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DAWN DEALS

I'll be honest with you. Normally, I don't eat breakfast. I get up, drink something hot, and when my stomach starts interfering with my work or fun, I give it something just large enough to keep it quiet until its next meal. Sometimes that's lunch. Sometimes that's dinner. This is not to say that I don't know all about breakfast being the most important meal of the day. I am in complete agreement, especially for growing children and anyone who does physical work for a living.

I don't. I eat and then I write about it. And if I consumed three big meals a day, I would soon have to toss out all my size sixes and replace them with twelves. If food is fuel, my body runs just fine on less, thank you.

Oddly enough, there was a time when breakfast was one of my favorite meals. Of course, I usually consumed it at three or four o'clock in the morning after a night of dancing to some skinny-tie pop band. But that's another life--and, needless to say, another story.

Now on the rare occasion when I eat breakfast out, I dine with the rest of humanity. Wholesome, goodhearted people who believe, "Early to bed, early to rise," "The early bird catches the worm" and other aphorisms using the word "early."

Yawn. Oh, excuse me.
For the past week or so, I've reorganized my daily eating schedule to include breakfast at five different restaurants around the Valley. Goat, my ever-faithful dining accomplice, accompanied me on this expedition. Here then, in descending order, best to worst, are brief synopses of our experiences. I do not discover the perfect breakfast on this outing. Thanks to the Spicery in Glendale, however, I do experience a very pleasant one. This Victorian restaurant and tearoom has relocated in the past year. Now housed in the historic Messinger home just around the corner from its previous abode, the Spicery's new digs are spacious, gracious, high-ceilinged and ultra-ultra feminine. "I feel like we're inside the pages of Victoria's Secret," Goat whispers. He's got a point. With its floral wallpaper, lace curtains, lace tablecloths, wood floors and fresh flowers on every table, this would make a perfect set for a lingerie shoot. I worry that Goat feels uncomfortable. He rubs his arms. "It is cold in here," he says.

We sample the ham and swiss on biscuit and the spinach-and-bacon quiche. I order the latter; Goat, of course, doesn't eat quiche. Both items come with a cup of fresh apple, strawberry, cantaloupe, watermelon and canned pineapple. The biscuit, the quiche and the cinnamon roll we order on the side are home-baked and, though slightly overcooked, quite good. Our orange juice is made from concentrate. My orange-spice tea is bitter, but I love that it's served in a teapot with a tea cozy.

We are seated at a table for two by the window. Classical music soothes our shattered nerves. The chairs are comfortable, the view of old Glendale serene. "I feel like we're on vacation," Goat says.

So will you.

Like the Spicery, Gilbert's Farm House offers dining in what was once somebody's home: in this case, a real live Arizona farmhouse. In fact, the barn and some working tractors are still out back.

The decor isn't as fancy or feminine as the Spicery. Tables are nestled in former bedrooms and in what used to be the parlor and the living room. I like the old-fashioned chairs, the jam jars on every table and the country music on the radio. The Farm House feels intimate and, well, downright homey.

Breakfast is the only meal served here, but business is good. Some folks come every morning. The food is large and cheap and the waitresses are good-natured. We watch as our waitress tolerates the old ice-cube-down-the-back prank from a regular customer. God bless her.

Goat tries an omelet of sausage, bacon and potato. "How many eggs do you think they used in this?" he asks me. My guess is, oh, five. It is a huge omelet that is slightly salty--thanks to the abundance of crisp bacon pieces. My two eggs over-medium come with giant slices of paprika-doused potato, rye toast and sausage links. I'm disappointed with the sausage. It's bland. Ditto for the biscuit with cream-colored sausage gravy.

A cinnamon roll at the Farm House is large and swirled and covered with frosting. It's tasty and sweet, but I like the Spicery's obviously hand-hewn version better.

Gilbert Road is a long haul from downtown Phoenix, but the trip might be worth it for anyone who's hankering for an old-fashioned, down-on-the-farm breakfast. Hit the road, Jack, and you might find yourself coming back for more and more and more and more.

 

At this point in our survey we get into shades of gray. I like the feminine ambiance of Aunt Pittypat's Pantry in Glendale, but the eats leave something major to be desired. Refresher course: Aunt Pittypat is a character in Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind. In case you've forgotten, photographs from the movie, dolls of the character and copies of the book are carefully displayed around the dining room, along with other antiques.

Aunt Pittypat's used to be the Spicery. Upstairs, you'll still find the Housewife Gift Shop. The buzzing bees in the flower gardens out front, the picket fence, the wicker chairs on the porch, the hardwood floors and lace curtains are all charming.

The food is not. Goat and I sample the baked omelet, a cinnamon roll and the breadbasket with fruit. Aunt Pittypat's food, for the most part, is petite for the price. The baked omelet is truly odd: a pie-shaped wedge of baked egg, topped with ham and drizzled with melted cheese. It looks like a slice of bizarre pizza. The cinnamon roll and "breadbasket" are strictly doughnut-shop quality. There are no visible traces of fiber in the bran muffin included in the basket. Fortunately, the fruit salad is refreshing with its sliced banana, cut-up strawberry and cubed cantaloupe.

The moral of this story is: Just because you look like the Spicery doesn't mean you are the Spicery. Where breakfast is concerned, Aunt Pittypat's Pantry is bare.

And then there's May's Best of the West in Tempe. No, not May West at the corner of McClintock and University; May's Best of the West on University west of Mill Avenue. There seems to be a lot of confusion about these two restaurants, which are owned by the same family.

If the Spicery, Farm House, and Aunt Pittypat's Pantry sound too feminine or too darn cute for you, if the idea of classical music and pots of tea revolts you, you'll love May's Best of the West. It's dark, it's dingy and it's loud. On the morning Goat and I gambol in, the waitresses are cute, young and blond. Needless to say, May's customers are mostly men--hardworking men whose telephone company trucks and pickups and state cars pack the parking lot outside.

Everything's pretty traditional at May's. You've got your eggs, your bacon, your sausage, your hot cakes, your hashed brown potatoes and French toast. Then there's a separate section of the menu devoted to special omelets and combinations. Your coffee cup never goes empty for long and they'll cook your eggs just the way you want.

In other words, it's an ordinary joint serving ordinary breakfasts. The food seems like it's pretty dependable, which is no small thing in my book. If there's one thing I can't tolerate, it's inconsistency in breakfast foods. You're not likely to see God here, but you might see some pals from work or the bowling alley.

It's that kind of place.

Finally, let us discuss breakfast at Balboa Cafe, a bar and restaurant in Tempe's Hayden Square. Balboa only recently began serving early-morning risers. My guess is the owners decided, what the heck, we have a cleanup crew here anyway, why not open up and see what kind of business we can do?

It is a Blue Velvet kind of morning when Goat and I visit Balboa Cafe. The sun is up, the birds are chirping, we have our choice of parking spots in downtown Tempe. Oh, what a beautiful morning!

At least until we interrupt the young woman sweeping the patio to ask if Balboa is open for breakfast. "Sure, sit anywhere," says she. "I'll bring you a menu." All the white plastic tables look a little grungy, but I'm determined to sit outside and enjoy the peaceful morning. We select a spot in the shade. The young woman brings us our menus and we order.

Then all hell breaks loose.
I have ordered yogurt with granola and fresh fruit. "Um, our yogurt hasn't come yet," our waitress informs me. "Do you want something else?" I tell her to bring me the granola and fruit and to substitute milk for the yogurt. "A glass of milk?" "Sure, whatever," I say.

Our breakfast arrives. A Budweiser delivery truck pulls up and begins unloading. A man with a leaf-blower decides to buzz the patio for the next ten minutes. The plates are warm, the fruit is bruised, the coffee is weak, there are flies everywhere and still the young woman sweeps while we're eating a few feet away.

Could it get much worse?
I don't think so.
As we walk to my car, Goat remarks that his Super Egg Sandwich was exactly like an Egg McMuffin--only more expensive. I remind him that it did have tomato on it. "Yeah, right," he says.

 

Frankly, I'd rather eat cold leftover pizza any day than relive this experience. Perhaps I'm just not a breakfast kind of gal.

Unless it's at four in the morning.

The Spicery, 7141 North 59th Avenue, Glendale, 937-6534. Breakfast hours: 9 to 10:30 a.m., Tuesday through Saturday.

Farm House, 11421 South Gilbert, Gilbert, 926-0676. Breakfast hours: 6 a.m. to 2 p.m., Monday through Saturday.

Aunt Pittypat's Pantry, 7123 North 58th Avenue, Glendale, 931-0838. Breakfast hours: 9 to 11 a.m., Tuesday through Saturday.

May's Best of the West, 1021 West University, Tempe, 829-9444. Breakfast hours: 6 a.m. to 2 p.m., Monday through Saturday; 7:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., Sunday.

Balboa Cafe, 404 South Mill Avenue, Tempe, 966-1300. Breakfast hours: 7:30 to 10:45 a.m., Monday through Friday; 7:30 to 11:45 a.m., Saturday and Sunday.

Anywhere

I usually consumed breakfast at three or four o'clock in the morning after a night of dancing to some skinny-tie pop band.

for spicery

The biscuit, the quiche and the cinnamon roll we order on the side are home-baked and quite good. for farm house

Some working tractors are still out back.

for aunt pittypat's

The baked omelet is truly odd: a pie-shaped wedge topped with ham and drizzled with melted cheese. It looks like a slice of bizarre pizza.

for may's best

May's customers are mostly men--hardworking men whose telephone company trucks and pickups and state cars pack the parking lot outside.

for balboa cafe

The plates are warm, the fruit is bruised, the coffee is weak, there are flies everywhere and still the girl sweeps while we're eating.


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