Breakfast with Santa Claus at Yale Street Grill

As mentioned earlier this week, Yale Street Grill (2100 Yale, 713-861-3113) is one of my favorite places to grab a low-key breakfast. But not just for chicken fried steak.

I can still remember the first time my father took me to Yale Street as a child. That first visit was for milkshakes, and we sat at the long counter as we enjoyed our desserts. Even back then, Yale Street had already been around for over half a century, with its beginnings in 1923 as a soda fountain inside the now defunct Yale Pharmacy. These days, Yale Street is half diner and half antique store, but the diner side holds far more charm.

And diner food it is, to be sure. You aren't coming to Yale Street for mimosas or impeccably constructed Hollandaise sauce. Stick to the basics over breakfast, and you won't be disappointed, especially with a mug (check out the small town, 1950s-style ads that wrap around each one) filled with the restaurant's exceptionally strong Community Coffee.

My usual "basics" here are the huevos rancheros (keep in mind that the basics in a predominately Hispanic-run diner might be a little different from the basics in, say, a tiny East Texas town) and the chicken fried steak special when it's on. Both are tasty and will fill you up for under $8.

This past Saturday morning, I paid back my boyfriend for forcing him eat Ethiopian food for breakfast a few weeks back by buying him a big plate filled with bacon, eggs and hashbrowns. I even gave him two whole bites of my chicken fried steak (I'm generous). While I'm not a huge fan of Yale Street's hashbrowns -- the grits, while undersalted, are far better and have that rare consistency that show's they've been cooked properly -- my boyfriend seemed to enjoy them just fine.

What was better was the fact that Santa Claus himself was dining at Yale Street that morning, as a treat from the owners to the neighborhood residents. Santa was visiting each table -- even the ones without kids -- and cracking jokes with far greater grace and aplomb than I'd ever thought a Santa able. The kids were all fascinated and thrilled as Santa made his rounds before finally taking a seat next to the register, chatting amiably with the grownups as they paid their tabs.

When Yale Street was first built, the Heights was still just a sleepy, small-town suburb. And the atmosphere in the diner still feels that way today.

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