Tuesday, August 3, 1999

Wake-up call

Posted on Tue, Aug 3, 1999 at 4:00 AM

We didn't expect to be greeted with a remote beeper and a 20-minute wait for a table when we arrived at Le Peep on a Saturday morning. But then, it was our first visit, and those who live in the Bay Hill/Dr. Phillips area were way ahead of us. In fact, Le Peep has been packing them in for 12 years at the intersection of Kirkman and Conroy/Windermere roads.

Le Peep was originally an upscale Aspen breakfast spot, founded by a ski buff who wanted to pay the bills and hit the slopes in the afternoon. As the restaurant has expanded into a national chain, some of the individual charm has given way to formulas and concepts. The menu reads like a series of cutesy one-liners, many of them trademarked, like the "pampered eggs," "berry patch waffles," "Sir Benedict omelettes" and "proud bird" chicken sandwiches.

We were won over by the muffins. "Gooey buns" ($1.95) are nothing like they sound. They're actually English muffins transformed into toasted-brown-sugar-and-cinnamon rolls, and served with a dollop of cream cheese and a side of baked apples.

The dining area is a step up from a Denny's or a Perkins, with patio seating and umbrellas over some of the tables. Every table was filled, so the waiters were on their toes. But with an ever-present crowd of people waiting in line out front, there was understandably more emphasis on turning tables than encouraging customers to linger.

With dozens of combinations of omelets, skillet dishes, French toast, Belgian waffles and pancakes, there's something for everyone here. Some of it is original, like the "granola blues" pancakes that have crunch thanks to the blueberry granola ($4.55). But even better are the pancakes textured with sliced bananas and crumbled Southern pecans ($4.15).

By comparison, "original French toast" ($4.50) isn't as exciting as the menu's detailed description. The thick slices of Vienna bread, soaked in custard batter and grilled until light and golden, taste like plain old French toast.

Many items are featured with hollandaise sauce, and a little bit of caution might be in order here. A heavy helping of the sauce weighed down an otherwise fine seafood skillet crepe ($6.15), which was filled with crabmeat, broccoli and veggies. On the side, "peasant potatoes" were a lame rendition of diced potatoes that tasted dry and flavorless.

The "light" omelets are quite good, made with whipped egg-whites and light cheddar cheese. We liked "white lightning" ($6.15), a Southwestern version with chicken, green chiles and guacamole.

And if you're a fan of fresh-squeezed orange juice, Le Peep offers one of the best deals in town. A half-liter carafe ($2.95) easily serves two, and then some.

With its wide variety of breakfast and brunch meals, Le Peep fills a niche in the high-traffic area. But there isn't anything new going on here that would drive hungry brunchers to traveling extremes.

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