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Henrietta's Table's red flannel hash features vegetables ground with corned beef topped with poached eggs and butter sauce. Henrietta's Table's red flannel hash features vegetables ground with corned beef topped with poached eggs and butter sauce. (Wendy maeda/globe staff)

CAMBRIDGE - Upstairs at the Charles Hotel, just opposite the sleek dinner spot Rialto, Henrietta's Table welcomes guests with an almost cartoon-like sense of start-the-morning-right: thick stacks of pancakes; bright glasses of orange juice; crisp home fries. The milky off-white walls are adorned with photographs of farm fields and fresh eggs. Dented steel watering cans are perched like sentinels watching over the dining room and a waffle iron that looks like it was salvaged from a crumbling Vermont barn greets guests like a supplemental maitre d'.

The breakfasts here don't just look good, they're mostly healthy, and many of the foods are local. Chef Peter Davis, a champion of sustainable foods, created trading cards of the area farmers who supply his kitchen.

We all need something substantial and nutritious for the day's most consequential meal, so it is good to know that the area offers healthy plates for just about every palate, from farm fresh to vegetarian and vegan.

Henrietta's red flannel hash is one popular dish. Once the breakfast reincarnation of a colonial New England boiled dinner, red flannel hash from Davis's kitchen is authentic. Carrots, onions, parsnips, turnips, potatoes, and beets (all local) are ground with corned beef, fried until lightly crispy, topped with poached eggs from Chip-in Farm in Bedford, and served with a butter sauce. There's an impressive crackly edge on the hash, a soft pool of poached whites around tender yolks, and a cloud-like consistency to the hollandaise.

"If you want to do breakfast right, you have to have the right products," says Davis. That seems to be a common theme of most chefs, including those on the early shift. At the Sherman Cafe in Somerville's Union Square, owners Karyn Coughlin and Ben Dryer make their own granola, featuring flax seed, wheat germ, oats, hearty dried cherries, apricots, raisins, sunflower seeds, hazelnuts, walnuts, almonds, and a touch of maple syrup. Nothing "you can't pronounce" is in it, says Coughlin. They serve it up in a few big scoops of plain yogurt, and bury it in blueberries and strawberries.

BEGIN THE DAY For a red flannel hash recipe, go to

Finding vegetarian alternatives when eating out is hard enough, but vegan food can often be a real challenge to locate. The Other Side Cafe, named for its location on the end of Newbury Street across Massachusetts Avenue, serves an all-vegan breakfast plate. Tex Mex Tango is made with scrambled tofu, soy cheddar, and jalapenos, and topped with refried beans, tortilla chips, salsa, and guacamole. The dish is served on weekends only, and has a delightfully bizarre tea list, too. Try the pu-erh tea, whose properties purportedly extend from digestion aid to hangover helper.

Exceptional organic, multigrain pancakes filled with berries are on the menu at the Blue Shirt Cafe in Somerville's Davis Square. They're nothing like the extra fluffy white flour jobbies at your local greasy spoon, but they're not supposed to be. Blue Shirt serves healthy breakfast and lunch options such as vegetarian wraps. "There are lots of young people around Davis," says owner Robert Chen. "They care about their health."

These pancakes are hearty, almost nutty, without crossing the line to so-healthy-they're-boring.

At Herrera's Mexican Grill, the breakfast ranchero burrito doesn't even approach that line. It's a hefty package loaded with enough protein to keep you until lunch, possibly dinner. This burrito is stuffed with scrambled eggs, refried beans, cheddar cheese, ham, and chorizo sausage, along with a mild but flavorful red chili sauce. Beware, those softly scrambled eggs are a bit messy by the end.

Rices and sauces are vegetarian. Owner Henry Herrera offers brown rice to the office crowd he serves and he's considering switching to brown entirely.

No one should be without some indulgences, so maybe consider a mug of Herrera's traditional Mexican hot chocolate, made thick and sweet and spicy with real chocolate, cinnamon, and cloves. That should start the day with a bang.

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