"Hope is a good breakfast," said the aptly named Francis Bacon. The same might be said of good breakfast restaurants, which constitute a class of their own. While going out to eat is the last thing that occurs to some of us in the morning, for another, sizeable part of the population, the arrival of a good breakfast spot is cause for celebration.
Celebration is what you get at Good Morning Mama's Café (1001 E. 54th St.), a new venture by Carole and Howard Leuer, the good folks behind Mama Carolla's, the Italian restaurant next door. Once again, the Leuers have bucked conventional wisdom and transformed a sow's ear of a site into the architectural equivalent of a silk purse. In this case, they've taken hold of what used to be a funky garage for import car repairs and given it a lively makeover that's a fantasia on a '50s theme employing bright, primary colors, chrome embellishments, and plenty of Fiesta Ware. If I'm not mistaken, those are the Leuers themselves in a wall painting of a tailfinned pink Caddy zooming off toward an unspecified horizon.
Morning light blasts in through oversized windows, Disneyesque paintings of the Bluebird of Happiness hang from the ceiling and the voices of the many diners who have discovered this place bounce off the walls, creating a convivial racket. This is probably not the best spot to nurse a hangover.
Good Morning Mama's provides high test fuel in a sociable setting. The breakfast menu (served until 11:30 a.m., except for Sundays, when the offerings last into the afternoon) offers all the traditional dishes - eggs, pancakes, French toast, bacon, etc. - but there are also some original combinations. You can get scrambled eggs and pasta with Parmesan Reggiano cheese, for example (Pasta Mama, $6.95), or eggs with Pomodoro sauce and sweet basil (Eggs in Purgatory, $6.95). There's a "1940's Omelet" ($6.95) made with fried Spam, onions and Cheese Whiz with a drizzled Marinara sauce.
We chose a more traditional path. I ordered Pancakes and More ($7.95), a combination with two pancakes, two eggs (I asked for sunnyside up), fried potatoes and bacon. It took two plates to hold it all, those pancakes practically hanging over the side of their Fiesta Ware platform. Figuring out how to combine everything without making a mess was a little like making out in a vintage MG with a stick shift - an ergonomic challenge, but definitely worth the effort. The pancakes were light and fluffy, the eggs cooked to perfection, the bacon was crisp and those potatoes were finely sliced and fully seared.
The Vegetarian Omelet ($7.95) was loaded with goat cheese and good-sized chunks of portabella mushrooms tomato, onion and spinach shreds with a basil pesto topping. The eggs were airy and the flavors of the filling were blended, not blurred.
The coffee, served in deep mugs, was rich enough to get your attention, but smooth. Our attentive server kept it coming.
We'll have to try Good Morning Mama's Café's lunch menu sometime - if hope is a good breakfast, we'll take it on faith her midday meal, where soups, salads and sandwiches hold sway, will be worth the trip.