Cheap Eats

The pancakes of our dreams

Email|Print| Text size + By Sacha Pfeiffer
August 16, 2007

In corporate parlance, it's called a "lift out": the mass poaching of a group of employees who simultaneously leave one company to work for another. The sought-after workers often have backgrounds in technology or finance, and the financial stakes are usually high.

What in the world does this have to do with a restaurant review? The stakes may be lower, but in the realm of pancakes and omelets there's been some lift-out drama, too.

Last year, when new owners took over the Arlington Restaurant & Diner, a longtime greasy spoon, a waitress named Carolina Guerrero decided to strike out on her own. With financial backing from her mom, she opened a rival restaurant about a half-mile away -- and then hired a half-dozen waitresses from her former employer.

With that, the Broadway Diner was open for business. And even though this breakfast-and-lunch spot is only six months old, it already feels like a neighborhood veteran thanks to the tight-knit staff. The dining room's starkly white walls -- they lack even a smidgen of decor -- make it look like a newcomer that hasn't gotten around to decorating; Guerrero says it's a work in progress.

This is the kind of super family-friendly place where the sociable waitresses don't seem to mind when your 16-month-old nephew rolls grapes off the table and flings pancake onto the floor.

For the most part, tradition reigns. You're not likely to find sweet-potato pancakes, cheese blintzes, or other fancy foods. Breakfast centers around eggs, home fries, pancakes, and waffles; lunch doesn't get much ritzier than tuna melts, grilled cheese sandwiches, and roast turkey clubs.

But breakfast is the reason to come here. The tender buttermilk pancakes ($4.50, or short stack $3) are browned on the edges, and for an extra buck or two you can have chocolate chips, strawberries, blueberries, coconut, or walnuts pressed into the batter. The chocolate chip ones were so good that the 3-year-old even dreamt about them later, and I was crazy about my apple-cinnamon 'cakes ($6.95) oozing with sweet apple-pie filling.

We were wowed by the variety of excellent sauteed veggies -- red onions, spinach, tomato, mushroom, bell peppers, broccoli -- in the fat, fluffy vegetarian omelet ($7.95). And our forks tangled as we jockeyed for bites of banana-nut French toast ($6.95) piled with sliced bananas and walnuts and Challah French toast ($7.50) heaped with beautiful fresh kiwi, mango, and pineapple .

Lunch, though, was a series of disappointments. The bright spot was a deliciously chunky egg-salad sandwich ($3.75). But a BLT ($4.25) was made with a mealy tomato. Minestrone soup ($2.50/$3.50) was overly salty. A grilled chicken sandwich ($6.50) tasted totally unseasoned. Stuffed peppers, a daily special, were watery. A Reuben ($6.95) had a meager layer of corned beef and Swiss cheese that looked as if it had been peeled off a plastic wrapper.

Then there was the feta cheese incident. Our feta-sprinkled Greek salad ($5.55) arrived with the unmistakably pungent odor of turned cheese. A nibble confirmed it. When we told our waitress, she took the salad away to consult with the cook, then returned with surprising news.

"He says it's fine," she said apologetically. "I feel bad, but the owner's not here so I can't take it off the bill."

The lesson: stick with breakfast. It's where the Broadway Diner excels.


Cuisine: American

Address: 117 Broadway, Arlington

Phone: 781-781-1692

Hours: Mon-Sat 6:30 a.m.-3 p.m., Sun 6:30 a.m.-2 p.m. (only breakfast on Sunday)

Prices: $2.25-$9.95.

Comments: Liquor: None.

May We Suggest: Pancakes (especially chocolate chip or apple-cinnamon), vegetarian omelet, Challah French toast with mixed fruit, egg salad.

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