prefer a less eggy version, where the egg-dipped matzo gets skillet-cooked to a much firmer texture. Still, this is a subject about which reasonable people can reasonably disagree.

No disagreement about the Greek omelet, though. It's an enormous, tasty specimen, crammed full of fried onions, feta cheese, mushrooms, tomato and calamari. And it comes with a pile of excellent, skin-on home fries along with a bagel or bialy. This plate should take you to the 5 o'clock whistle, if you can stay awake 'til then.

But you may have trouble keeping your eyes open once the French toast comes into sight. It has no flair at all, since it's derived from bland, commercially sliced bread. You could do this yourself just as well at home, even in a state of semiconsciousness.

But enjoyable, home-baked sweets help wash down the coffee. Rugalach, pastries and cookies pass the taste-to-calorie test.

Staffed by friendly people who enjoy schmoozing with customers (pointing to the pastry and deli case, the proprietor dramatically moaned, "We make everything here but money"), Munch a Bagel has the right neighborhood-breakfast feel. Despite the ownership change, the neighborhood regulars should still be in their element.

Pischke's Paradise, 7000 East Shea, Scottsdale, 596-7909. Hours: Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner, Monday through Saturday, 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Long a downtown Scottsdale favorite, Pischke's opened a second branch at the up-and-coming shopping and dining plaza at 7000 East Shea about a year ago. It's got a tropical, beachfront look: stunning aquariums, canoes suspended over the bar, framed seaside paintings. Each of the four televisions, one in every corner, was silently broadcasting Regis and Kathie Lee the morning we visited. I wish the sound had been turned up--even Regis and Kathie Lee would have been preferable to the annoying jazz Muzak assaulting our ears. There's nothing surprising on the breakfast menu: eggs, French toast, pancakes. But there's a certain hit-or-miss quality to the fare. Best things first. That would be the fluffy shrimp omelet, at $8 the most expensive breakfast item, and worth it. The menu promises Rocky Point jumbos, but I found no crustacean bigger than a thumbnail. Still, I was in a forgiving mood, mollified by a luscious blend of jack and cream cheese and a zippy filling of onions, mushrooms and peppers. A small plastic cup of fresh fruit provides refreshing accompaniment.

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