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COVER STORY : What's for Breakfast : Menus at Valley cafes range from hip--two-bean hash--to hearty--golden hash browns.

February 05, 1993|MAX JACOBSON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Max Jacobson writes regularly about restaurants for The Times

Breakfast in America has always meant an artful balance of regional products, ethnic passions and plain old good sense. Most of us tend to make it the most regimented meal of our day.

Valley restaurants that serve good breakfasts offer a tempting variety of foods: bagels, protein drinks, huevos rancheros and plenty of the basics. Forgive me for omitting good cafes such as Joe, Insomnia Cafe and The Coffee Roaster. We'll save coffee bars for a future feature.

My Holy Grail breakfast is still nearly impossible to find: a steaming stack of great pancakes slathered with soft butter and real maple syrup alongside a foamy caffe latte. No self-respecting American breakfast joint, even in the trendiest area, pours anything besides drip, and I've yet to see an espresso bar with a grill cook.

You won't find espresso at Bobby's in Woodland Hills, and don't bother asking for biscotti, either. This is the coffee shop extraordinaire, a truck-stop style West Valley institution where lines at the door are as common as coffee grinds. A couple in line one Saturday claimed to have come all the way from Johannesburg, South Africa, just for a plate of Bobby's hash browns.

Call this place early grunge. Tables are dreary Formica, chairs are rigid and straight-backed, dishes have been used so often they have developed permanent discoloration. And the breakfasts, natch, are straight from foodie heaven.

Just eyeball this grill, jammed to the edges with little golden haystacks of potatoes, rows of sizzling bacon and a chicken house worth of eggs, and you'll see for yourself. $3.28 buys you a bottomless cup of American coffee, three slices of a top-grade, extra-crisp bacon, two eggs any style, a pile of hash browns, toast and jam. Good, fluffy pancakes come four to an order (two for a short stack,) with lots of butter and your own heated plastic syrup bottle.

The orange juice may not be fresh squeezed, but it's a good brand and it is served icy cold. Waitresses are real pros here, incidentally, and do not exude patience. Be ready to order when they unfurl their pads.

Bobby's, 22821 Ventura Blvd., Woodland Hills. (818) 225-1324. 5:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday-Friday, 6 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday, 7 a.m.-3 p.m. Sunday. Cash only.

How about a nice piece of fish and a glass of tea, instead? At Brent's in Northridge, you can gorge yourself on Jewish-style breakfasts like homemade blintzes with strawberry preserves, thick potato pancakes with cherry applesauce and enormous platters of smoked fish alongside bagels, cream cheese and trimmings like half-sour pickles and slices of tomato and onion.

Brent's has a terrible beauty--a glittery, bluish counter offset by light green vinyl banquettes, swap meet fans and garish coffee shop lighting. It's lively in here, too, especially on weekends.

That's when folks come for things like their Sunday special brunch--two eggs any style, a choice of smoked fish, cream cheese, tomatoes, onions, pickles, home fries and all the coffee you can drink for only $9.95. Step up to $21.95 and bring a friend, then you can order the restaurant's super fish buffet, four bagels, an enormous mound of cream cheese, creamed herring, lox, smoked cod, whole whitefish, potato salad, cole slaw, fresh squeezed orange juice and coffee. Diet, schmiet.

Brent's, 19565 Parthenia St., Northridge. (818) 886-5679. 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily. American Express, Discover, MasterCard and Visa.

Breakfast at Dupar's in Studio City is notable for good huevos rancheros, great pancakes and the most edible doughnuts in town. (Edible doughnuts being, in my vocabulary at least, somewhat of an oxymoron.)

The crowd frequenting the Studio City store lacks the bizarre eclecticism of the Farmer's Market branch (another is in Glendale), but breakfasts are exactly the same, here served by a team of hardy, cheerful waitresses sporting funny little carhop-style hats.

Dupar's pancakes are served with a choice of maple or boysenberry syrup. It's the texture that makes them the best around. Dupar's batter is so good they sell it ($4.65 for a large Styrofoam coffee cup's worth that could serve four). These pancakes are yeasty, chewy and uniformly golden brown on the surface. They are available with melted butter, but they stand up quite well on their own.

The saucy rancheros come with great Ortega chilies, melted cheese and avocado spread to add richness, and there's a puffy, oversized Denver omelet with a hand-chopped mix of ham, peppers and onions in the center. My favorite doughnut here is the cinnamon cake--dense, crumbly and dangerously powdery when eaten too fast.

Dupar's, 12036 Ventura Blvd., Studio City, (818) 766-4437. 6 a.m.-1 a.m. Sunday-Thursday, 6 a.m.-4 a.m. Friday-Saturday. American Express, Discover, MasterCard and Visa.

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