If there is one thing the Sun Rise Café does well, it is breakfast.
The morning staple started by Mehrdad Dehmiri has a history of success from its early days in a strip mall a little farther north on Coldwater Road to its bigger, better Pine Valley Shopping Center location – the weekend lines are proof of its consistency.
A couple of years ago, Dehmiri tried to make a go of it doing sandwiches near Coliseum Boulevard and Parnell Avenue with his Mr. Panini concept, but the same lines did not follow. So he went back to what he knows and reopened the spot as his second Sun Rise Café. And guess what? Breakfast is king there, too.
The space is pretty much unchanged in terms of looks from the fast-casual design Mr. Panini used, but it now has table-side service. The cool, rustic steel signs remain, along with the sleek black-and-red color scheme and spiffy textured concrete floor.
This new incarnation just felt right as I sat there and perused the menu over a hot cup of coffee. And there were plenty of people packing tables that proved a breakfast joint was a needed commodity in that area.
My first breakfast taste could not have been better.
The country fried steak and eggs had no flaws. The star attraction was a sizable, crispy, breaded slice of beef with just the right peppery breading that was fork tender. This breakfast will fill you up. That steak was covered in a blanket of white sausage-dotted gravy, and the dish included perfectly executed hash browns, three eggs and choice of bread.
I chose biscuits because there is nothing else I would rather have with such a gravy-centric dish, and I asked for the eggs over-easy, so there was a lot of running yolk to add more fatty richness to the gravy – as if it needed it.
The biscuits were the only imperfect part of this dish. They were light and fluffy but kind of chalky in texture instead of buttery like a good biscuit should be.
Want something sweeter for breakfast? The blueberry French toast fits the bill.
This wasn't just regular French toast drenched in a sweet syrupy blueberry sauce from a bottle. Sun Rise pressed plump whole berries into the egg custard-soaked Texas toast and those berries softened up just a bit during grilling so they melted on the palate. Sun Rise offers its French toast thick, like I chose, or thin with more standard bread, but I don't know why anyone would not go with the thick.
The sausage links I had on the side were also a nice find. These skin-on beauties were grilled until they were brown and bursting at the seam and were much better than the links you typically find at breakfast places.
The only breakfast dish that didn't impress was the Rancher Skillet. It was pretty basic with bacon and onions, but I was surprised that it was not as big as most skillet breakfasts out there. The hash brown base was also not cooked long enough so the potatoes were like limp noodles instead of crispy strands.
One thing that hadn't changed at this spot since its days as Mr. Panini was that I still couldn't find a good sandwich.
The grilled turkey and Swiss club sounded great, but it wasn't. It actually wasn't even a club sandwich. It was one of the saddest turkey sandwiches I have ever had.
It had two slices of buttery grilled white bread with Swiss cheese, two strips of bacon and maybe four slices of literally paper-thin, pressed turkey cold meat. There was no tomato or lettuce, which are basic requirements of a club sandwich.
I paired it with a cup of an equally disappointing beef and noodle soup. It was a sludgy cup of beef and noodles that had either soaked up every drop of its broth or was just made more like a casserole instead of a soup.
There was a sandwich I grew to love at the original Sun Rise Café and it was on the menu at the new spot – the Philly cheesesteak. But I opted to try an offshoot of it, the Philly Wrap, and it, too, proved worth having again.
The same warm, tender, thinly sliced steak, peppers, onions and Swiss cheese that made Sun Rise's sandwich so good worked just as well when wrapped tightly inside a cheese tortilla. It was flawless.
Another great thing from the original made its way to the new store, but I learned it has sadly ended.
A server was joking around as she left about how glad she was that she was getting the last slice of pecan pie. And when she said last, she meant the last made by former Sun Rise baker Millie Hood. A well-known baker in the Fort Wayne area who had a café of her own in New Haven for a while, Hood had just decided to retire the week I visited.
I immediately asked if any more pie was left and was thrilled to hear there was one big slice of rhubarb – my favorite among this pie master's creations. And it was just as good as I remembered.
The double-crusted masterpiece was significantly tart, which I think a good rhubarb should be, with just enough sweetness to make it a dessert. The chocolate cream pie and apple pie were also brilliant, which is how I would describe Hood's baking skills.
The service was also brilliant, just like it always has been at the original. During one visit, a lone server was in well over her head trying to handle all the tables, but she did a great job of keeping everyone happy. And given there was only one person in the kitchen, I was impressed at how fast the food was being churned out.
As long as Dehmiri can find someone to make pies as good as the ones I had, this new Sun Rise Café should long outlive its predecessor.
Restaurant: Sun Rise Café
Address: 1019 Coliseum Blvd. E.
Hours: 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily
Handicapped accessible: Yes
Credit cards: Yes
Menu: Country fried steak and eggs ($8.49), French toast ($5.79; $1.70 for toppings), Rancher Skillet ($8.29), turkey and Swiss club ($8.29), Philly wrap ($8.19), soup ($3.29 cup; $4.29 bowl), pie ($3.49)
Rating breakdown: Food: *1/2 (3-star maximum); atmosphere: 1/2 (1 maximum), service: * (1 maximum)
Ryan DuVall is a restaurant critic for The Journal Gazette. This review is based on two unannounced visits. The Journal Gazette pays for all meals. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org; call at 461-8130. DuVall's past reviews can be found at www.journalgazette.net. You can follow him on Twitter @DiningOutDuVall.
Sun Rise Cafe
Out of a possible five