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Thumbs Up's East Point locale has shorter waits, but the cooking comes up a bit short, too

My favorite people-watching happens in restaurants during breakfast. Sure, it's entertaining to soak in the swish and pomp of the cocktail crew dressed to thrill on a Friday or Saturday night. The air among them bristles with juicy questions: Will those two hook up? Is this the last time we'll see that pair together? Doesn't her cleavage look mysteriously enhanced? Does he always drink this much?

But at breakfast, the masks are off. Everyone rags out in the most comfortable clothes that they can easily lay their mitts on (except the church crowd, of course, but that's a whole other diversion). As they droop on a bench or rabidly clutch their coffee, you can construe conclusions to the previous night's pursuits from mere observation: Ouch, he's totally hungover. Gee, she's got a big grin this morning. Dang, they don't look like they have a single thing to say to one another.

And since weekend waits at the most popular breakfast spots can be upward of an hour, there's plenty of time to blithely scrutinize the folks around you.

That's certainly the case at the Thumbs Up Diner on Edgewood Avenue. Bedraggled souls in sweats and sneaks mill about outside, skimming the paper or gossiping on their cell phones while they listen for their name to be called from the interminable list. Fortunately, their patience typically pays off. Thumbs Up serves some of the most honest breakfast fuel in the city. The kitchen does the basic egg-and-pancake fundamentals right, but there's just enough creative zap to infuse the food with spirit.

And now there's good news for those of you too impatient or hungry to handle the hold-up to chow time: Thumbs Up has opened a second location in East Point. By my calculations, the 15-minute drive from intown to East Point is far shorter than the Sunday line out the Edgewood location's door.

The wait time in East Point is still remarkably brief (it's been open two months). Is the food just as good as at Edgewood? Well ...

The new digs, with exposed brick walls and sharp retro stools at the counter, chime the same cozily down-to-earth tone as the original. A horseshoe shape gives the space an expansive feel, and there are plenty of roomy booths to nestle into.

And like the first Thumbs Up, the customer base is wonderfully mixed. I find it unsettling how segregated the dining scene in Atlanta can be, and I always appreciate finding a place where people of all colors feel at home eating together without it seeming like a big deal.

So that's the positive news. The downside is that the servers and kitchen staff are still getting themselves in sync.

Someone needs to tell the cooks to yank scrambled eggs off the heat about 90 seconds earlier per order. It would make the difference between fluffy tufts and chewy yellow shards in the veggie-loaded Portland and Greek Scrambles. The Sassy Scramble, with smoked salmon, at least has the addition of cream cheese to lubricate the eggs. Omelets also need some attentive TLC. It's never a good sign when your Denver omelet crumbles onto the plate in a browned mass.

The one marked exception to my oeuf ordeals was a biscuit sandwich poetic in its construction: downy, cheese-riddled eggs and an unctuous slab of country sausage inserted snuggly between slices of dense whole-wheat biscuit. If I lived in East Point, that would be the breakfast tidbit I'd snag on the way to work to eat in the car.

I contentedly filled up on sides when the eggs weren't up to par. After a bowl of thickset, creamy grits and a side of spuds speckled with onions, green peppers and cheese, I didn't have much room left, anyway.

Other offerings better reflect the Thumbs Up its fans know and arise early for. Massive slices of griddled, custard-steeped challah have as much in common with bread pudding as they do with French toast. I love the spicy afterglow of nutmeg that flickers on the palate after each bite.

Buckwheat waffles have a nutty undercurrent that is nicely amplified with the optional inclusion of pecans. I am ever thankful that the restaurant serves genuine maple syrup with its sweet breakfast dishes. "Chix and waffles," an ongoing special, features battered and deep-fried chicken fingers. It ain't bad, but for those of us who've developed a fetish for the quirky Southern combo of fried chicken and waffles, the dish doesn't quite quell the jones. Get thee to Gladys Knight and Ron Winan's place to sate that desire.

Service can be a bit discombobulated. Food may take a long time to arrive, even on weekdays when the crowds thin, or an order may come out piecemeal. I'm not sure who to blame when a pancake arrives at the table so cold it rattles on the plate like a manhole cover twirling in a Bugs Bunny cartoon.

But I have a solid idea about why the food at the Edgewood Thumbs Up thus far shines above East Point: That would be Edgewood's kitchen manager, Jo Hartso. If you're a longtime patron of the original Flying Biscuit or Thumbs Up, you'd probably recognize her sturdy back and silver, braided ponytail swaying to and fro as she gracefully assails six orders at one time. She's arguably the best breakfast cook in Atlanta.

The restaurants' owners might do well to go on a manhunt - or womanhunt - to find a kitchen manager for East Point who can crank out dishes with the same consistency and fine-tuning that Hartso does. Then, it might soon be a toss-up as to which location has the longer lines.

bill.addison@creativeloafing.com

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