Even though I've been out of school for a year, I still can't break the ridiculous sleeping schedule I developed during those credit-heavy semesters. The midterms and 15-page research papers that once kept me up all night have been replaced by writing projects and deadlines. What's worse is being jolted by my internal alarm clock around 5 a.m. each day. Fed up with the fact that most coffee shops don't even open until 7 or 8 a.m., I scoured a few spots where I would, at the very least, be guaranteed a hot cup of Joe and a cheap plate of food. Here's what I found.
Golden House Restaurant & Pancake House
It's the kind of place you picture Tom Waits kickin' back with a lukewarm coffee and a cigarette. But this couldn't have been the joint Waits had in mind when he penned "Nighthawks at the Diner," as Golden House closes well before the sun goes down. Had he been an early bird though, Waits probably would've ordered up the restaurant's famous Four Deuces breakfast special. The dish includes two servings of a Midwesterner's morning favorites: pancakes, eggs, bacon and sausage, $4.95. Golden House also offers an early morning special for non-meat eaters with its signature potato pancakes served with your choice of applesauce or sour cream, $3.95.
This corner joint in Uptown serves breakfast all day and night, but stop in before 11 a.m. and you'll get the real deal. The specials here come in two's or three's, depending on your appetite. When you've got a bottomless pit, opt for the magic number: three eggs, three sausages, three strips of bacon and three fluffy pancakes, $5.95. For a dollar and a hunger pang less, you can get all of the above in sets of two.
Holiday Grill & Bar
It takes a true meat-and-potatoes lover to start the day with a grilled pork chop. Add eggs, toast and hashbrowns into the mix and you may find yourself curled back up in bed, sleeping off a food coma. But it's hard not to take advantage of the dish when it doesn't cost you a dime over $7. If you want to keep it a little cheaper and a little less meaty, go for the Three Deuces: pancakes, eggs and your choice of bacon or sausage. Breakfast specials run Monday through Saturday starting at 6 a.m. Additionally, Holiday Grill & Bar offers free wi-fi and a sidewalk cafe during the warmer months.
Steak 'n' Egger
This is another salute to the early morning meat-lovin' crowd. Steak 'n Egger's big breakfast special is none other than the restaurant's signature ribeye steak with three eggs, crispy hashbrowns and toast, $6.75. The restaurant is open 24 hours.
My only regret with Sunshine Restaurant is not learning about it sooner. To think of how many nail-biting, foot-tapping aggravating times I've had waited for nearby breakfast joints to open their padlocked doors, when I could've already been slingin' back the black stuff and munching on French toast. Starting at 5 a.m., the local diner offers six hearty breakfast specials, all under $5. Sunshine also understands how hard life can be before that first cup of coffee; that's why the diner's itemized list of specials makes your morning hassle-free. Simply point to one of the numbers one through six and voila! Instant (well, almost) gratification. Specials include cereal, French toast, pancakes, bacon, eggs and sausage.
Golden Nugget (Lincoln Park)
This one reminds me of an all-night diner I used to frequent back home. I'd bring along a stack of books and drown myself in bottomless cups of black coffee until the caffeine completely lost its effect. The 24-hour Golden Nugget on North Clark Street offers a similar luxury, but it also has something my old hangout didn't: three cheap (and strangely named) breakfast specials. But you have to get here between the hours of 6 a.m. and 11 a.m. to take full advantage of the Bonanza (two pancakes), the Champ (waffles) or the Chef (French toast). Each special is $5.99 and comes with two eggs (any style) and your choice of bacon or sausage.