Woman's Industrial Exchange, 333 N. Charles St., (410) 685-4388. Open Mondays to Fridays for breakfast. No credit cards. No-smoking area: yes. Wheelchair access: no.
Morning Edition Cafe, Patterson Park Avenue at Fayette Street, (410) 732-5133. Open Thursdays to Sundays for breakfast. MC, V. No-smoking area: yes. Wheelchair access: no.
Breakfast is an overlooked meal these days. Too many of us grab a slice of toast as we head out the door, in spite of what our mothers told us about starting the day right. Every once in a while, though, you wish you knew about a restaurant that serves a good breakfast. Not brunch. Breakfast.
Here, then, are two breakfast places that have their own small-scale charm.
THE WOMAN'S INDUSTRIAL EXCHANGE is known as a homey lunch spot, a sort of time capsule with food and atmosphere from a different, and gentler, era. It's not so widely known that the Exchange serves breakfast, starting at 7 a.m. Mondays to Fridays.
Is anyone in Baltimore not familiar with this genteel tearoom? Its deferential doorman? The shop in front that sells hand-crocheted afghans and cross-stitched christening gowns? The 90-year-old waitress who's better at her job than many 50 years younger? The scuffed black and white linoleum floor, the faded mural and the plain little tables?
At lunchtime the Woman's Industrial Exchange is often crowded and noisy, but at breakfast the mood is much more leisurely. I'm not sure why it even opens for breakfast. There are just enough customers for one waitress to handle with ease -- and she serves as cashier as well. (In fact, one morning when the cook called in sick, she made us a bacon and egg sandwich and an order of toast.)
While the menu isn't normally as limited as that, it is limited. But simple food is sometimes exactly what you want at breakfast. Fresh eggs ($1.75) were scrambled deliciously soft, and didn't taste as if they had been cooked in day-old grease. Crusty home-fried potatoes came on the side. Be sure to have a biscuit with your eggs instead of toast; they're so charmingly misshapen they have to be homemade, and are wonderfully short and tender. Excellent, mildly spiced link sausages ($1.40) were split and grilled so they weren't a bit greasy.
While the menu promises weekly breakfast specials, what that translates to is -- according to our waitress, Charlotte -- "Sometimes we have creamed chip beef on Wednesdays." No, thank you. I'll settle for "petite pancakes," juice and tea or coffee for $2.25. The pancakes were hardly my idea of petite -- they were almost as big as the plate -- very plain but tender and tasting made-from-scratch. Coffee isn't extraordinary, but it is good and hot and keeps on coming.
THE MORNING EDITION CAFE invented the word funky. It has a slightly fantastical air to it, even at 9 in the morning when it opens. The dim little rooms are an offbeat collection of antiques, junk (maybe I should spell it junque), memorabilia, mismatched chairs with the paint peeling off, a neon rainbow. Dried vine sprinkled with tiny white lights twines around the walls -- left over from Christmas, I suppose, but you feel like you're eating breakfast in Sleeping Beauty's castle with the thicket growing over you.
Breakfast is not a meal taken lightly at the Morning Edition, as you might guess from the name of the cafe. The food isn't polished, but it is inventive.
The French toast ($3.85), made with French bread and a touch of orange, was delicious. But the bread was chewy and tough -- something I was willing to put up with because the flavor was so good, but not everyone might. Why anyone would serve French toast with home fries I'm not sure, but the Morning Edition does. The potatoes tasted just a little gritty, as if they hadn't been scrubbed enough.
Fifteen or so omelets are listed on the menu; the one we tried ($6.50) was filled with three cheeses (Montrachet, Parmesan and ricotta), fresh spinach and mushrooms. The combination worked better than it may sound. Pine nuts added a nice crunch, and the softly melting cheeses gave it the right texture even though the eggs were cooked quite firm. Alas, like the potatoes, the spinach hadn't been washed thoroughly enough, so the omelet was disconcertingly gritty in a few places.
We were so early, we were told, the scrapple hadn't come in yet (not many customers, apparently, turn up at 9); but a side order of bacon ($1) had a good smoky flavor. I had highly seasoned sausage ($1.25) -- too seasoned for me at breakfast -- with the French toast, and my friend substituted chunky slices of good, homemade cinnamon-raisin toast ($1.65) for the toast that came with the omelet.
Morning Edition has freshly brewed coffee, of course, plus higher-quality-than-usual orange juice, various flavors of mimosas if you want to start drinking early, and just about any kind of tea bag you can think of.