Pancakes and meringues

Mar 8, 2000 at 12:00 am
Whistle Stop Restaurant: Waitress Elizabeth Kearns serves a cheeseburger and fries - Metro Times Photo / Larry Kaplan
Metro Times Photo / Larry Kaplan
Whistle Stop Restaurant: Waitress Elizabeth Kearns serves a cheeseburger and fries

In ordinary life, when I think of breakfast, I think shredded wheat. I’m a creature of monotonous morning habit; it’s only recently that I switched over from 20 years of Cheerios, the most exciting variation from one day to the next dependent on whether we had any bananas in the house.

But going out to breakfast is a different story. When I think of going out to breakfast, I think of my day-shift foreman from years ago, at Chrysler’s Warren Stamping Plant. Rather a dim bulb, this guy, but sweet. One day he was exulting to one of us underlings over his coming vacation. "Sleep late, take the wife out to breakfast ..." he glowed.

That’s when I realized – one of those light-bulb moments – what a treat going out to breakfast automatically is, even if the food is something you can easily make yourself, and your dining partner is only your spouse of 40 years. Going out to breakfast means you have time for more than a slapdash sprint through the kitchen, and it indicates a willingness to spend money on yourself (for more than a bowl of fiber).

That’s why on weekends you so often see patient lines outside the metro area’s notable breakfast and brunch places, and it’s that way at the Whistle Stop, a small, family run place hidden in a mostly residential, non-tony section of Birmingham.

On a recent sunny Sunday, management had moved chairs onto the sidewalk, so the throng of expectant diners could bask as they waited. Our promised 45-minute wait turned out to be only 25 minutes long, which was a pleasant surprise.

The Whistle Stop’s menu is quite classic: Cheese and meat omelets, giant meat-and-egg plates with names such as "The Engineer" and "The Caboose" (the decor is vaguely rail-related), and pancakes with fruit. Cinnamon roll, French toast — sounds like a winner.

The lunch items are equally traditional: Chef and "julienne" salad, hot turkey sandwiches, Reubens and Dinty Moores, a tuna melt. Maurice salad gets the tagline "You remember the classic! What was that department store?" (Here’s a hint: One of its buildings was imploded a while back.)

Weekend breakfast specials, served all day, are a tad more adventurous: Crab cakes and eggs, breakfast pita, French banana pancakes, a fresh walnut-raisin cinnamon roll.

The Whistle Stop’s claim to fame is that everything is made fresh on the premises. (Well, not absolutely everything, e.g. the OJ.) Chicken noodle soup, for example, is obviously homemade, thick and good, with wide noodles.

The pancake batter, we’re told, is "made fresh daily on site" – one would hope so. The results are fluffy and melt-in-your-mouth.

Reubens are tasty, if not stacked as high as some delis do them.

The Whistle Stop’s other claim to fame is an on-site bakery, which produces the white and wheat breads served in the restaurant.

The tallest meringues I have ever seen are on display behind the counter. You can purchase foot-wide pies for $19 or $20 and cakes for $25-$30 (more for "custom artwork"), even a wedding cake.

The owners recommend the chocolate bumpy cake, with cream bumps on top big enough to slow a car. Now there’s a decadent way to start your day.