Top Of The Morning

Rise And Shine With Gus Balon's Down-Home Cooking.
By Rebecca Cook

FOR YEARS THE sage advice of parents everywhere has been to pay attention to the first and most important meal of the day, breakfast. Most of us grew up nodding our heads while gulping down a quick bowl of cold cereal or grabbing a donut from the break room.

Chow While possibly not in the best interests of our bodies, there is nevertheless at least one advantage to this haphazard approach to the day's introductory meal: Breakfast, long neglected, becomes something truly special, reserved for those singular occasions like getting together with an old friend, celebrating a child's birthday or Sunday brunching after church (or a particularly taxing Saturday night, depending on which altar you happen to bow to.)

Restaurants that serve extraordinary breakfast fare have worked their way into my heart as places worthy of particular note. These establishments need not be fancy, nor demonstrate anything nouvelle or innovative on their menus. They just need to do justice to the beginning of another day.

Welcome to Gus Balon's, an eastside restaurant that knows how to honor the tradition of hearty breakfasts served up with a dollop of down-home friendliness.

The restaurant's namesake started his career in a rented space called Gus' Catalina on East Grant Road. When land, money and time became available in 1966, Balon built a new restaurant from the ground up at the present location on East 22nd Street, and it's been a going concern ever since.

For years I drove past this place idly wondering why the parking lot was perpetually packed, and settled on a theory involving off-track betting or some other gambling activity. I couldn't have been more wrong--at Gus Balon's the most illicit activity underway is eggs fried in real butter.

Present owner Frank Fling, Balon's son-in-law, took over the business about 16 years ago. He says it was passed on to him with one stipulation only:

"My father-in-law said I could keep the name of the place as long as I didn't change anything," he says.

Although I wasn't around when the door first opened for business back in 1966, it isn't hard to believe that not much has changed since then, including the prices. The most expensive item on the breakfast menu, and that's only if you really want to splurge, is the New York strip steak and eggs for $5.80.

But, even though the prices are imminently affordable, it's definitely the food that keeps Gus Balon's filled to the rafters with return customers.

Gus Balon's makes all their own breads, sweet rolls and pies, a fact that makes many of the dishes resonate with an appealing homemade quality.

Take the French toast ($2.85), a deceptively simple acrobatic balance of taste, texture and consistency. Slices of homemade white bread dipped (not soaked) in egg batter and then lightly fried in butter. It shouldn't be this good, but somehow it satisfies on a profound level.

Those eggs fried in butter are fresh, delicious and good-sized, with mustard-yellow yolks cooked to order and offered in combination with any number of meats, including bacon, sausage, ham, pork chops, ground steak or New York strip steak ($3.25 to $5.80).

Daily breakfast specials will keep you from the morning rut, from fluffy blueberry pancakes ($3.25) to a golden, platter-sized Spanish omelet stuffed with green peppers, onions, tomatoes and cheddar cheese ($3.85).

Not to be missed at Gus Balon's are the homemade cinnamon rolls, which are enormous (generously flopping over the sides of your plate), sweet, yeasty and lightly frosted with a vanilla glaze. If sweet rolls are your thing, Gus Balon's constitutes a confectionery trip down memory lane.

While breakfast is indubitably the focus, lunch is not completely forgotten at Gus Balon's. If you don't feel like brunching it, the restaurant offers a daily lunch special. The menu changes daily, but you might find Polish sausage and sauerkraut, or roast turkey with dressing. The midday Saturday standard, however, is always baked chicken and dressing.

Always on the lookout for good pie, I was more than pleased with the varieties offered at Gus Balon's, which include numerous fruit and cream options. A light, flaky crust--the key to a decent pie experience--encased both a chocolate cream and a blueberry sample, both of which far surpass any other recent forays of mine into this dying craft of the American diner.

The veteran staff goes out of its way to take good care of you and make you feel at home. Beverages are included in the cost of your meal, and the cup or glass at your table is never allowed to go empty.

Be forewarned the place closes down in mid-July and doesn't reopen until the middle of August, giving everyone about five weeks off a year. The restaurant is also closed Thanksgiving weekend and the week between Christmas and New Year's.

So listen to your mother. Eat your breakfast--and enjoy a large dose of TLC besides--at Gus Balon's today.

Gus Balon's Restaurant. 6027 E. 22nd St. 748-9731. Open 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Closed Sundays and holidays. No liquor. Cash or local checks with guarantee card. Menu items $1.85-$5.80. TW

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