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Perk Eatery: Where Breakfast Is Serious Business

If you are from the Midwest, you understand that breakfast is serious business. By nature, it is a hearty endeavor — designed to be satisfyingly filling and prepare its consumer, forkful by loaded forkful, for an array of seasonal servitudes. There are gardens to be planted in the spring, sprawling...
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If you are from the Midwest, you understand that breakfast is serious business. By nature, it is a hearty endeavor — designed to be satisfyingly filling and prepare its consumer, forkful by loaded forkful, for an array of seasonal servitudes. There are gardens to be planted in the spring, sprawling lawns to tend to in the summer, leaves to rake in the fall, and, of course, snow to be shoveled from driveways, sidewalks, and front porches in the winter. Washed down with a good strong cup of coffee, the first meal of the day, at least in the Midwest, is more fuel than fancy.

Which must have been why my stack of pancakes at Perk Eatery in North Scottsdale incited me to get to work. Thick and golden from the griddle, they overlapped each other like round, flat pillows. Eagerly, I pressed the side of my fork down to release the first fluffy bite. Light, warm, and delicately sweet with a whisper of vanilla that made me close my eyes and draw a breath, these pancakes were to be savored, like a massage or a good read.

And they were perfect in their nakedness, needing not the slightest smattering of butter or a few sugary drops of maple syrup to elevate their flavor.

Pauline Martinez understands the Midwestern breakfast. Originally from Michigan (the home state of yours truly and where many of my winter mornings growing up in Pontiac meant shoveling snow, eating breakfast, then shoveling snow again), Pauline, along with husband Carmen, own Perk. For the most part, armed with her own recipes, Pauline leads the kitchen, while Carmen, who's had stints at El Chorro and Mastro's, heads the front of the house, with the two switching roles when necessary. In a strip mall off Greenway Parkway, their cheerful little restaurant serves up stick-to-your-ribs staples of solid American breakfast and lunch fare with a few unique twists — worthy of a visit if you're in the neighborhood, and perhaps even if you're not.

If you happen to pop into Perk on the weekend, you'll find that breakfast is typically bustling. Middle-class families and friends take their seats at clustered, marble-topped tables, their conversations joining a mix of classic rock and the scuttle of kitchen activity though the opening behind a small counter in the back. An oversize fork and spoon on the wall seem to hint at the hearty fare yet to arrive, while the aroma of fresh coffee, eggs, and griddled delights wafts through the small, open room painted in warm oranges and browns.

The pancakes should be the first reason you visit Perk (and you would not be faulted for ignoring the rest of the breakfast menu on subsequent visits), with several other worthwhile dishes making for a strong selection of a.m. wake-ups. Spicy chorizo, black beans, and cheddar cheese seem better suited to the sizable three-egg Border Patrol omelet than the huevos rancheros, thanks to the addition of sautéed onions, a healthy coating of tempered cilantro jalapeño sauce, and the accompaniment of fried cubed potatoes seasoned with fragrant rosemary. A little French and a lot flavorful, the Fancy Pants Scramble is a decidedly lighter-tasting offering of scrambled eggs flecked with bits of roasted turkey and spinach and topped with melted Brie and a dollop of sweet fig compote.

And for lovers of fried potatoes, they arrive off the griddle grated and mixed with moist and tender homemade corned beef — in pieces, not minced — and topped with melted Swiss cheese and eggs in Perk's Country Style Hash, a crowd favorite, or as shallow-fried pancakes made from a secret family recipe. Crispy and flecked with bits of carrots and parsley, this serving of three cakes, barely contained on the plate, await your decision to top them with smatterings of the sweet (applesauce) or the savory (sour cream) before devouring them with haste.

If there are breakfast specials at Perk — and there almost always are — they're generally worth your while. In the past, they have included Pauline's homemade biscuits and gravy, spicy breakfast enchiladas doused in New Mexico red chili sauce, and the "Kitchen Sink Scramble," a concoction of potatoes, sautéed onions, jalapeños, mushrooms, feta cheese, and eggs — so popular, I'm told, that it's under consideration for the main menu.

As with breakfast, Perk isn't shy at lunch when it comes to ensuring you won't leave hungry. There's a substantial corned beef Reuben that's acceptable and a slightly better burger called the Zeffry, featuring a lightly seasoned (too lightly seasoned) patty of grass-fed Angus beef, thankfully supported by sweet, sautéed pinot noir onions, delicate melted Brie, and a soft challah roll.

But the true afternoon treasures can be found in the signature sandwich and salad sections.

Try not to look surprised when your server asks how you would like your steak done on the For Pete's Steak sandwich or when it arrives in front of you, its chunks of juicy grilled steak prepared exactly as you have instructed, coated in gooey Swiss cheese and muscling their way out of hefty slices of crunchy ciabatta bread along with sautéed onions and mushrooms.

In the simple yet satisfying Mucho Smoocho, tender roasted turkey is stacked high between slices of toasted rye, along with bacon, tomatoes, cole slaw, Swiss cheese, and a tangy sauce. And for those looking to take their fowl further, order the Bahama Mama. The marinated grilled chicken and a creamy cool cucumber sauce make it Greek chic, and the grilled pineapple adds a tropical twist — together, wrapped in warm pita bread and served in a white paper sack, they combine for a unique, belly-filling treat of flavors and textures.

If only the fries, both regular and sweet potato, were prepared fresh and the housemade cole slaw weren't so pedestrian, these two-handed hoagie dishes would be pushed to near perfection.

The salads at Perk don't let up a bit on the heft. With more than enough to share (and if you do, your guests will thank you for it), the Jamaican Chicken salad steers clear of the too-sweet trap with a plentiful offering of crunchy greens, sautéed onions, chunks of grilled pineapple, marinated chicken breast, and a standout signature honey Dijon vinaigrette worthy of wiping up with soft triangles of pita bread.

Service at Perk is, well, perky and prompt, with many of the team proud to tell you they've been with the Martinez family since they started the restaurant last November. And if that, along with either Pauline and Carmen stopping by your table to chat or hearing them call out several regulars by name, doesn't give you an idea of their affability and homespun flair, then perhaps you are still focused on your server's end-of-meal question: "Would you like some pancakes for dessert?"

Which doesn't sound like a bad idea at all.

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