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    A good old-fashioned country diner may seem a wee bit out of place on the modern suburban thoroughfare of Lake Mary Boulevard, but that hasn't stopped families from tolerating Appleton's fruity decor (a decor that gets ridiculously kitschy once Halloween and Christmas roll around) and gorging on heaping plates of hearty, greasy goodness. Maybe it's because the Old South vibe here isn't uncomfortably Old South ' it's relaxed, friendly, even a little dowdy, but it's got a distinct charm, and it offers a pre-noon alternative to the Heathrow housewife scene at the Peach Valley Café a couple of miles down the road.

    The waitresses at Appleton's are delightfully old-school and defiantly pleasant in the face of sluggish and disinterested diners. And they can certainly perk up the senses with comments like 'I wouldn't recommend the fruit today,â?� which, while somewhat off-putting, had me in stitches nonetheless.

    So, forgoing the cup of fruit ($2.95), we dove headfirst into one of their 'hearty breakfasts,â?� namely the country-fried steak and eggs ($7.95), which lived up to all expectations. The crunch of the pounded steak was perfect, and the thick sausage gravy that smothered it added a nice kick. Interspersing each bite with eggs over easy sopped up with a homemade country biscuit just made the meaty morning meal all the better.

    'Grits,â?� my dining partner remarked, 'are a serious personal choice.â?� The ones served here are on the thicker side, in need of quite a bit of butter and salt to give them the desired consistency and flavor. On the potato front, I preferred the home fries over the hash browns, though, really, both were good. From the griddle, both the thick French toast ($5.95; short stack, $4.25) and the pillowy pancakes ($5.95; short stack, $4.25) were flawlessly cooked. In keeping with the café's theme, warm apples and cinnamon can be added to your hotcakes for a couple more bucks. My only complaint, and it's an oft-cited one with me when it comes to breakfast joints, is that pure maple syrup isn't offered, even as an upgrade.

    All omelets are prodigious three-egg envelopes with enough sides (your choice of home fries, hash browns or grits and your choice of toast, homemade biscuit or English muffin with plain or cinnamon-raisin bagel) to keep you going until dinner. The Greek omelet ($7.95), however, was just too dry to fully enjoy. The cook was likely distracted from all the other dishes he was cooking and left it in the pan a few minutes too long, a shame considering I was looking forward to downing this eggy number with gyro meat, pepperoncini, black olives and crumbled feta.

    Coffee snobs need to leave their java judgments at the door ' the cup of joe served here is dark, strong and not for the faint of heart. A lunch menu is also offered (the place is open until 3 p.m.) with a variety of comfort food and greasy-spoon fare.

    'The Next Best Thing to Mom's Cookingâ?� is emblazoned on their menu, and while that may be true, their furnishings, particularly in the screened-in back porch, are the next best thing to a Motel 6. Then again, I wouldn't have expected anything less from a place that celebrates its Old Florida character. Biscuits to bacon, Appleton's is down-home to the core.

    The last time I had breakfast at Heathrow, I was hurriedly downing steak and eggs in the airport's food court before a connecting flight to Cairo, Egypt, an act I considered quite brazen considering it was during the height of Britain's mad cow frenzy. But for the ensuing seven-odd hours, the two proteins waged an intestinal terror campaign at 36,000 feet. Needless to say, the terms 'breakfastâ?� and 'Heathrowâ?� hold a not-so-special place inside me, so when the opportunity arose to experience breakfast in Heathrow (Florida, not London), I could hear the psychosomatic rumblings.

    Furthermore, driving out to a suburban outpost for an omelet and a stack of pancakes seemed like a flight of fancy, but when I found myself being calmed by the café's bucolic lakeside view, a craving for, of all things, steak and eggs ultimately materialized. Given this was Saturday morning, satisfying that craving necessitated a 20-minute wait but, unlike the fare at the airport food court, it was well worth it. Besides, complimentary coffee in their anteroom served to stimulate the appetite while I waited.

    Everything ' from the big windows and lemon-colored walls to the clinking cutlery of diners seated in comfy high-backed booths ' plays up the café's rise-and-shine splendor. Quite a few starved souls even braved the heat by dining al fresco in the spacious covered patio, a scene I took in while sipping on peach tea ($2.75), one of only two items on the menu with the fuzzy fruit as an ingredient.

    I soaked the trio of fluffy Frisbee-sized buttermilk pancakes ($5.25) in ersatz syrup (Aunt Jemima, my waitress confided), but even that sugary goop couldn't ruin these monster hotcakes, which were neither rubbery, spongy nor dense. Why diners can't enjoy them with real maple syrup is beyond me. At the very least, breakfast joints should offer the real deal as an upgrade.

    French toast ($5.25) was a disappointment. The menu read 'six pieces of Texas toast dipped in our homemade batter,â?� but the triangular slabs were Colorado-thin, not Texas-thick, and nowhere near eggy enough. The cheese omelet ($6.29), loaded with melted cheddar, kept it simple, but breakfast potatoes, crisped on the outside and thoroughly cooked inside, were indisputably divine, maybe the best in town. The buttermilk drop biscuit was a delicate and flaky puck best enjoyed with the thick and meaty sausage gravy ($4.50), but it was the Philly steak'and'eggs Benedict croissant ($8.39) that really impressed. Perfectly poached eggs sat inside a buttery crescent roll along with juicy slivers of grilled beef, the lemony hollandaise sauce meshing well with the sweetness of onion and red bell peppers. A side of potatoes and a cup of fresh fruit rounded out the platter.

    Peach Valley Café is open daily until 2:30 p.m. (3:30 on weekends), and also serves an assortment of soups, sandwiches, salads, burgers and wraps. The menu's sweeter side pushes their sugary apple fritters ($3.50), but I opted for the subtler peaches and cream muffin ($2.10), most of which I enjoyed with a cup of coffee later in the day.

    The café, owned by the same folks who brought you the Stonewood Grill & Tavern, is everything a brekkie joint should be and more. But until early risers in Orange County catch wind of the place the way their Seminole County counterparts have, Peach Valley Café will continue frying under the radar.

    Stylish Sanford soul-food joint sells a 1-pound burger that’ll knock your socks off, though affable proprietor Shantell Williams also perfectly executes chicken and waffles, fried flounder and fried okra. Some items, like a mac-and-cheese-topped portobello mushroom and fried Jamaican beef patties, are atypical but noteworthy nonetheless. Desserts change daily, but whatever Shantell’s got, get it.

    We didn't review this location but you can check out the review of the TooJay's Deli on Colonial Drive.

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