Wake-up call

Three ATL spots to break the morning fast

Breakfast is not a meal I usually crave. I'm mystified by people who describe pleasant memories of "flapjacks" and waffles cooked by mothers who got up early to send them off to school with a warm feeling in their tummies. My mother, who stayed up most of every night reading, was at her worst in the morning. Indeed, my breakfast memories are of my mother standing over the stove in her pink bathrobe with a spatula in her hand, three hair curlers dangling from her head and a cigarette in her mouth while she cooked up runny eggs and limp bacon. She would have been happy for us to eat Pop Tarts, but my father demanded that she cook us a "real breakfast."

I know that nutritionists insist that breakfast is — all together now — "the most important meal of the day," but, after my mother's zombie-style breakfasts, I still can't bear to eat before 9 a.m., so I don't. The only time I have really enjoyed breakfast was during the five years I ran weekly newspapers in rural Georgia. Every small town has a cafe that is popular with the locals for breakfast. In these cafes, usually picturesquely named ("Chomp-n-Chew"), locals gather to eat biscuits as big as catheads, eggs and bacon or ham, gravy, grits and fried potatoes. In 30 minutes, you can hear all the town gossip and raise your cholesterol 50 points.

The closest thing in Atlanta to such a place is Bobby and June's Kountry Kitchen (375 14th St., 404-876-3872). It's a few blocks from the better-known Silver Skillet and a few decades from the ambiance (and spelling) of most contemporary restaurants. There are rocking chairs on the porch and country hams hanging from the rafters. The interior walls are a collage of Lions Club memorabilia and black-and-white pictures of dead people.

Don't show up at the restaurant with an expired tag or looking suspicious. There were four cop cars in the parking lot when I recently visited. Also, get ready to be called "darlin'" or "sugar" by the staff. (It beats the vaguely scatological "pookie" a waitress at the Majestic always called me years ago.)

I like to sit at the bar at Bobby and June's. In many visits over the years, I've always ordered the same thing: two scrambled eggs, country ham, biscuits and grits. Sometimes I get my eggs scrambled with cheddar cheese (enough to turn them fluorescent orange) or ask for gravy instead of grits. But I always get the country ham. It's the real deal — salty and a bit chewy, not tenderized like the ham at the Silver Skillet. I have to say my biscuit last week was not very good. It was almost cold and didn't have that cloudlike texture a good Southern biscuit should have.

Bobby and June's is also open for lunch. The barbecue, which I have not sampled in a long time, has a devoted following.

Gentrifiers are digging the new West Egg Cafe (1168 Howell Mill Road, 404-872-3973). This breakfast and lunch cafe, in a former Jake's Ice Cream shop, is located near Bacchanalia and the Atlanta Humane Society. It's a roomy, warehousey space with walls in the same green paint that was in your high school cafeteria. There are tables outside in a sunny garden area and you get free wi-fi. A black-clad 20-year-old plunked himself down at the table next to me and glowered at his Mac screen throughout my recent breakfast there.

"Are you happy with your Mac?" I asked him. I'm so perky in the morning.

He stared at me, said nothing and returned to frowning at his screen. I gulped my good cappuccino and wondered if he was a terrorist.

West Egg is one of those breakfast places that borders on healthful. You can't get country ham, but you can get turkey sausage or Canadian bacon, and regular bacon if you want. There's a tofu scramble, which I cannot face at any hour of the day. I ordered the kinky green tomato wrap. The restaurant uses a whole-wheat tortilla to enclose grilled green tomatoes, bacon, two scrambled eggs and a horseradish dill sauce. It wasn't bad, even though the bacon was all jammed into one end of the wrap.

Do not order grits here. They are the most unpleasant I have ever encountered. They are fancy, white as snow, and have been reduced to the consistency of mush cooked all day in an iron kettle to serve to prisoners after a long day of working on road shoulders. I hope I got a bad batch.

That aside, West Egg — also open for lunch — is a terrific place to kick back with friends or your laptop. The menu definitely needs upgrading, though.

Another breakfast spot popular with gentrifiers, but a bit edgier, is Radial Cafe (1530 DeKalb Ave., 404-659-6594). Radial is a gloomy brick space — wait for a table outside — but I have to tell you: In a city whose restaurants hang a lot of appetite- spoiling art just to cover their walls, Radial usually features some interesting artists.

The food, like West Egg's, is straightforward and inclined toward the healthful. You can almost smell the Birkenstocks when you watch a plate of vegan hash go by your table where someone else is pretending to enjoy yogurt and fruit. I'll have the red-flannel hash made with corned beef, onions, peppers and sage-roasted potatoes, plus two poached or scrambled eggs with rye toast. Good enough.

Do not order a cappuccino here. I asked for one made with two shots and I got charged $4.74! (That included $1.99 for the extra shot, as if a cappuccino should ever be made with one shot.) That was annoying, but then it was watery and tasted like scorched coffee grounds. I literally could not drink it.

Radial, too, is open for lunch. I've enjoyed the spicy leek burger before, but like West Egg, Radial's menu needs some innovative touches.

Leave Cliff Bostock a voicemail at 404-688-5623, ext. 1010, or e-mail him at cliff.bostock@creativeloafing.com.

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