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Tuesday, April 29, 2003 02:20 pm

More than eggs

A round-up of early morning options

Sure, there are plenty of places in town that can serve up a fine breakfast of two eggs over easy or maybe a glazed doughnut or three. But if you want to make that first meal of the day a treat, there are a few interesting options with atmospheres to match the food. They might make you look at the morning in a whole new way.

Charlie Parker's

The silver Quonset hut near the railroad tracks on North Street was once home to a bait shop. But today inside the domed metal exterior is a shiny diner that serves up pizza-sized pancakes and a heavy dose of nostalgia. The restaurant is filled with 50s memorabilia--a jukebox and gas pump sit in one corner.

But it's not just the atmosphere that has customers standing in line. What's so special about Parker's? "It's the amount of food they get," says manager Lanny Higgins. He's not kidding. The heaping servings of breakfast, served all day, are a real deal. Besides a bottomless cup of coffee for 93 cents (no $4 lattes served here) Parker's offers a Springfield original: a breakfast shoe. That's right, the city's cholesterol-loaded meal isn't just for lunch or dinner. The shoe can be ordered with ham, bacon, sausage, or egg on toast, smothered with cheese sauce or sausage gravy and topped with fries or sliced potatoes. It's definitely not for the faint of heart. But why not splurge a little? Try it with scrambled eggs. It's the most expensive thing on the menu at $5.45, and could easily be shared by two people.

Parker's also offers those mammoth pancakes. If anyone eats the four-pancake stack by himself, the diner pays for the meal. But Higgins says nobody has accomplished that feat. "If you eat here and you're still hungry, we'll give you more food." But he's not had any takers on that offer either. The portions are enormous. In fact, even though they serve pie and root beer floats, they don't sell many desserts because customers are always too full.

Charlie Parker's is located at 700 North Street (217-241-2104).

Cafe Brio

This is the place to go for Sunday brunch if you want to add a little spice to your morning meal. Eggs and bacon are served with tamale cakes and fried poblano pepper strips. You can get biscuits and gravy, but the restaurant, which specializes in Latin, Mediterranean, and Caribbean cuisine, offers more interesting items like poached eggs with fresh spinach and wild mushrooms topped with hollandaise sauce or shrimp and grits. For a trip across the border, try huevos rancheros, which are fried eggs served on a four tortilla with queso blanco and potatoes, black beans and salsa.

The eclectic decor is warm, vibrant and colorful. Even the complimentary corn tortilla chips come in colors like orange and purple. Since opening in 1996, owner Curtis Hudson has offered what he calls "Sunfare" cuisine, characterized by the use of dried chilies, fresh and dried fruits, and herb and spice combinations. A trip to the Sunday brunch may be the perfect way to start the week out.

Cafe Brio is located at 524 E. Monroe (217-544-0574).

Trout Lily Café

Starting the day by drinking a cup of coffee while looking at a swinging monkey drinking a cup of coffee should bring a smile to anyone's face. While the selection of homemade quiche, made daily by owner Kate Hawkes, is worth a trip to this downtown cafe, the atmosphere makes the food even more special.

The mellow yellow walls display a rotating exhibit of work by local artists. A vibrant mural of a jungle scene decorates the coffee bar, complete with wooden monkeys hanging from a vine. A conga line of dancing coffee beans brings life to one wall, and a scene near the front door sports a trout sitting at a cafe with smiling trees.

"People tell us we have the best coffee is town," says Hawkes, a former bookkeeper and sandwich shop owner. Besides four kinds of freshly ground coffee, homemade muffins and butter cake are also favorites. Through the week, regular customers include office workers and tourists, but Hawkes says she has a regular Saturday crowd. "One couple brings their dog and they sit outside and eat their quiche," she says.

The cafe offers a daily quiche selection, such as asparagus and sun-dried tomatoes or mushroom and onion, served with homemade country fresh bread. You can have a glass of orange juice and an espresso drink flavored with blackberry, coconut, or butterscotch. Outdoor seating is available in the summer months. This cafe has the feel of a neighborhood coffee shop in a much larger city and makes even having breakfast in your hometown something special.u

Trout Lilly Cafe is located at 218 S. Sixth (217-522-4049).