Breakfast at Cafe Express

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Breakfast at Cafe Express might be one of the best-kept secrets in town...for now.

Even though the breakfast menu launched a few months ago -- the efforts of Cafe Express' corporate chef Greg Martin finally come to fruition -- the crowds haven't yet found their way into the restaurants' doors in the morning. Which is good for you, if you're looking for a quiet, healthy and inexpensive breakfast option that is convenient no matter where you live, thanks to the dozen locations around town.

Served every day from 7 to 11 a.m. (with the two exceptions being the downtown location, which only serves breakfast Mondays through Fridays, and the Museum of Fine Arts location, which serves breakfast from 9 to 11 a.m. Tuesdays through Sundays), the breakfast menu is compact -- generally a good sign -- but includes enough variety to please a wide range of palates.

In the mood for something light? There are several "skinny" options ranging from a Provencal Scramble to a chicken frittata. Want something heartier? There's the Sunrise Tart with eggs, sour cream, turkey, ham, cheddar cheese and green onions or a fat Bacon Breakfast Sandwich. Have a sweet tooth? Try the French toast or the decidedly continental fruit and yogurt parfait.

There was a period of time during which I wouldn't have set foot inside a Cafe Express if it was the only other option besides going Dumpster diving. That dark period in Cafe Express's history can simply be referred to as "the Wendy's days." Thankfully, its founders -- Lonnie Schiller and Robert Del Grande -- purchased the chain back from Wendy's in 2008 after having previously sold it to the fast food giant in 2002. Installing Chef Martin, they set about getting the fast-casual restaurants back on track. Breakfast is just the latest in that long line of efforts to rebuild the Cafe Express empire, and it's a good step.

Yesterday morning, I couldn't decide if I wanted savory or sweet for breakfast (isn't that what's great about the first meal of the day? the option to choose?) and ended up trying a little bit of both. The chipotle chicken scramble ($6.99) stays true to Del Grande's southwestern roots, with a side of smoky salsa that will wake you up in case the coffee -- four varieties of which are available at the coffee bar -- hasn't. True, the dish looks as if it was assembled from pre-made ingredients that came from a commissary, but it tastes good.

I also reveled in the perky fruit and yogurt parfait ($4.59), which came with thick, tangy yogurt and warmly flavored granola with hints of cinnamon. The dish could have used more fruit -- there were only a few strawberry and kiwi slices along with some blueberries -- on top, but the fruit was vastly superior in quality to the dour fruit cups filled with only old grapes and bland canteloupe that you tend to get in fast-casual restaurants.

Weekend crowds are undoubtedly much larger for breakfast, but weekday mornings are -- for now -- incredibly relaxing, encouraging you to take advantage of Cafe Express's free wi-fi and unlimited coffee refills while you fuel up for the day ahead. I'll be enjoying this morning oasis while it lasts.

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