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Waffling on Waffles?

Travel abroad on breakfast

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Breaking the night's fast is a common ritual practiced with amazing diversity. The cultural differences in celebrating the day's first meal struck me in Frankfurt, Germany. The surreal scene could have rolled from the camera of Lena Wertmuller. A flock of cloned businessmen (one wearing a monocle, no less) stood at high tables with frankfurters and hard rolls. The frankfurters were longer than ours and no thicker than your pinky. These Stepford Aryans consumed their whimsical meal with grim efficiency.

In our own burg of Colorado Springs, you can choose from several authentic international styles, sans wieners. I visited three fine establishments that offer the traditional breakfasts of France, Ireland and Mexico.


FRENCH
La Creperie, 204 N. Tejon St., 632-0984

Victorian French author Colette wrote this of her mother mourning her daughter's (first) wedding: Standing at the blue-and-white tiled stove, she was pensively stirring the morning chocolate, her features, unguarded, betraying a look of terrible sadness. There's something intrinsically life-affirming about a culture that believes in chocolate at the crack of dawn.

You can enjoy a cup of chocolate with your La Creperie coffee with nary a melancholy gaze. The breakfast menu, only a month old, offers everything from a light meal of breads, butter, cheese and black currant jam, to decadent dessert selections -- seductive fruit crepes embellished with clouds of real cream, almonds and, occasionally, melted Swiss chocolate. A favorite entree, La Crepes Omelettes, consists of a three-egg omelette ensconced within a feather-light crepe bedecked with melted Swiss cheese, hollandaise sauce and your choice of savory ingredients: crab, ham, shrimp, spinach, mushrooms, green pepper, tomatoes, broccoli or onions. I didn't order, but lusted for, the La Creperie Pan-Crepes -- orange-liqueur-kissed Crepes Suzette dressed in whipped cream and caramelized almonds.

The ambience is romantic (think morning-after tryst), but the space is so small the cozy tables spill out onto the street. Unsuccessfully, I tried to provoke the waiters into being rude by butchering every word on the menu (pronouncing crepes as "creeps") but they refused me an experience of genuine Parisian disdain.

Daily hours of 9:30 a.m. - 9 p.m. breakfast served until 11a.m.


IRISH
Jack Quinn Irish Ale House & Pub, 21 S. Tejon St., 385-0766

If you want a unique late-hour breakfast downtown, look no farther. JQ's serves a traditional Irish breakfast until 10 p.m. every day (if you're an early riser, don't expect grub before 11 a.m., noon on Sunday).

This intriguing breakfast offers two eggs, potatoes, rashers (a pink Canadian-style bacon), bangers (an imported pork sausage), roasted tomatoes, baked beans, blood pudding and toast. Great variety, but the serving size of each item was small, except for the quartered roasted potatoes. Blood pudding looks like a dense black coin speckled with white oat grains. Its earthy flavor, reminiscent of salty liver, is definitely an acquired taste. My eggs and potatoes were a tad overdone, but I was assured this was not usual; the lightly toasted soda bread was perfect, prompting me to shamelessly request an encore, despite carbohydrate apprehensions.

The manager, Ms. Derval Hughes, had been in the United States from her native Ireland for only 13 weeks the day we visited. She informed us that her kin call breakfast a "fry-up," a sit-down family affair that includes oatmeal porridge and Lyon's tea. Pubs serve it all day with grilled tomatoes and wild mushrooms on the side. Irish breakfast trivia: Eggs laid on Good Friday in Ireland are considered blessed and are marked with the sign of the cross before being eaten on Easter morning.

The atmosphere at JQ's is that of a pleasant pub with wood-paneled enclosures that provide more privacy than booths. Contrary to wild rumor, stout is not served with an Irish breakfast -- although I'm sure JQ's would accommodate you if you asked with a brogue.


MEXICAN
La Carreta, 35 Iowa Ave., 477-1157

Breakfast is served from 8 in the morning until 8 in the evening, Tuesday through Saturday and from 10a.m. to 2p.m. on Sunday. This is an extraordinary value and my favorite of the three breakfasts. If you have back-East visitors who want a taste of real Mexican food, take the time to find this gem, nestled in a little strip mall between Platte and Pikes Peak avenues.

Owned by the Penaloca family from Mexico City, La Carreta offers a robust breakfast with authentic ingredients and flavors. You won't find those little bottles of hot sauce that adorn the tables of most Mexican eateries here. Our server, Rosamarie, grinds chiles into a paste every morning so you can savor a variety of fresh sauces and salsa with your huevos rancheros. Before delivering our entrees, Rosamarie offered chips with a salsa that made even my tongue-sensitive husband happy: just the right zing of spiciness with a cool chaser of cilantro.

The huevos rancheros feature two eggs over corn tortillas, covered with red or green sauce, and flanked with generous portions of melt-in-your-mouth fried potatoes and refried beans. Our repast was accompanied by a basket of warm tortillas, which Rosamarie refilled twice at no cost. An unexpected bonus: grilled jalapenos and onions for anyone wishing extra heat - and yes, you can request poblano if you're feeling plucky. My husband ordered the egg and potato burrito, which sported an equal amount of soft potatoes and scrambled eggs, covered in green tomatillo sauce and grated Monterey Jack cheese. It was so large we took half home for lunch.

For the sake of all that's holy, try the cheese flan. I have made the sad mistake of ordering this blessed food from other Mexican restaurants, where it looks like gelatinous custard and tastes like the stuff passed off by Bill Cosby. But La Carreta's is so light and beatific it would medicate the crankiest morning person into a blissful mood: a silky but fulsome golden manna perfectly drizzled with caramelized sugar.

The price we paid for ponderous amounts of wonderful food here was on par with what we'd pay at the discount breakfast chains. And what's not to like about the comfortable high-backed oak chairs, the festive decor and soft jazz? Bring a New York Times Sunday edition, and you might not want to leave until siesta.

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