Image: Nina Buck

A breakfast trio

They say breakfast is the most important meal of the day. It’s also, perhaps, the most versatile. It can be dressed up or down: steak and eggs or coffee and pie, lemon crêpe or loco moco, Mother’s Day outing or hangover cure, frilly apron or greasy spoon. It can be consumed at any hour, black or with sugar, comforting or simply eye-opening. Here, three very different breakfast places:

Cream Pot

From the outside, Cream Pot looks like a doily. Inside, it’s a cross between Southern France and Southern Grandma. Diners enter through a white-painted arbor, step past a flower and herb garden, then wait on a quaint staircase leading up to the sliding glass front door. It’s possible to eat on the lanai under a flowering trellis at a marble-top table. Or one can eat in a large white room of long tables and floor-to-ceiling windows facing the Ala Wai Canal.

When I called, they said no reservations were necessary, but when our party arrived, they were busy and we had to wait outside. Once we were allowed in, we could not all be seated together. We asked if we could push two tables together, and were asked not to.

Although the server was pleasant, the service was awkward and rushed. There was no chance to ask if the herbs in the garden are used in the restaurant’s dishes, or if the blueberries dotting the crepes are locally grown. (The strawberries are.) My ethno-botanist dining pal said that blueberries are now being grown in Upcountry Maui, where conditions are cool enough.

A good, dark cup of Kona coffee arrived with a teaspoon and a miniature pitcher of cream. The server also set down a little glass sugar bowl with the cutest ever porcelain scoop, shaped like a trowel. I, um, dug in!

All the food was beautifully presented. Light, yeast-leavened waffles were decorated with Maui strawberry slices and topped with a heavy dollop of vanilla custard cream ($11.50). They were sweet and flavorful, though I came home and had a snack fairly quickly afterward.

A house specialty is Maguro Eggs Benedict with ‘Ahi Carpaccio, served on a cake of grilled rice ($14.50). It’s fun to eat and the rice is lightly crisped; you don’t have to battle an English muffin.

Cream Pot offers pretty, what might once have been termed “lady,” things: salads, omelets, crepes, juices and shakes. It is delightful, if spendy, and not recommended for hefty eaters.

Eggs ‘n Things/Waikiki Beach Eggspress

Eggs ‘n Things is a classic. It’s been slinging coffee since feathered hair was popular in 1974. Its oddish hours were originally meant to target late-nighters, particularly bar and restaurant workers and early-morning risers, such as surfers. It’s a perennial “best breakfast” winner in local restaurant awards.

Relocated a couple of times from its original ‘Ena Road home, Eggs ‘n Things, which offers full table service, has landed in a charming, plantation-style building on Saratoga Road that fits its folksy mood. It’s a family owned restaurant founded by the late Jerry Fukunaga and his wife, Jan.

Eggs ‘n Things is known for its float-off-the-plate pancakes, everything-you-could-possibly-want-and-egg plates (fresh ‘ahi, smoked pork chop, crab cake, steak, even tofu) and waitresses in frilly aprons (they were designed by owner Jan Fukunaga and her mother long years ago; you can actually buy them but they sell out regularly because they’re handmade by members of the team in their “spare” time).

A stripped-down sister restaurant, Waikiki Beach Eggspress opened last year, looking out on the blue ocean, the Duke Kahanamoku statue and lusty Kalakaua Avenue. The Weekly decided to drop in to see how the younger sibling differs from the elder.

This restaurant has its own system. Diners peruse menus on the sidewalk outside, order from the host, receive a number, walk upstairs and pay at the register and get a sensor that lights up when the order is ready. You then have to find a seat (tricky when the restaurant’s busy, as it often is). A server brings food from the counter by the kitchen.

This saves labor costs, I suppose, as do the paper plates and compostable cutlery. The result is a fast, informal dining experience that might have been off-putting, if everybody weren’t so nice.

But everybody is really nice. Hawaiian music plays. Walls display photos of old Waikiki. There’s a retro, diner-esque feeling. A server recommends we try the special pancakes next time we come in. They are usually served with fruit and a tower of whipped cream.

The Tofu and Veggie Scramble offers a nice assortment of vegetables and a pile of crispy potatoes ($10.95). It’s not a beautiful presentation, especially after Cream Pot, but it is a satisfying plate. As for the Corned Beef Hash Omelet ($9.75), ordered by my adventurous eating companion because he’d never seen it on a menu before, it’s a wild combo of eggs and, um, corned beef. And it comes with a side of classic Eggs ‘n Things pancakes–fluffy little numbers, good for soaking in guava or coconut syrup. (Their buttermilk pancake mix is for sale at the register, alongside Waialua-grown coffee and other gifties.)

Café Kaila

Café Kaila is a local favorite, and rightfully so. It’s constantly busy–weekends, especially. Prepare to stand and wait on the sidewalk outside.

We were given the option to sit at the narrow counter, where we peeked into the kitchen to see owner Chrissie “Kaila” Castillo sporting an apron and a pink bandana. Mismatched coffee cups hang from hooks on the wall. A big, fake flower droops in a blue frosted wine bottle. There’s an ease in the air at Café Kaila, a fountain to throw pennies in, paintings of the European countryside, smiling and efficient folks taking our breakfast orders.

Big plates hold wonderfully presented Belgian waffles ($6.95; add $1.50 for fruit); my strawberry waffles were loaded with red fruit. The breakfast eatery has a sense of abundance, nice salads that diners seem to share, piles of tasty red potatoes, fresh juices, stacks of pancakes and food made from scratch with fresh (organic when possible) ingredients. The omelets ($9.95) are light, fluffy affairs with a choice of good-tasting fillings: mushrooms, red peppers, spinach, tomatoes, cheese.

I get a cup of cappuccino, half dry and half wet, in a hefty white mug. It’s a little too milky. But that’s my fault for ordering a single. I should’ve gotten a double and bounced around the rest of the day, powered by caffeine and breakfast potatoes!

Cream Pot
444 Niu St., #104, at the Hawaiian Monarch Hotel (discounted parking with validation). Open 6:30am–2:30pm. Cash only. No liquor. 429-0945.
EGGS ‘N THINGS/Waikiki Beach Eggspress
Eggs ‘n Things, 343 Saratoga Rd., Open daily 6am-2pm, 5pm-10pm. No liquor, major credit cards accepted; [], 923-3447.
Waikiki Beach Eggspress, 2464 Kalakaua Ave. Open daily, 6am–2pm, 4pm–10pm. No liquor, major credit cards accepted; [], 926-3447.
Café Kaila
2919 Kapiolani Blvd. Market City Shopping Center. Open 7am–3pm Mon.–Sun. No liquor, no credit cards. 732-3330