I spend a lot of time thinking about breakfast, mostly because I am a night owl and restaurateurs insist on switching to lunch at noon sharp. So often, at 12:01 p.m., I've walked into a restaurant, hair uncombed and ravenous for Benedicts, and been offered a nice sandwich or slice of meatloaf. It's always welcome news when a restaurant opens and announces that it won't adhere to the dogmatic practices of an unimaginative meal regimen.
Breakfast, lunch and dinner -- all day! -- is Kay's Family Restaurant's tagline, and an exciting one. (Pasta, how- ever, is served only after 3 p.m. This is fine, as I generally don't crave linguini with prawns and clams, $18.95, until at least 4.) I took my dad to Kay's, because he is a great lover of pancake houses and diners. Plus, he is a hearty eater, and I find that I always order far too much at breakfast, since I hadn't eaten all night.
There are many pages to Kay's menu, with 10 different sections under breakfast alone. I felt a bit like a pageant judge as I chose the most attractive candidates to represent its category. I selected a Mexican hopeful in the form of a chorizo breakfast burrito ($9.95), a classic beauty known as Kay's burger ($12.95) and a wholesome hometown turkey and trimmings sandwich ($10.95). I also requested two sourdough pancakes ($5.95), still leaving many categories untapped.
First off, the service is fantastic. Kay's staff is solicitous and eager to please. My coffee (Kaladi's) never dipped below the halfway mark, and the server checked on us often. Our food came out quickly, as diner food should, with a battalion of sauces, syrups and condiments that are necessary for breakfast warfare.
The clear winner of Kay's pageant was its namesake burger, a delicious double-decker with two types of cheese, bacon, onion rings and Thousand Island dressing. (My dad on ordering: "If the owners put their name on it, you'd better get it. They're basically telling you it's the best thing on the menu.") The textures were exactly right: snappy, skinny fries; soft, toasted bun; thick-cut onion rings and flavorful, juicy patties.
The turkey, avocado, bacon and Swiss cheese sandwich was a bit on the boring side; it could have benefited from some extra seasoning. The burrito, on the other hand, had almost too much seasoning. It was chock full of spicy chorizo, with some egg and avocado thrown in. I would have preferred far less meat, but my husband ate the leftovers and proclaimed it just right. Meat-lovers, take note.
The pancakes were fluffy and enormous, but alas, not true sourdough. Only a faint undercurrent of tanginess distinguished it from the more pedestrian buttermilk pancakes. One day I hope to bite into an unassumingly small pancake and discover the yeasty distinction of a 100-year-old sourdough starter. It's my breakfast Holy Grail.
I had trouble deciding what to get on my next visit. The pasta section intrigued me, as one doesn't often see scallops and linguini in a brandy sauce ($19.95) on a diner menu, but I went with a classic barometer of family restaurant fare -- fried chicken ($13.95).
The dinner came with four pieces of chicken, a side salad, veggies, French bread and a loaded baked potato. All it lacked was a square of chocolate cake to make it a true TV dinner. This, however, was a vast improvement on Swanson's. I liked that the chicken pieces were smaller, instead of the huge, bland behemoths found in the fast food industry. The crust was a deep golden brown and as crunchy -- and addicting -- as potato chips. The veggies were insipid and the side salad strictly filler, but the potato and garlic bread were a nice touch.
Another added bonus is a beer and wine list to complement Kay's many solid standards for the breakfast and lunch crowd alike -- because sometimes I like a glass of sauvignon blanc with my chicken fried steak at 3 in the afternoon.
By Riza Brown
Daily News correspondent