It's funny -- and some what Albany like -- that my favorite place to take my 4-year-old daughters to breakfast is also the place I would go if I were finishing an all night bar crawl and looking for 4-am pancakes to soak up the evening's martinis. (Not that I have much call for post-crawl breakfasts anymore, but a girl can dream right?)
Cafe 217 on Delaware starts the day at 9 p.m. and closes the next day at 2 p.m. As a night person trapped in a world that insists on sunshine with my coffee, I appreciate Cafe 217 for its contrary hours and probably would have been satisfied with a butter-soaked-burnt-toast kinda joint. So I was surprised to walk in and see cloth napkins, stylish plates and flowers.
Cafe 217 may be the only area breakfast spot with a bouncer, but owner Susie Carrk says they haven't had any trouble. My theory is that she has managed to fend off any bad behavior with the soft lighting, warm Mediterranean paintings and the candles. It's just not the kind of place that screams "trash me."
The menu offers Eggs Benedict and specialty pancakes topped with fresh fruit and a daily quiche special. For those looking for a little more grease, there is a meaty hash and eggs and an egg BLT, any style egg (I would recommend over easy) served with bacon, lettuce, tomato and mayo on a grilled hard roll. The food is good, basic breakfast fare in a warm friendly environment. I'm picky about poached eggs, and they've been done well each time I've had them -- soft, velvety insides, tender whites that hold together but aren't rubbery. The scrambled eggs and omelettes are cooked a bit hard for my taste. If you like then soft, ask for it.
Good service goes a long way at any restaurant, but for a breakfast place it's a deal breaker, especially for us night folks who are still trying to reconcile the fact that we aren't in bed with the blinds drawn.
Most mornings, you'll be greeted by Susie, who some how manages to be friendly and remember your kids' names even though she's probably somewhere in the middle of another 18-hour day. Susie also owns Susie's, the neighborhood bar just down the street from Cafe 217. She is still manning the bar at Susie's a couple nights a week and then covering most of the shifts at Cafe 217.
I feel for her. I pretty much lost my mind the first year after having premature twins, and I can only imagine running between twin businesses. In a brief moment of rest, she sat down and confessed to bone-aching fatigue. But a few minutes later she was up, coffee pot in hand, greeting customers and chatting with the kind of neighborly warmth that makes you want to come back to a place just to be included. She figures it should take about a year to get the cafe rolling, and then she will be able to let up a bit.
I wonder, though. Susie will be the first to tell you that she watches every detail from the crispness of the home fries to the spotless floors. "I want to make sure I'm there to oversee it," she said. It shows. Take the home fries, which are an above average version of this east coast breakfast stable.
As a west coaster, I'm always wishing places would make hash browns, and I've never really understood the whole home-fries thing. Often they are unevenly seasoned and mushy, or, in other cases, dry little bits of tasteless potatoes. (Case in point, a recent visit to the reopened Cafe Madison, an Albany breakfast institution. The home fries left me thinking maybe it wouldn't be so hard to cut back on carbs. OK, their bread is still the bomb, but the home fries ...)
Well, Cafe 217's home fries may convert me. They are nicely browned and crispy on the outside, soft on the inside and full of flavor. Timmy, the guy who runs the kitchen, tells me he is thinking about hash browns, too. Please, Timmy, please.
The cafe sometimes runs a wait after the bars close, but the 8 -10 am morning hours are mellower, a nice thing when you have a hungry 4-year-old in tow. Kids are welcome and you feel it.
I brought Bean for breakfast a few weeks ago. Susie came over to greet us with crayons and a coloring book. I mentioned how much the girls liked to have one-on-one time with mommy. My daughter looked up at Susie and said in her most world-weary voice, "I just really needed a break from my annoying sister."
So much for quality mommy time. The following week, I brought Rae who loved the coloring books and the big cushy booths. Stay upright in a chair is still not her strong point.
(I'm not sure whether adults can have the coloring books, too. I suppose you could try asking really nice. There is fairy one, and I think I saw something about Sponge Bob. )
Both my girls ordered oatmeal, which came topped with a generous portion of fresh strawberries and blueberries. Their drinks came in kiddy-cups with lids, a nice touch that made it easier for me to relax and enjoy the meal.
All in all, Cafe 217 is everything a neighborhood spot should be, and at times, much better than you might expect.
Cafe 217 has a lunch menu as well, although I haven't tried it. Burgers are beef or turkey and there are wraps, soups and salads as well as late nights favs like wings and nachos. Alas, no chocolate milkshakes to dip the 3-am fries into, though.
Most dishes on the breakfast and lunch menus are in the $4 -$8 range.
12 1/2 Delaware Avenue
Albany, NY 12210
Phone: (518) 462-0050
Closed Monday and Tuesday
Open Wednesday -Sunday
9 p.m. through 2 p.m.
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