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CHEAP EATS

JJ's Cafe, 265 Kenmore Ave., Town of Tonawanda, 837-2310

3 1/2 Pennies(out of four)

"Sunny Side Up"

Beloved for years both by blue-collar shift workers and preppy kids from nearby St. Joseph's Collegiate Institute, JJ's has a timeless charm. Walking in, I immediately felt myself slip-sliding back a couple of decades. (Actually, the feeling could have been due to a piece of toast I discovered beneath my foot. Well, still.)

At JJ's, a down-home beauty prevails. A sketch of the cooks, no doubt done by a sated art student, greets you near the door. Atop the refrigerator, a ceramic rooster stands over the family-sized boxes of Cocoa Bursts and Puffed Wheat. On the tables sit condiments you never knew existed: Big Tom Catsup and Aunt Maple Syrup. Who needs the "Jemima," anyway?

JJ's is open from 7 a.m. until 3 p.m. Its trademark is a 99-cent breakfast, which includes two eggs, toast and home fries. Actually, it's $1.90, because you need to buy a bottomless beverage at 90 cents. But who cares? It still beats Denny's.

And - and! - the special includes poached eggs, which some places balk at. I like them soft, said so, and they arrived perfect, medium-sized, with wheat toast and a handful of home fries. A skimpy handful, to be honest. But who needs all that grease?

Speaking of grease, the Polish sausage breakfast ($2.25) pairs your eggs with individual wurst slices, straight from the skillet, dripping with fat. The Texas hot ($1.35) was more wholesome, with the familiar dog doused with thick chili sauce. We had no room for the sandwiches, but we loved the selection: Egg, 99 cents. With Cheese, $1.35. With Ham, $2.25. Grilled Cheese, $1.55.

Coffee was OK, but just in case it wasn't, a sign admonished: "Don't Criticize the Coffee: You May Be Old And Weak Some Day."

Soup is a new JJ's offering. On the Friday we visited, it was New England clam chowder. Campbell's? Au contraire! It was a steamy, creamy stew with big pieces of clam. People asked me how it was. "Gimme some of that soup," one guy yelled to the cook. "I wanna taste it."

That's how JJ's is. No pretentions. To get to the bathroom, you cut through the kitchen. If there's a question on your order, the cook yells across the room at you. And you get no check. Instead, at the register, you're asked, "What did you have?"

With a bill of $7.47 for two people, we left smiling. "We only charge you for the fun," the waitress said. "The food is on the house."

JJ's Cafe is open from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday to Saturday.

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