Helen’s Kitchen is housed in Transitown Plaza, surrounded by chains that dwarf the unassuming storefront. Blink and you’ll miss the red-lettered sign tucked in the corner of the strip. If you’re looking for a solid diner breakfast without the corporate vibe down the street, this is your spot.
Advertising circulars doubling as placemats, thick-rimmed mugs and large platters atop Formica tables all fall in line with the diner genre. And the food fits the bill, too: Egg platters range from $4.75 for two on up to $9.25 for steak and eggs with country gravy.
All the usual omelette suspects report for duty, mostly hovering around the $9.25 mark. French toast and pancakes come in short ($5.50) and tall ($6.50) stacks, with chocolate chip, blueberry or walnut spice add-ins.
On the lunch side, club sandwiches run the gamut from turkey and bacon, ham and cheese, BLT, tuna and cheese, chicken and cheese, chicken and bacon and cheeseburger and bacon options (all $9.25), with a pile of shoestring fries.
Both hot and cold sandwiches, melts, soups and a selection of burgers round out the offerings. The entire breakfast and lunch menu weighs in under $10, if you need a budget meal to offset a Boulevard Mall shopping extravaganza.
Helen's is famous for the “Garbage Breakfast,” a take on the popular Rochester-area garbage plate. It piles eggs, bacon, sausage, ham, peppers, onions, mushrooms, potatoes and cheese all on a plate almost the size of a hubcap ($9.25). It also comes in a veggie version, with broccoli, tomatoes, spinach, peppers, onions, potatoes and feta cheese ($8.95).
Much like its Eastern namesake, the garbage breakfast challenges diners to a gastronomic duel. Big eaters or anyone headed to the gym next door might take the bet.
For the diner classicist, corned beef hash and eggs ($7.95) arrived with crispy edges, chunky seasoned hash browns and eggs perfectly over-easy, as requested. When I was a kid, my dad made corned beef hash on summer camping trips. Whenever I order it, I picture him standing over the old Coleman tabletop stove, a faint propane aroma mingling with the sizzling meat and pine needles overhead.
At Helen's, the meat is griddled to a crunchy consistency outside, while soft and rich in the center. Hash can be hard to master, and Helen's delivered with a taste of nostalgia.
The sandwiches came with enough fries to feed an army, although they could have been a tad crispier. Bacon on our BLT club ($9.25) sang a maple note, which pleasantly offset the green lettuce and winter-ripe tomatoes. Club sandwiches can fall apart if the bread isn’t toasted just right, but ours retained crunch even with plenty of creamy sauce.
Like most diners in the area, Helen’s isn’t exactly a destination. It does provide comfortingly familiar fare, especially in an area rife with corporate chains. If you like to eat local as much as I do, here’s an outpost to patronize.
4187 Transit Road, Clarence (633-8129)
Hours: 7 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday.
Gluten-free options: Yes
Vegetarian Options: Yes
Don’t miss: Garbage Breakfast and perfect corned beef hash
Extra: Cash only