When it comes to breakfast joints, which comes first? The location or the menu? Portions or prices? A place that’s “in” or one where the servers know your name?
“Is this place any good?” Rob McGill of Melrose asked a woman, standing patiently in a line outside the Iron Town Diner in Saugus off the Lynn Fells Parkway.
A regular, she raved to him about the Portuguese sweet bread French toast.
McGill seemed disappointed. “I’ve been looking for a good breakfast place,” he said, looking down at his cardboard tray with two coffees purchased from the nearby Dunkin’ Donuts.
From diners housed in antique train cars to cozy buildings, people hunger for a place that’s home away from home. Where cooks serve a comforting, warm breakfast like mom did at decades-old classics like the Agawam Diner in Rowley and Uncle Charlie’s Finer Diner in Weymouth, or “newbies” like JJ’s Cafe in Brockton and Iron Town, both under three years old.
At these breakfast bastions, customers don’t want a “breakfast of champions (Wheaties)” or steel-cut oats, high falutin’ fruit smoothies, and Greek yogurt.
They crave fluffy stacks of pancakes, waffles, home fries, eggs, bacon, homemade blueberry muffins, corned beef hash, and a bottomless cup of joe (usually $2). Enough to fill you for the day, yet only $10 a person or less. Just bring cash (credit cards are taken only at some places) and prepare to wait for a seat at these popular sites, especially on weekends.
At Dinky’s Blue Belle Diner on Route 70 in Shrewsbury, morning regulars Cathy and Don Mastrovito, antique dealers from Clinton, fueled up for a day of shopping.
“I switch it up every time,” Cathy said. “Usually, I get sweet things: French toast, pancakes, a fruity waffle.”
Don added, “It’s a lot of food. In the end, I guess it’s the atmosphere. Because eggs are eggs, right?”
A few booths away in the bright blue-painted, circa 1940s trolley car, construction workers Cori Henry, Willard Smith, and Chris Brossea dug into their breakfasts before doing renovation work on a local home. All residents of the Cape, they discovered Dinky’s online.
“The hash browns are homemade. Delicious!” said Brossea. “And the price? It’s crazy cheap. Insane!”
An example: Two extra-large eggs, home fries, bacon or sausage, plus a choice of pancakes, French toast, or half a waffle for $8.95.
“It’s like being at home,” Smith said. “Everybody’s family.”
In Brockton, breakfast is a booming business at JJ’s Cafe on Main Street, where the sun streams in through the windows of the former pizza place, still crispy-new spotless after almost three years.
Even though owner and chef JJ Fernandes, a Cape Verde native, once cooked for US presidents and other dignitaries at the Boston Park Plaza Hotel, he tired of his 30-plus years commuting into Boston.
Now customers travel to him.
“We drove from Boston to come here,” said Pedro Fernandes (no relation) of Dorchester, sharing a table with three female friends. They learned about JJ’s by word of mouth.
“It’s about 25 minutes,” Pedro Fernandes said, “but it’s worth the drive.”
There’s plenty of the regular stuff, like two eggs, two pancakes or French toast, home fries, and sausage or ham ($8). But remnants of creme brûlée French toast lay on a plate shared by Gomes and Jessica Araujo of Dorchester.
“This is just an appetizer,” Araujo said, while the table waited for their “real” orders.
Generations of breakfast lovers are raised on Uncle Charlie’s Finer Diner in Weymouth, open since 1987.
“We’ve been coming here for, like, years,” said Diane Higgins of Rockland, who was there with her daughter, Emily, home for the day from Regis College.
Before coming home, Emily told her mother she wanted a veggie omelet ($9) from Uncle Charlie’s.
“I mean, look how much you get,” Diane said. “The omelets are fabulous.”
“It’ll all be gone, too,” Emily added.
Up north at the Agawam Diner in Rowley, on what locals call Old Route 1, Mike Dickenson of Malden was sitting at the counter with a friend, a plate of two eggs sunny-side up, toast ($3.90), and coffee.
A regular “for 15 years or so,” Dickenson sat next to mini jukeboxes that decorate each booth (but don’t play music) in the diner, which was built in 1954 and is in the National Register of Historic Places.
“If I want breakfast, I’m single, got no one to make it for me, I get on my bike,” Dickenson said with an English accent. “It’s a nice little ride on my motorcycle.”
Jennifer and Gary Stein and their two young sons, new residents of Hamilton, settled into a booth for a mix of breakfast and lunch during their first visit.
“I’d driven by it a few times,” Gary said. While he ate a turkey dinner, the boys shared a grilled cheese and french fries, and Jennifer cut into a ham-and-cheese omelet.
Tempting from behind a refrigerated case were the diner’s famous sky-high cream pies. Not necessarily a breakfast food, but no one at the Agawam judges.
In Wellesley, the Papakonstantinou family has owned the Maugus Restaurant on Washington Street since 1980, though it’s been a town institution since the early 1900s.
The restaurant is dated, in a homey way. You feel invited into this Greek family’s home. Every morning, seven days a week, for 36 years, Vaso Papakonstantinou, co-owner with her husband, Peter, has arrived at 4:30 a.m. to make the muffins, soups, home fries, and all the Greek entrees for lunch.
“This place made Wellesley feel like a neighborhood,” said Suzanne Toukan, whose family moved to town a year ago after spending seven years in Singapore. “It’s the kind of hospitality that we missed abroad.”
You can get two eggs with toast, home fries, and bacon, sausage, or ham for $4.95.
“I’m a mother of four and used to making breakfast for everyone else. It’s not that expensive,” Toukan said, “and afterwards, I’m not doing dishes.”
Back at Iron Town in Saugus, Jennifer Morse and her friend, Brittany Uminski, both of Revere, agreed.
“We can make it ourselves,” said Uminski, “but it’s better when someone else does.”
They begged to learn where else I’ve gone.
“Where are the other places? Because we are breakfast people,” Morse said. “We’ll travel.”