Restaurant Reviews

Freedom from choice

Speaking of breakfast, there's something about a particular shade of orange that I've seen only in vinyl, and it's so evocative of a certain kind of breakfast that the menu could have been sold with the stuff by the yard.

Was there even a choice of colors at this price? one wonders, because the color seems such a fixture in a certain kind of restaurant of a certain era. Which, if you are of a reflective turn, might lead you to wonder about choices in general, and, if you are a dining critic, about menu choices in particular.

If you happen to be a parent, or if you serve on any kind of board, you know the peril of too many choices. Too many choices inspire endless debate under some circumstances, tantrums under others.

For instance, if you're smart, you don't ask if a kid wants to go to the zoo or the movie--you ask if he wants to go to the zoo or not.

See, that could have been the orange vinyl salesman's offer, and it's definitely the Metro menu's deal. Not, do you want latte, decaf, Colombian, French roast, or espresso. Just, do you want coffee or not? Do you want orange vinyl at this price or do you want to go up five bucks a yard?

Who knows--I'm making that up.
The point is, it seems these days there are often too many choices, and the Popeye-like attitude at The Metro ("I yam what I yam") is refreshing.

Anyway, I like the cheerful orange ambience at The Metro. It sets off the shining stainless steel of the kitchen, it makes the tiny place seem cozy and friendly (not that white or some other color could possibly have made it seem spacious, or anything but cozy). It doesn't expect anything from you.

The menu matches. It's short, to the point, cheer-inspiring, and doesn't offer too many choices. The waitress is just what you expect--friendly, vaguely mom-ish; she seems to know most of her customers and mostly they seem to know one another.

The Metro is a neighborhood place, full when we got there--several solitary businessmen at tables and the counter; a retail foursome, eating breakfast in the tiny place elbow to elbow; and the manager of the Mobil station running in for eggs and b. to go. The house painter in a four-man booth moved, unasked, to a two-top so we could all sit together.

Newcomers, like us, get a few curious looks. We actually had to peruse the menu a moment before deciding what to eat.

We said "yes" to the coffee choice; we received it hot, of no particular provenance, to whiten and sweeten as we wished.

The rest of breakfast was the expert moment's work of a short-order cook, a master of his stainless-steel world. Almost everything's cooked on his big griddle: he swabs it down, oils it up, drops the eggs, and corrals them expertly into a manageable mass, lines up the bacon, weights it down, turns what needs to be turned, and slides it onto the melamine plate. An expert one-man-band of breakfast--a show worth watching, all the while chatting with the waitress, with the customers.

We had the crispy "cream" waffle, inexplicably named, perhaps to distinguish from the pecan one (surely not because it was made with actual cream). It was a geometric beauty of small indented squares in a golden circle, receiving the soft spread and syrup like a sponge. You have to eat this kind of waffle fast before it becomes unbearably saturated and mushily sweet.

To go with it, I could have chosen bacon, nearly translucently thin ruffled strips, but I picked sausage (practically a banned substance--soon we'll be eating our sausage on the sidewalk along with the smokers). And the little brown patties had plenty of spice and no surprises, precisely the taste you expect.

One hearty combination plate held thin little pork chops, cooked to just before the point of dryness, with hash browns and eggs, sunny side up. Another order of eggs, over easy, were equally perfect, the glazed-over yolks that peculiar shade of pink that masks the liquid yellow, the whites just wavy, jelled, and barely browned by butter around the edges.

There's something comforting about not being surprised by your food, especially early in the morning. I appreciate innovation and experimentation, but breakfast is a conservative time and I'm glad to be faced with the familiar.

In its own little way, breakfast at The Metro is encouraging; it offers some certainties, like eggs and bacon, and occasional pleasantries--like unasked-for courtesy--that make the day brighter and the city smaller and easier to get along with.

--Mary Brown Malouf

The Metro Diner #1, 6414 Luther Lane, 368-9255. Open Monday-Saturday 6 a.m.-4 p.m. (#4 on Gaston)

Metro Diner:
Metro Special No. 3 (pork chops, hash browns, and eggs) $4.50
Cream waffle $2.35

Early Bird Special (two eggs, hash browns, toast, and choice of sausage or bacon) $2.99