TURKISH DELIGHT Sofra, in Cambridge, is the handiwork of Ana Sortun and Maura Kilpatrick.
Sofra, in Cambridge, is the handiwork of Ana Sortun and Maura Kilpatrick. (Photographsby Anthony Tieuli)

Rise. Shine. Eat!

From the simple (scrambled eggs, bacon, wheat toast, and home fries) to the sublime (glazed whitefish tacos with pickled cabbage, carrots, and mango), we deliver the best breakfast foods from Boston and beyond.

By Globe staff and correspondents
November 16, 2008
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Fans of The Spot Cafe wax about its Parisian flavor and European bread. We like it for a more all-American reason: pancakes. Specifically, the place makes fluffy platter-sized chocolate-chip pancakes that many kids have pronounced the best. They love how they taste and look, especially when the kitchen uses whipped cream and strawberries to dress them up into a happy face, leading to happy chocolate-smeared faces all around.

The Spot Cafe, 385 Main Street, Watertown, 617-923-2339

It's called Greens, Eggs, and Ham, but really this dish is what Starbucks wanted its eggs Florentine to be: perfectly sauteed spinach, one buttery fried egg, a fresh roll, and crunchy bacon that gets stuck in your teeth. The Hi Rise Bread Company version has double-smoked bacon (that's the "ham"), is served on a delicious grilled potato-bread roll, and costs $7 (and is worth every penny).

Hi Rise Bread Company, 208 Concord Avenue, Cambridge, 617-876-8766

The steamed chopped pork ribs in black bean sauce has sour flavors enhanced by fresh ginger, garlic, and onions. This dim sum dish is cooked to perfection at China Pearl, where, served on the bone in a sauce that balances the sweetness of the onions and pork with the saltiness of the fermented black beans, you are transported straight to Canton.

China Pearl, 9 Tyler Street, Boston, 617-426-4338

Large and slightly misshapen, with plenty of sliced bananas scattered on top, Sorella's banana pancakes aren't much to look at. But each bite reveals a moist, not-too-sweet homemade batter filled with more chunky banana pieces, which taste fresh, as if they were woven straight into the cakes post-griddle.

Sorella's, 388 Centre Street, Jamaica Plain, 617-524-2016

That fast-food favorite, the Egg McMuffin, comes mercifully camouflaged as slow food at Sound Bites. Using a thick grilled English muffin, a sloppy-edged fried egg, gooey squares of white American cheese, juicy rounds of Canadian bacon, and less salt, this local take on a childhood favorite lets you kid yourself that your tastes have matured and that this is an adult breakfast, not a Kiddie Meal.

Sound Bites Cafe, 704 Broadway, Somerville. 617-623-8338

rmont, it's a plate just full of surprises.

Deluxe Town Diner, 627 Mount Auburn Street, Watertown, 617-926-8400,

Two slabs of thick Texas toast made from Iggy's lush brioche have a light and creamy interior and a thin crispy exterior at Masa. Piped into the middle of the bread are mashed bananas with vanilla, cinnamon, and heavy cream that are all caramelized, then it's crusted with almost a "lounge mix" of crushed salted nuts, deep-fried in a flash, and served sitting in a pool of the dulce de leche syrup. Decadent, yes. Delicious, yes!

Masa, 439 Tremont Street, Boston, 617-338-8884,

The chicken-and-waffles combo is a soul-food classic from the jazz years of Harlem as a favorite late-night, early-morning weekend brunch. Here at the Biltmore, it's dished up just right: perfect fried chicken, buttermilk Belgian waffles with a touch of fresh cider, real maple syrup, and butter.

The Biltmore Bar & Grille, 1205 Chestnut Street, Newton Upper Falls, 617-527-2550

Give the eggs a rest and let seafood reign at your next brunch with East Coast Grill's Beach Tacos: three soft flour tortillas are topped with large chunks of pasilla-glazed whitefish, shredded pickled cabbage and carrots, and cubes of mango. The fish is slightly sweet with a mild spice, the vegetables are tangy, the mango is sweet, and the combination is uniquely delicious.

East Coast Grill, 1271 Cambridge Street, Cambridge, 617-491-6568,

Centre Street Cafe owner Felicia Sanchez re-creates the waffles she lovingly remembers from her childhood by making them with yeast that has fermented overnight. The result is a lighter, more-crispy, less sugary-sweet waffle. Two waffles per order provide the perfect surface for a heaping pile of fresh fruit and drizzles of real maple syrup. Leggo my yeast-raised waffle!

Centre Street Cafe 669A Centre Street, Jamaica Plain, 617-524-9217

Joanne's Pop Tarts at Tremont 647 resemble that stiff, sweet, and crumbly pastry in name only. A piping-hot thick and flaky crust encases fillings to match the season; right now, it's spiced apple or pumpkin. A gooey white fondant covers the top, and a splash of colorful sprinkles adds crunch. If you'd had these as a kid, you would never have appreciated the pure goodness.

Tremont 647, 647 Tremont Street, Boston, 617-266-4600,

At Highland Kitchen in Somerville, the house-smoked barbecued pork shoulder is shredded and tossed with chunks of potato, carrot, celery, and onion that have been sauteed in bacon fat and garlic and then slow cooked with heavy cream and chicken broth. That's not brunch, you say? Don't forget the two fried eggs, a mound of sauteed collard greens, and extra barbeque sauce added to the smoked pork hash. Ahh, now it is. Burp.

Highland Kitchen, 150 Highland Avenue, Somerville, 617-625-1131Forget those powdery, overly sweet instant-oatmeal packets. At Johnny D's, there's always a big pot of slow-cooked creamy real oatmeal ready to go on weekends. Sprinkle on a little brown sugar, splash on some milk, scoop up a just-sticky-enough spoonful, and enjoy. With live jazz on the side, it's such a comforting way to tug yourself into the day that you might think you're still in your pj's.

Johnny D's Uptown Restaurant & Music Club, 17 Holland Street, Somerville. 617-776-2004,

For the best smoked whitefish platter around, take a number (literally) on the weekends at the popular S&S Restaurant in Inman Square. The platter arrives piled high with the center cut of whitefish atop leaves of lettuce with hearty slices of tomato, cucumber, red onion, wedges of hard boiled egg, and a bagel and cream cheese.

S&S Restaurant,1334 Cambridge Street, Cambridge, 617-354-0777,

Remember all those tacky brunch buffets you hit in college and left feeling ill? This is not that. Decadence at its finest is on display at each of Cafe Fleuri's many buffet tables showcasing classic brunch dishes. This fall, seek out the sugar-dusted farmer's-cheese blintzes, served with an apple-raisin compote.

Cafe Fleuri, 250 Franklin Street, Boston, 617-451-1900 ext. 7125,

The only way to improve on the classic eggs Benedict is to try the salmon version at Sky in Norwood. You've got the buttery toasted English muffin, the silky heap of smoked salmon, and the soft poached egg, drizzled with a generous amount of lemony Hollandaise sauce. It's all custom made while you cruise the rest of the stunning Sunday brunch buffet.

Sky, 1369 Boston-Providence Highway (Route 1), Norwood, 781-255-8888,

Pancakes at Dante in Cambridge get a boost of flavor from white cornmeal and an infusion of creaminess from the buttermilk and mascarpone in the batter. Slather the flapjacks with the salted-butter gelato, and you just may forget all about the dark amber syrup on the table. But that would be a mistake. The rich syrup is made from sap tapped straight from maple trees on the family farm in Vermont.

Dante, 40 Edwin H. Land Boulevard, Cambridge, 617-497-4200,

The brunch scene at Stella snuck up on us and is now officially a place to see and be seen. The draw is the restaurant's pasta special. Chef Evan Deluty makes the noodles in-house, so they're fresh and firm, never mushy. The day we visited, the linguini came with a carbonara sauce studded with crispy chopped pancetta and topped with a soft poached egg. Poke open the egg, and the yolk drizzles into the dish, making for an even creamier texture. We love that last touch, and we love that the carbonara somehow feels light in the tummy but still rich on the tongue.

Stella, 1525 Washington Street, 617-247-7747,

It starts with the bread at Johnny's Luncheonette in Newton Centre. Challah, sliced thick, is dipped first in egg batter and next in a mixture of cereal, chopped walnuts, almonds, cinnamon, and sugar, and then it hits the hot griddle. By the time it lands on your plate, the sweet and crunchy combo is dangerous upon consumption and guaranteed to have you coming back again. And again.

Johnny's Luncheonette, 30 Langley Road, Newton Centre, 617-527-3223,

Made to order -- rather than plucked, possibly hours-old, from a cart -- the dim sum at Winsor Dim Sum Cafe earns raves for its freshness. The cafe's take on a Chinese breakfast staple, the steamed pork bun, is soft, pillowy, and comforting; the fried version is even better, an addictive combination of crunchy, savory, and sweet.

Winsor Dim Sum Cafe, 10 Tyler Street, Boston, 617-338-1688

Mike's City Diner vs. Charlie's Sandwich ShoppeIn a face-off between these two South End institutions, we compared the simplest of breakfasts to see who keeps it real the best: bacon, scrambled eggs, wheat toast, and a side of home fries. Both places delivered generous helpings of not-too-crispy bacon and well-cooked eggs, with neither standing out. But when it came to the carbs, the differences were dramatic. Charlie's lumpy home fries, which seem lighter and actually taste like potatoes, easily bested the slightly crisper, seasoned variety at Mike's. But Mike's softer buttery toast easily trumped Charlie's tiny overdone triangles. Bonus points to Mike's for making great wheat toast give it the slight edge, though the celebrity pictures on Charlie's walls make a visit just as worthwhile.

Mike's City Diner, 1714 Washington Street, Boston, 617-267-9393, mikescitydiner.comCharlie's Sandwich Shoppe, 429 Columbus Avenue, Boston, 617-536-7669

For the best full Irish breakfast this side of the Atlantic, you need only go as far as the Wheelhouse Diner in Quincy. An Irish butcher in Stoughton provides the rashers, bangers, black sausage, and white sausage, and it's all cooked up in just one order. Two eggs, grilled tomatoes, home fries, and toast (Irish soda bread is extra) round out the straight-from-the-homeland feast.

Wheelhouse Diner, 453 Hancock Street, Quincy, 617-328-3666

The crew at The Paramount knows omelets. It cranks out hundreds each week, cafeteria style, with great efficiency and rarely a false step for weekend crowds and weekday regulars. Each one is fluffy and light, with just enough residual buttery, bacony flavor (you know you love it) from the griddle. Filling choices aren't fancy, nor should they be. Go with ham and cheese or feta, spinach, and tomato and appreciate the art of the omelet.

The Paramount, 44 Charles Street, Boston, 617-720-1152,

Think of arepas as Venezuela's warm, fluffy, oh-so-comforting answer to the breakfast biscuit, and at Viva Mi Arepa, these addictive corn muffins made with delicate, specialty cornmeal are as good as any you'll find in Caracas. About the shape and size of a MoonPie, the arepas are made to order, and the resulting billowy treat is served hot off the grill. It's soft and doughy on the inside, slightly chewy on the outside, and oozing with mild white farmer's cheese.

Viva Mi Arepa, 5197 Washington Street, West Roxbury, 617-323-7844

How can a boiled egg be so good? Because it's put in the hands of Ana Sortun and Maura Kilpatrick, who are running Sortun's newest spot, Sofra, in Cambridge. Here, in their "Turkish Breakfast," a perfect boiled egg, still soft in the middle, is shrouded in a crispy nest of katafi (shredded phyllo) and comes with tomato jam, cukes, oil-cured black olives, two squares of panko-crusted quick-fried French feta, and a dollop of Greek yogurt surrounded by roasted fresh figs. It's an egg like you've never had it.

Sofra Bakery and Cafe, 1 Belmont Street, Cambridge, 617-661-3161,

Written by Abby Bielagus, Deblina Chakraborty, Bella English, Scott Haas, Christie Matheson, Janice O'Leary, Neil Swidey, Denise Taylor, and Rachel Travers

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