1801 N 34th St (Fremont/Wallingford), 547-2161. Mon-Fri 7 am- 3 pm; Sat-Sun 8 am-3 pm.
Take me to the Varsity Inn, and I immediately think of all the places my father and I would discover during our lengthy, silent car rides along Interstate 15. There have been some memorable Denver omelets and patty melts and strawberry waffles at various spots between Barstow, California, and Clark County, Nevada. To this day, I have a persistent soft spot for all-day breakfasts, and heated-up pie with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and a cup of watery coffee.
Unlike those childhood pit stops, with their sullen waitresses and musty dining rooms, the Varsity Inn's long, narrow space is painted a clean, bright yellow; service is always friendly; and the crispy, delicious hash browns do not taste like they've been cooked by someone who has lost all hope in life. But really, my point is that I've been eating at the Varsity since I first moved to Seattle, and it has always been satisfying; now that I am leaving Seattle, I am sad to include it on my growing list of Greasy Spoons I Have Loved.
A short stack (buttermilk/buckwheat, $3.50/$3.75) with a side of eggs ($1.80) will sustain you for hours. All the omelets are huge ($6.25-$8.25)--and yes, there's a solid Denver, along with other classics. (I love the Hobo: cheddar, mushroom, tomatoes, onions, and potatoes in the omelet.) There is also clam chowder on Fridays ($3.75 bowl), and sandwiches are divided by category: burger, melt, hot (like grilled cheese or the Monte Cristo), and dip (with savory au jus).
Last weekend, I shared biscuits and thick, tasty sausage cream gravy ($4.25) with two Midwestern friends. Wisconsin went for French toast ($6.25, with two eggs plus meat)--the Varsity's has an eggy, lightly sweet, cinnamon-scented batter--while Iowa chomped on the Philly beef & cheese supreme ($7.75), with sliced beef, sautéed onions and mushrooms, and green peppers--all of it bound by melted Swiss. (Tip: A side of ranch for your fries somehow enhances this sandwich.) I stuck to steak and eggs ($9.50), since I always get fabulously runny yolks here, which seep into the tender sirloin and complement my thick breakfast steak in a way that A1 can't even begin to understand. Of course, we got coffee and cherry pie ($2.95) afterward; and of course, I got very nostalgic.