5425 Russell Ave NW, 784-7272

Sun-Thurs 8:30 am- midnight, Fri-Sat 8:30 am-1 am.

I'm not a food snob by any means, but I've watched my fair share of the Food Network, and I know good grub when I eat it. And, being a fan of the local chain of Chow restaurants (the 5 Spot, Jitterbug, etc.), I was starving for an opportunity to try out the family's newest addition, the Hi-Life, housed in the beautifully renovated old Ballard Firehouse.

It wouldn't be an easy task to impress this girl, however, because the 5 Spot once served the best pancakes I've ever had--chocolate cakes smothered in peanut-butter syrup, and, yes, it provided the best sugar-induced coma you'd expect it would. So with that, expectations were great.

Luckily, they were also met when a friend and I journeyed down the freezing Ballard streets for a late Saturday-morning breakfast.

I tried the Margurita Omelet ($8.50). The three-egg omelet was modestly filled with the perfect amount of basil, shredded mozzarella cheese, and tomato slices glazed in balsamic vinegar. The firm tomatoes were flawlessly cooked, not mushy at all, with each bite wrapped in a layer of the milky mozzarella that lusciously mixed with the light glaze.

The Fancy French Toast ($7.75) was delicious too. Two huge slices of crusty and thick Essential Bakery bread were soaked to the core in yummy, not-too-sweet vanilla custard and cooked to a crisp, deep, golden brown. The toast was served up with real maple syrup and a generous dollop of mascarpone cheese lightly flavored with espresso and a sprinkling of roasted hazelnuts. Yum.

When we returned for dinner, the experience wasn't quite as successful. My Piadini sandwich ($8.75) was lacking, with the promised aioli barely present. The thin layers of spinach, portobello mushroom, and roasted red peppers were balanced nicely with a soft, smoked mozzarella cheese, but the bland flat bread drowned out the subtle flavors. My dinner company was far from disappointed, though, as they promised that the beet salads ($6.75) were fresh and fantastic, and the perfectly cooked Alaskan salmon ($17.50) and three-cheese ravioli ($13.50) were worth returning for.