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Dinermite grub 

Breakfast at Thumbs Up goes off without a hitch

A "diner" isn't necessarily as simple a place as you may think. A range of possibilities exists under the label, from the kind of classic greasy spoon exemplified by the Majestic or Waffle Houses across the South, to the upwardly skewed, retro-decorated eateries like the Buckhead Diner, which offer a gourmand's notion of the blue plate special. Thumbs Up Diner stands somewhere between those extremes. A funky but clean urban spot with a pleasingly simple, unselfconscious style, Thumbs Up specializes in original as well as classic breakfasts and diner grub that's worth venturing out of your way to find.

Not much surrounds its Edgewood Avenue address, only some warehouses, a few gentrifying condos and the occasional karate school. But Thumbs Up tends to have a healthy crowd, partly due to its modest size, but more likely because it's brought over old customers from its former site on West Ponce de Leon in Decatur. Expect a diverse mix of young hipsters and SUV-driving families with small kids filling the booths or jockeying for seats at the sleek gray counter. The cozy restaurant sports walls of handsome exposed brick, a matching, ruddy color scheme on the seats and floor tiles, and blessedly few of the kind of kitschy artifacts that overrun many modern breakfast joints.

Thumbs Up is bound to please both the health-conscious and "What diet?" breakfast-seekers. Chef Jo Angela Hartsoe specializes in stone-ground grits, while the short stacks of hotcakes have a Paul Bunyan-sized circumference, generally requiring their own plates. Do-it-yourselfers will enjoy selecting the cheese, veggies and/or meats for the Build Your Own Omelettes, which can be made with egg whites. The vegetarian omelette comes as thick as a two-fisted burrito, although it can be a bit watery -- a common side effect of dishes cooked with big chunks of vegetables. The diner features its own recipe for cold cereal, and offers cinnamon rolls (from a local bakery) that are fortunately not too gooey.

A crab cake special with eggs is often available, and isn't bad: the cake itself isn't dry, and its chopped peppers and herbs give it a little kick. But crab cakes are so omnipresent in this city's restaurants that you're better advised to stick to the basics, such as the Belgian waffle or the Challah bread French toast. Any time of day is apt for the Heap, a substantial serving of seasoned potatoes, cheese and eggs that'll provide you with plenty of fortifying ballast for a big day. Eat a Heap and you'll feel as though you'll never go hungry again.

Lunch items include quesadillas, various salads and burger-type sandwiches. The Thumbs Up gourmet burger isn't exactly colorful -- with Swiss cheese, onions, mushrooms on marble rye toast, it's gray and brown -- but the extra ingredients have surprisingly restrained flavors, making the burger an effective vehicle for the taste of the grilled meat. Eat it quickly, though, as the thin bread gets soggy in a hurry, letting the innards slide out.

Thumbs Up has the one feature that no good diner is without: friendly servers who'll top off your coffee cup, chat up the regulars and gossip about people's tipping habits after they leave. Some days trivia questions are posted on the white board ("Who directed Alien and Aliens?") with candy given out to those in the know. The name Thumbs Up could be construed as a self-review. Luckily, it lives up to its own thumb rating.

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