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With winter fast approaching, many of us will not be looking forward to waking up to see frost on the windows and walking out into cold, blustery air. But it is the bleakest of winter mornings that often make the best days to head out for a hot breakfast.

Yes, breakfast! The first meal of the day, and it is not necessary to head to a national chain when a local restaurant do just as good, if not a better job of preparing it for you. Whether it be the dollop of butter that looks like a scoop of ice cream slowly melting on your fluffy buttermilk pancakes or the bacon and eggs that contain just the right amount of greasy fried happiness, a hot breakfast is the greatest way to start a cold, cloudy day in Western New York.

Here are four city eateries that serve breakfast.

1430 Hertel Ave.
In the shadow of the North Park Theatre, Bertha's has been a staple in North Buffalo since the 1980s.

Atmosphere: Simply put, Bertha's truly is the diner that "takes you back a few years," as it says on the sign outside. The place is complete with retro-looking orange booths and brown chairs, brown swivel stools lined up at the old-time diner counter, and black and white tiled floors. The wall behind the counter is adorned with Frank Sinatra albums and pictures. A metal coat rack is located next to the door of this cozy restaurant, if you don't feel like having to share your booth with a clunky winter coat.

Prices: Prices are very reasonable. A short stack of pancakes is only $3.25, and omelets cost less than $6. The breakfast special, from 6 to 10 a.m., features two eggs and toast for only $1.50, with an order of home fries for only a quarter more.

Meal quality: The over-easy eggs and home fries ordered were both deliciously excellent. The eggs were cooked just so that a slight brown glaze complemented them. The wheat toast was toasted just enough. The companion ordered buttermilk pancakes, which were good but a bit dry and lacked that ideal amount of fluffiness. The coffee was nice, strong and fresh-brewed.

Overall: A nice little neighborhood place with good food and a unique atmosphere. Score: 9 0/1 00. Open daily for breakfast from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m., serving breakfast the entire time.

1081 Elmwood Ave.
Only a few other Greek restaurants rival Pano's enormous popularity for breakfast. Pano's is a true example of a restaurant that has withstood the test of time.

Atmosphere: The recently renovated Pano's has an upscale feel. Dark smooth wooden walls are complemented by ornate Greek columns. The fancy modern-esque light fixtures hanging from the ceiling make you fear the prices of the food ------..

Prices: A sigh of relief is breathed however when one discovers the majority of items range from $4 to $6. A wonderful early bird special menu is available from 7 to 11 a.m., with Steak and Eggs, the 2-2-2(two pancakes, two eggs, two bacon, sausage or hash browns) , and the cinnamon Belgian waffle, all of which are no more than $4.

Meal Quality: The 2-2-2 (ordered with bacon) was delicious. The pancakes were perfect in every way (though getting the maple syrup out of the plastic thing-a-ma-jigger was another story). The bacon was also fried just enough to be crispy while still also just chewy enough to be good. The eggs were fine. The companion ordered the Cinnamon Belgian Waffle, which was also excellent, complete with a light dusting of cinnamon on top. The coffee was good, and the fresh-squeezed orange juice was GREAT.

Overall: The service here is excellent. While the property next to Pano's that is slated for demolition is under dispute, there is no controversy about the fact that Pano's is a great place to eat. Pure breakfast bliss.

Score: 9 5/1 00. Open 24 hours a day.

Amy's Place
3234 Main St.
In the heart of the University Heights Neighborhood near UB's South Campus, Amy's Place caters to the collegiate and non-collegiate alike.

Atmosphere: Amy's place, too, has black and white tiled floors, orange booths, and old-time revolving stools at the counter. But the walls, the lower half metal clad and the upper half a dark creamy yellow paint, and the light fixtures hanging over the counter give Amy's Place a wonderfully spunky, modern feel. A few anti-Bush signs dotted the walls and the Pepsi machine behind the counter. While we were there, a blend of new age and alternative music was playing, which fit with the general atmosphere.

Prices: On average, two can breakfast for around $10 at Amy's Place. Nothing is overly expensive here, with the early bird special being eggs, home fries and toast for only 99 cents (you can add meat for another dollar). A bowl of oatmeal with coffee is only $2.50. Either French toast or pancakes, with two eggs and bacon or sausage, is$4.75.

Meal Quality: The French toast, scrambled eggs, and sausage were all very tasty. The French toast was dusted with just the right amount of cinnamon and powdered sugar. The sausage had just the right amount of flavor and was cooked just right. The scrambled eggs took the shape of a congealed mass and were just a tad on the disappointing side. The companion ordered a short stack of buckwheat pancakes with mixed berries ($2.75),which were delicious. The coffee was good, served in a mug that read "Key Bank," and the orange juice was all right.

Overall: If looking for a fresh, young dining experience that has great food, too, Amy's Place is a perfect fit. Score: 9 3/1 00.

Amy's Place is open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., serving breakfast at any time.

The Wayside Family Restaurant

2301 South Park Ave.

An integral part of the South Buffalo experience, the Wayside Restaurant is to South Park Avenue what Pano's is to Elmwood Avenue.

Atmosphere: The Wayside restaurant also takes you back a few years, but to a different era. The low tiled ceiling and the brown tiled floors try to convince you that Jimmy Carter is still the president. The walls of the restaurant are part blue tiling and part wood clad. A long aisle of booths greets you when you walk in; the place gives off a real friendly vibe. You get a feeling that those around you are regulars, as some of the waitresses called them by name.

Prices: The Wayside is another place on the inexpensive side. You can pick from a list of breakfast specials, served from 11 p.m. to noon Monday through Friday and till 2 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, and breakfast anytime (items a la carte). Meals here range from $2.75 to $6.95, while items a la carte are various prices (for example, an order of toast will only cost you 65 cents) All omelets cost less than $5, and there is a list of daily specials, too.

Meal Quality: The pancakes, eggs and sausage ($4.50, no substitutions) were pretty good. The pancakes were a little on the dinky side, and although full of flavor, were not all that fluffy. The sausage was great; it tasted as if it had been just purchased from a butcher's shop not stuck in a freezer for 6 months. The eggs were wonderful too. Both companions ordered the pancakes; one was thoroughly pleased with them, while the other was not impressed. A cappuccino was delightful, complete with the perfect amount of froth and with a dollop of whipped cream on top.

Overall: A place where one can feel at home. Score: 8 9/1 00. Open 24 hours.

Brian Hayden is a junior at St. Joseph's Collegiate.