The roadside sign still reads Eye Opener Diner but, because of legalities, the name of this excellent little place has been changed to the Red Eye Diner (the sign will eventually be replaced). For years its breakfasts drew a clientele from the most distant suburbs, but after it was sold a few years ago, it slid downhill, and finally closed.
Now the original owners are back and breakfast mavens all over town are celebrating.
It's in a free-standing building just this side of the Perimeter Highway, and, despite the sign, is very easy to miss (it sort of sneaks up on you). The cheery interior must have been freshened up over the years, but seems unchanged -- a shiny, retro-diner decor with a classic counter-and-stool set-up, chairs and booths comfortably padded with gold-speckled tomato-red vinyl, and vintage black-and-white photos of long-gone movie stars on the white walls. It is open daily at 8 a.m. (9 a.m. on Sundays) and takes orders until 2 p.m. only. On the other hand, it remains open on most holidays (but will be closed on long weekends during the summer).
Almost everything is made from scratch, with fresh local ingredients whenever possible, including the luscious jams, which come in pretty little ceramic pots (for sale in jars as well). The Vita Health eggs are free-run and organic, the coffee always tastes freshly made and the refills are endless.
There are a few rarities among the more usual, familiar breakfasts. Fresh pickerel, for instance, which isn't on the printed menu but turns up often as a daily special. Sweet-fleshed and moist, it is simply sautéed, and simply delicious. As a breakfast dish, it is paired with eggs and hash browns; at lunch it comes with terrific crunchy fries.
Eggs Benedict come with good hash browns and a generous bowl of various fresh fruits. You can have the classic Benedict with ham, alternately with bacon, or with fresh wild salmon and asparagus ($12 to $13). Three-egg omelets aren't fluffy, but they are tasty and satisfying -- some are such standards as ham and cheddar, a Denver or a western, but there are also trendier specials, i.e. with goat cheese (and plenty of it) and freshly cooked spinach, all with hash browns and toast ($12 to $14).
Classic Breakfasts range from $5 for two eggs to $14 for a six-ounce AAA sirloin, both with hash browns and toast, and include such other options as a croissant stuffed with scrambled eggs, bacon and cheddar, with a fruit bowl on the side; the North End Special of two eggs with kubasa and potato pancakes; and French toast and buttermilk pancakes.
I found the potato pancakes -- made with mashed instead of grated raw potatoes -- too dry, but one day's special of blueberry pancakes was heavenly. Four of us had planned to share an order for dessert but (and it's in the nature of the wonderful service here) instead of bringing us a stack, they prepared four small ones so we each had our own little pancake -- so good it never occurred to us to add syrup.
The Red Eye may be best known for its breakfasts, but it's also a good place for lunch. Burgers don't come much better than the Swiss burger -- a big, juicy patty of flavourful beef, decked out with sautéed mushrooms, onions and melted Swiss cheese on a dense, eggy bun ($13, with fries). Classic Sandwiches range from $4 to $5.50, among them, our almost inch-thick country ham sandwich with lettuce. Other choices include corned beef, roast beef and a BLT. A top-notch Reuben is listed under Specialty Sandwiches, which cost from $12 to $13, and come with both soup of the day and fries. Other Specialty listings are a clubhouse of grilled chicken, ham and bacon on a ciabatta bun, a steak sandwich on garlic toast and a hot-beef sandwich on Texas toast with gravy.
Soups vary from day to day, and the two I tried were delicious: a lightly creamed seafood chowder that was packed with an assortment of fish, as well as shrimp and crabmeat; and a savoury potato soup with bits of sausage ($4.50 to $6).
There was only one pastry in the showcase on my visits, but it was a great one -- an exceptional lemon meringue tart, tasting of fresh lemon, with a fine crust and an almost gossamer meringue topping. On other days, there might be banana cream tart, blueberry banana or raspberry cheesecake tarts or banana bread ($4 to $5).
The vibes are downright jolly. The Red Eye is a family affair run by Janet and Fred Bauer, assisted by daughter Sarah and a staff that seem to be part of the family, who are all so welcoming and attentive you may feel like part of the family, too. Reservations aren't accepted, but the service is brisk and the turnover fairly rapid so you'll never have long to wait. If you like lingering, time your visit for after the breakfast or lunch rushes.
Cash or debit cards only.