IT'S 9:05 A.M. From a counter stool, the production is a ballet of bacon and hash browns. Waffles leap onto the plate. An "Our Specialty Omelette" pirouettes in mid-air, from pan to grill.
"Good morning," says counterman Carlos Juarez. He reaches for a menu while refilling the next guy's cup of coffee.
9:07 a.m. With hypnotic perpetual motion, the fast-order cook at Steak 'n' Eggs Kitchen plucks one egg after another from a stainless steel bowl. He's automatic -- checking the toaster, buttering the grill and tossing egg after egg from one hand to the other, cracking them and throwing the shell before you can mutter "over easy."
For 13 years, Paul Poonsakvarasan has served a slice of Americana, sunny side up, at this modest breakfast club at the corner of Wisconsin Avenue and Chesapeake Street NW. It's a rendevous for countless regulars who say the food -- and the show -- is always the same, always good.
You order. Not the Paul Bunyan Breakfast because it's too much to eat: three Grade As, however you want 'em, three bacon strips, a crispy hash brown and toast'n'jelly, for $3.60. Instead, the ham'n'cheese omelette ($3.95), large juice. And, coffee, yes.
The King of Sling picks up the pace. He flips three eggs a foot in the air and back into the pan with his left hand while dolloping waffle batter with the right. In the same long and narrow space, Carlos synchronizes his counter busing to Paul's steady movement -- like high-speed kitchen tai chi. Three sausages jump on the hot griddle as Paul leans toward four slices of toast, buttering them with four unseen strokes of a knife. "The guy's incredible back there," says Scott Matejik, who has been eating here for seven years, since he was a senior at Walt Whitman High School. "To flip the eggs like Paul, it takes 10 years," says Carlos, the man you never have to ask for a second cup of coffee.
9:10 a.m. The grill sizzles, always with two hash browns. The audience grows, taking the 11 stools that practically hunker over the grill. It's standing room only. The ragged couple at the far end of the counter argue out loud. "Delores, you can push me only so far." Carlos shakes his head -- a physical tsk, tsk. He's ignored a lot in his three years behind the counter. But some people should order to go.
9:11 a.m. Breakfast is served. Always hot. Always the same. Always in less than five minutes.
9:14 a.m. "Look, Delores, I've had enough." They leave. A security guard straggles in and orders four hamburgers to go, even though Patty Melts are on the menu ($2.40). Paul has the burgers on the grill before the order is scribbled, and reaches for more julienne potatoes.
A truck driver on the middle stool stares exhausted into a half-full cup of coffee that Carlos sees as half empty and fills again.
STEAK 'N' EGG KITCHEN -- 4700 Wisconsin Ave. NW. 362-7434. Open 24 hours. Breakfast entrees include: waffle'n'sausage combo, $2.80; scrambled eggs'n'ham, $2.95; waffle'n'egg, $3.40; specialty omelettes (cheese, or ham or combos), $2.95 to $3.95; slice of pie, 65 cents; coffee, 55 cents; orange juice, 65 cents.