Diner: Sunny Side Up

Breakfast choices to help you rise and shine

Doug McDonald

As children, we found the smell of bacon and eggs frying in the early morning reason enough to get out of bed. As adults, we are often too hurried to get our day started to pay much attention to the first meal of the day. Tradition-al breakfasts have been replaced with a cup of coffee and a muffin, a bowl of cereal or a handful of vitamins washed down with juice and the check, please. We're out the door to our hyper-scheduled lives.

As food writers, we would like to plead the case for a sit-down breakfast. It's a qualitative change in the day to carve out time to catch up with the overnight news and network with community. We notice a definite difference in our energy levels, a sense of heightened awareness and creativity, increased focus and attention — we're happier, dammit! Some might argue it's our defense for beginning a 10 a.m. workday, but that's our story and we're sticking to it.

Here are a few places you might find us. — Donna Covrett

A Couple of Good Eggs
Nearly every neighborhood has a breakfast place that feels like home: newspapers sit at the end of the counter, the server knows your name and sometimes your order is in before you slide into the booth by the window.

Since 1949, Tucker's (1637 Vine St., 513-721-7123) has been home to the oscillating neighborhood of Over-the-Rhine residents and downtown commuters.

Mornings behind the green-curtained windows of this unassuming restaurant are humming with the activity of greeting a new day: television talking heads spin election action, a few suits hover over an agenda in one of the booths, a lone street preacher delivers the good word of biscuits and gravy. Leading the action is Joe and Carla Tucker, owners/cooks, servers/bussers/respected community members. They both welcome everyone who walks in the door: Joe is always moving at light speed with limbs in constant multi-tasking motion; Carla is gracious, nurturing and deliberate but not without a few exaggerated eye rolls in Joe's kinetic direction.

Food is the main focus at Tucker's — well done and down-home with ingredients purchased at Findlay Market — but the attraction is the diverse and eccentric extended community family that the Tuckers have "raised up from pups."

In a neighborhood that as of late is known for its alleged division, Tucker's is a model for mutual respect. As white business owners smack dab in the middle of largely black neighborhood, color is transcended with warmth, commitment, two eggs over easy and the best deluxe home fries this side of hash heaven (frequently topped with excellent portabella mushrooms).

Within a city of local conversation ranging from indifferent and cynical to impassioned and confident, Tucker's is a reminder that home can be defined by what we're willing to bring to the table and how we choose to embrace the day is right on the plate in front of us. (Donna Covrett)

Size Matters
Breakfast at Ashley's is located deep in Covington (112 E. 30th St., 859-291-8017) on a site with a long history of plate slinging. Family-run for the past eight years, Ashley's was formerly a Frisch's, and before that it was a drive-in with waitresses hauling trays on roller skates.

Nowadays, Ashley's dishes out large portions of food at reasonable prices, with breakfast available anytime they're open. And I do mean large portions. Order pancakes, and you'll get a friendly heads-up from the waitress: "The pancakes are really big, I'm gonna' warn ya." Be prepared for flapjacks the size of hubcaps. The non-breakfast side of the menu looks appealing, with $5.50 daily specials ranging from meatloaf to country fried steak.

Things are pretty busy on a Saturday morning. There are families, a group of college kids, a contractor or two — lots of baseball caps. I'm surprised not to see a few cops polishing the counter with their elbows. The atmosphere is lunch-counter homey — strings of white lights loop from the ceiling, and white gauzy curtains screen a wall of windows. Country music plays in the background. One of the friendly and efficient waitresses glides past singing along to a Shania Twain song; someone else clearing plates is singing along, too. I feel like I'm in a music video.

I opt for the Everyday Breakfast Special: 2 Eggs, Shredded Potatoes, Sausage, Ham, Goetta, Bologna or Bacon, and Toast or Biscuit ($3.50). My scrambled eggs are fluffy and light, the bacon perfectly chewy and the slightest bit crisp. The kitchen is cranking out omelets and pancakes, and everything looks and smells good.

One issue: Although the front of the restaurant is non-smoking, the place is small enough that it doesn't really make a difference, and a veil of smoke hangs in the air. I'm the only person it seems to bother, though. I guess it's just part of the ambience.

Ashley's is the kind of place where the coffee keeps on flowing, and the regulars keep coming back. "One more refill and I'll float right on out of here," says one customer, grinning. I'm sure he'll be back next Saturday — and the Saturday after that — repeating the exact same thing. (Craig Bida)

Vintage Style
Breakfast at the Kellogg Country House (3742 Kellogg Ave., Columbia-Tusculum, 513-321-7341) draws a crowd and the setting is unique. Located inside the Antique Mall on Kellogg Avenue, it's handy if you're shopping for vintage holiday gifts.

Once you've made your way back to the restaurant, you order on the way in from a menu board that can be difficult to see if it's a busy morning with customers lined up in front of it. This is only a problem for amateurs, as regulars know the drill and keep the line moving along.

Food arrives within moments — and lots of it! I was excited about the hash browns: chunks of hand-cooked potatoes cooked until crisp on the outside and soft on the inside — these are artisan hash browns! A cheese omelet with fresh, sautéed mushrooms is also very good, I only wish there had been more of them. The Country House serves Glier's Goetta, a big thin slice that was perfectly crisp. I've eaten pretzels that were less salty than my side order of biscuits, but the apple butter that accompanies them looks delicious and could be a sweet antidote. An egg, cheese and bacon burrito is satisfying even though I prefer a little onion, green pepper and salsa with breakfast burritos.

There's not much distinction between smoking and non-smoking here, so be forewarned if you're sensitive to smoke. (Anne Mitchell)

Other Places We Like
Anchor Grill (438 Pike St., Covington, 859-431-9498). Breakfast has been served 24/7 for the past 60 years in this favorite. Goetta and eggs, goetta and cheese, grilled ham and goetta, got it? Expect a steady stream of interesting characters — especially if you're eating breakfast at 3 am.

Camp Washington Chili (3005 Colerain Ave., 513-541-0061). Not that we haven't eaten chili for breakfast, but this historic establishment is as well known for eggs any style as it for chili Cincinnati-style.

Sugar N' Spice (4381 Reading Road, Bond Hill, 513-242-3521). A favorite with many; anticipate a 20-45-minute wait on weekends. But it's fairly easy to get a seat at the old-style counter on a weekday morning for delicious, plump omelets and wispy blueberry pancakes.

Proud Rooster (345 Ludlow Ave., Clifton, 513-281-4965). Proud Rooster has been serving cheap, greasy goodness to local college students since the '50s. That's something to crow about.

Original Pancake House (9977 Montgomery Road, Montgomery, 513-745-0555). Another place you'll wait for an hour on a weekend morning, but the fluffy-baked, skillet-sized Dutch Baby Pancake stuffed with apples and topped with powdered sugar is worth it. ©

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