There is nothing like a simple, old-fashioned breakfast. Put me in a diner or a dumpy-but-comfortable-old-shoe-of-a-place and the scrambled eggs, white toast and mug of coffee never tasted better. I'll admit, if I had the same food in a faceless motel coffee shop it wouldn't seem nearly as good.
But that's the point: A good down-home breakfast is not merely what you eat, but where you eat it. For me, an occasional nostalgic Saturday or Sunday morning away from the brass and glass and chocolate croissants is one of life's little pleasures.
The following are three weekend breakfast possibilities visited recently. The first two are long-established and full of character, the third a relative newcomer with some country charm and a bargain weekend buffet.
Bob & Edith's Diner, 2310 Columbia Pike, Arlington, 920-6103. Open 24 hours. Breakfast always available. Prices: $1.55 to $6.75. Cash only.
The red neon sign -- "Open 24 Hours" -- at the back of the room underscores a sense of timelessness about diner life. Indeed, on a typically busy weekend morning here, there are patrons who look as though they just woke up and others who are about ready to call it a day (or night).
Flashy mustard-yellow laminated table tops edged in royal blue are as eye-opening as the coffee served in heavy white ceramic mugs or the nonstop tunes from the recently installed jukebox.
A homemade Belgian waffle ($2.05), which also comes with pecans or blueberries ($2.95), is a good bet, as is a crustily grilled ration of corned beef hash.
You can't go wrong with the omelette special ($3.95), which has a thin egg wrapper and plenty of ham, fresh tomato and cheese filling.
The "around-the-clock special" of steak, two eggs, toast and jelly with a choice of home fries or grits ($5.15) isn't bad -- the thin steak even slightly pink inside.
As for the shortcomings: Although the chunky home fries are not greasy, their blandness begs for a little salt and pepper or onions, and the grits on one occasion were rubbery.
If you want extra entertainment, sit at the counter for a front-row seat on the hash-slingers' banter provided by Bob and Edith's sons, Pinkie (Robert Jr.) and Greg.
Vienna Inn, 120 E. Maple Ave., Vienna, 938-9548. Breakfast, 7 to 11 a.m. Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday. Prices: $1.25 to $3.25. Cash only.
Mike (a k a Meyer) and Mollie Abraham know they have a good thing going and they're not about to make any changes. They've operated this neighborhood bar and restaurant for 29 years, patching the worn linoleum floor and torn vinyl dinette chairs rather than replacing them, which would inevitably destroy the character and unique charm of this local gathering place.
Even their son Philip, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, who has come home to help out, has resisted any temptation to add fancy new dishes, content instead to keep the menu cheap and simple.
The inn's best-known dish is the chili dog (which is available for breakfast), and, as a measure of its popularity, thousands of the rectangular plastic fasteners for the packages of hot dog buns are strung overhead on wires, making for a colorful and quirky decorator touch.
Among regulars, it's customary to help oneself to a big brown mug of coffee at the service station before ordering and to take the chairs off the tables at the rear of the room when the booths and tables in the front are occupied.
The homemade peppery rounds of sausage and thinly sliced, oniony home fries are especially good accompaniments to the two eggs any style ($1.85). The chocolate chip hot cakes are okay, as are the thick slices of French toast. An acceptable steak and eggs is only $3.85.
The only disappointments were the ham, served in thin sandwich slices, and the creamed chipped beef, which was mostly cream sauce.
For incorrigible yuppies, a glass of champagne is available at the bar for 95 cents.
Marty's, 8113 Richmond Hwy., Alexandria, 780-2707. Breakfast buffet, 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Breakfast, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Closed Monday. Prices: $2.25 to $6.95. Buffet $4.25. MasterCard and Visa accepted.
Although the decor is nondistinctive, Marty's, where the dinner menu features authentic eastern North Carolina barbecue, is friendly and comfortable with red vinyl booths and a country kitchen atmosphere.
If you're hungry, the weekend breakfast buffet is the best yet, a bargain at $4.25. The perfect way to enjoy it is to stake out a booth near the steam table (to see what's arriving fresh from the kitchen) and near the windows (for the best light if you brought a newspaper).
Pace yourself beginning with the fresh fruit (good honeydew and cantaloupe on recent visits), moving on to the terrific western eggs with ham, green pepper and onions (there are also plain scrambled eggs), and strips of smoky bacon and flaky biscuits. You may even request eggs to order with the buffet. The sausage is good, too, although a refill one day brought a second-rate substitution.
Other choices include pancakes, French toast, grits, home fries, canned fruits and juices, baked apple slices, creamed chipped beef and mini-Danish.
The regular breakfast menu includes all of the buffet items, plus steaks, chops and corned beef hash.