BEST BUDGET RESTAURANT
Franchise-food dining doesn't have the Epicurean seal of approval around here, but once in a while you find an exception. On Friday nights, for example, Robert, the Deep South short-order cook at this mid-Beach branch attached to a Howard Johnson's hotel, will cook you up two golden-red porkchops, an orange sweet potato, and some green broccoli, washed down with heavily iced lemon-Coke. Makes you feel you're in a Carson McCullers novel -- The Ballad of the Sad Café, say. Carlos Duran will serve this feast for only $8.29, and tell you about the time his computer card (for the cash register), which he wears on a vinyl cord, wrapped around a chair while he was delivering an order and nearly pulled his pants off. Lawraye Taveinni, a manager, will seat you in the smoking section (no one sits there) on a crowded Sunday morning and feed you healthy Harvest whole-grain oat, almond, and English walnut pancakes with warm fruit compote for just $5.99. And midweek cute Antoy Williams will cheer up grouchy oldsters who didn't want big sausages on their French toast special ($6.29) with jokes about her bus trip in from Opa-locka: "That driver was madder than you, honey! He just stuck in my face!" Call it breakfast theater.
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