There's nothing like a big breakfast for a good bargain

HAPPY EATER

March 23, 1994|By ROB KASPER

For an ordinary, at-home breakfast, I don't eat much. But when entertaining at a restaurant, I believe in strapping on the morning feed bag. The other morning I ate breakfast with a guy I work with, Larry Short, at his favorite feeding spot, Cherylee's Big Bear's Den in Dundalk. We polished off heaping plates of creamed chipped beef on toast with home fries.

It was good. And it was a bargain. Two plates of creamed chipped beef on toast with coffee came to $9 and change. I paid, but as I listened to my companion talk about the essential qualities of a big, restaurant breakfast, I felt like I was the one who was being entertained.

Short has worked at The Sun and The Evening Sun for almost 40 years dispensing newspapers, mail and earthy wisdom. He is a student of the big breakfast. One day at work he promised to introduce me to the fare at his neighborhood restaurant, which he calls "The Bear's Den." After a few false starts, we got in his car and headed to the 7600 block of German Hill Road.

"Not many places you can take your lady for a real breakfast and get out the door for less than $15," Short told me as he drove through East Baltimore. This place, he said, was one of them.

Along the way we discussed what makes a good restaurant breakfast. Price was one component, he said. You don't want to blow a lot of money on breakfast, he said. You want to find a place, like the Bear's Den, where chipped beef and home fries go for about $4 a plate. And, he added, you want to get there early, before 11 o'clock in the morning. After 11, when the kitchen has to switch over to lunch food, the price of breakfast selections goes up 15 cents.

Some customers complain about the 15 cent surcharge, Short said, but not him. He looks at the big picture, two people getting out the door with a lot of food in their stomachs, and only $10- $15 gone from their wallets.

The size of the breakfast portions was also important, Short said. He scorned joints that served puny portions. Like a Fells Point eatery we drove past. "I'll never go back there," he said as he turned onto Broadway.

"Why?" I asked.

"Pigeon eggs," he answered.

"Pigeon eggs? I asked.

"The eggs were so small they looked like they came from pigeons," he explained.

"Oh," I said. We drove on.

A convenient location also matters in picking a good breakfast spot, Short said. One reason he is fond of the Bear's Den is that it is close to his home in the Charlesmont neighborhood of Baltimore County. And so on Saturday or Sunday mornings he can be sitting at the restaurant table a few minutes after walking out his door.

He said he once used to eat a 5 a.m. breakfast -- two eggs, home fries, toast and coffee -- at the Bridge, a small restaurant a few doors down Calvert street from the newspaper. A few years ago, when the newspaper moved its presses and the pre-dawn eaters who run them down to a new plant at Port Covington, the restaurant pushed the starting time of breakfast back to 6 a.m.

Years ago, he said, it was not uncommon to see a fellow drink a beer with his big breakfast. But those days, he added quickly, are long gone.

We drove past the site of his second job, the Triangle Shell Station at Pulaski Highway and Monument Street, where besides ringing up gasoline sales, he sells lottery tickets. Most people who play the lottery, he said, play the same numbers every day.

We slide into our seats at the Bear's Den, a place that apparently got its name from the large number of stuffed bears, big and small, that decorate its walls.

Following Short's advice, I ordered a plate of chipped beef with toast -- not the biscuits. The chipped beef soon arrived. It was all the dish should be. Creamy, hot, strangely soothing. I had the $3.99 portion, which was almost enough food to feed the population of Ohio. Short had the large, $4.75 size, which could feed Texas.

We both cleaned our plates, paid the bill and headed back to work. As we rode along Merritt Boulevard, we discussed the distinguishing characteristics of a good plate of chipped beef.

I said the secret was in the sauce.

He said the freshness of ingredients mattered.

"Some people can't taste the difference between fresh and sittin'," Short said, referring to food that has been sitting on a steam table.

"I can."

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