Cafe Reviews

Over Easy isn't a revolutionary breakfast spot, but it'll treat your hangover

"What a draaag it is gettin' old . . ."

I can't completely disagree with Mick Jagger on that one. Back when I was a wild young thing, I could rock 'n' roll 'til the wee hours, drinking with abandon, and still wake up fresh-faced the next day. The word "hangover" existed in my vocabulary only as a means to taunt my older, hair-of-the-dog friends, whose post-party misery struck me as pathetic — as if they'd overindulged and I hadn't.

Boy, that's sure come back to haunt me.

But if any good's come out of getting older and paying a steep price for inebriation, it's this: I've also discovered the pleasures of a good breakfast, the next day.

Since the beginning of the year, my regular rotation of morning haunts has a new addition, too. It's called Over Easy, and although I felt fine when I checked it out for New Times, I'd be happy to go back the next I'm a little rough around the edges.

The restaurant is the brainchild of chef Aaron May. Yeah, you heard me right — he's the culinary persona behind Sol y Sombra, the celebrated wine-and-tapas spot at DC Ranch. May has a few other concepts in the works as well, including a casual Italian place, an eatery specializing in Basque cuisine, and even a barbecue collaboration with James Beard award-winning chef Robert McGrath.

All those tidbits had me wondering: Is May slumming it with Over Easy?

I don't think so. Nor am I saying Over Easy's some kind of amazing breakthrough for the local breakfast scene. Instead, the restaurant comfortably sits somewhere between reliable greasy spoon and neighborhood hotspot, with plenty of classics as well as some novel dishes that set the menu apart from other area restaurants.

I'm not trying to tread on Surreal Estate columnist Robrt Pela's turf, but I have to tell you, this place is an impressive example of what can be done with an ugly old Taco Bell. Seriously, who could've imagined that a gloomy former fast-food joint could be transformed into such a vibrant nook? It's certainly enhanced the intersection of 40th Street and Indian School, where revitalization started last year with the opening of The Vig, a stylish watering hole, right next door.

Over Easy is tiny inside, with just a handful of boomerang-patterned '50s-style tables and some Jetsons-esque white stools along the counter. But cheerful, lemon-hued walls and an easy view into the bustling open kitchen keep claustrophobia at bay.

There's more seating on the outdoor patio, and an ingenious slatted wall lets the breeze waft through while sparing customers the drab view of the parking lot across the street. And now that Over Easy's catching on with locals, there might be a wait for a table, but thankfully there are a couple of benches just outside. (My advice? Go before 9, and you'll probably waltz right in.)

May wasn't on the premises after my first visit, but I appreciated his influence, which revealed itself in small details.

At first sip, the coffee was so good that I had to say so out loud. Other notable drinks included strawberry lemonade with rosemary, and iced coffee with cinnamon, cardamom, sweetened condensed milk, and a sprig of mint. Sweet, tangy tomato jam — Over Easy's homemade ketchup — added interest to an order of crisp tater tots. The thickly cut bacon was from Nueske's, a well-known Wisconsin meat purveyor. And an unassuming razz cherry scone, which was tasty on its own, came with honey and a dollop of dreamy vanilla crème fraîche. IHOP this is not.

Fluffy pancakes were decent — I should've ordered the cinnamon chocolate syrup to jazz them up — but the malted waffle was better, and the decadent French toast with caramelized bananas and pecans trumped them both.

In the way of taters, I liked the tots. Finely minced corned beef hash and crisp, lightly fried country potatoes were good, too. However, I really wasn't digging the hash browns — and I tried them on a few occasions just to make sure my first order wasn't a bad batch. For one thing, they were oily, and desperately needed salt. Besides that, they were browned beyond belief into a solid, thick crust that required real elbow grease to cut through.

Three eggs topped with diced steak, caramelized onions, and chiles didn't win me over, either. The dish sounded interesting, although in reality, the eggs were lost in a pile of chewy meat. A similar concoction, done up with wild mushrooms and herbs, had a great flavor, but 'shrooms dominated the plate.

In contrast, Over Easy's chicken-fried steak was a harmonious balance of tender meat, golden, flavorful crust, creamy country gravy (just enough, not a pool of it), and a fried egg on top — a picture-perfect rendition of a classic.

I couldn't review Over Easy without trying the entree named after the restaurant — or was it the other way around? It was delicious, in any case, with an over easy egg, bacon sauce, and sautéed spinach atop a slice of toasted brioche. Soaked with sauce, each bite of brioche quickly melted away, its flavors of smoke and salt and butter still dancing on my tongue.

And The Loretta, a hot ham-and-cheese sandwich with sautéed onions and peppers, was enjoyable in a down-home way, like something my mom would whip up if I drank too much wine, crashed at her house, woke up well after breakfast time, and then asked for something to eat.

Hypothetically speaking, of course. The catch about Over Easy — as opposed to my mom's kitchen — is that it closes at 11:30.

But, hey, it's nice to have a reason to get out of bed.