Bill's Cafe has been doing a brisk business serving up breakfast in the Bay Area for more than three decades.
What started as one family-owned breakfast joint in San Jose's Willow Glen neighborhood in 1977 has grown to seven locations, including its newest outpost in Midtown Palo Alto.
There's something for everyone at Bill's, but try not to panic when browsing the extensive menu. There are more than 20 kinds of omelets and scrambles, six types of Belgian waffles, seven versions of French toast, 11 kinds of pancakes and 10 variations on eggs Benedict -- plus numerous other breakfast items. My advice: Go with a group that's willing to share so you can taste more items. The website's claim that the food "comes big and hearty" is no PR stunt; servings are large.
The "French Garden" omelet ($11.79) was satisfying, with goat cheese, spinach, sundried tomatoes, avocado, mushrooms and basil. Country potatoes, served on the side (or swap them for hash browns) were flavorful but served cold.
The Hawaiian pancakes ($8.99) -- buttermilk cakes with fresh bananas, macadamia nuts and coconut -- were luscious, fluffy and not overly sweet. A short stack comes with two massive pancakes and sides of butter, whipped cream and maple syrup. My only complaint was that the syrup wasn't real maple syrup and the whipped cream tasted like the store-bought stuff that comes in a can.
The blueberry waffles ($9.99) aren't quite like those that Leslie Knope of "Parks and Recreation" obsesses over at JJ's Diner, but they're a solid, sweet breakfast choice -- light and fluffy, with a sprinkling of powdered sugar and four large dollops of whipped cream. Again, there's no skimping when it comes to portions at Bill's.
The "skillet creations" are a favorite, and I highly recommend them to those who are either incredibly hungry or hungover -- or both. The veggie skillet ($11.50) is an enormous bed of hash browns piled with scrambled egg whites, mushrooms, spinach, asparagus, tomato, avocado, onions, cheddar cheese, sour cream and chives. Don't miss Bill's "original skillet" of country-fried potatoes, onions, ham, cheddar cheese, mushrooms, tomatoes and green peppers topped with two eggs in any style ($11.50).
The California eggs Benedict ($11.95, with bacon, avocado and tomato instead of the traditional Canadian bacon) came with perfectly poached eggs, but the flavorless hollandaise sauce left something to be desired.
On my first visit, the service was overeager and not well-paced, but at subsequent meals, it was friendly and attentive without being overbearing. My coffee cup was always full. (Pro tip: If you prefer the drinks next-door at Philz Coffee, Bill's will let you bring it in.)
The space itself is somewhat sterile, with tables and some large booths. There's outdoor seating on a small patio along Middlefield Road. While the food is homey, the physical space leaves something to be desired. For a string of local restaurants with a long history, I would hope for more of a neighborhood feel or a bit of charm.
For thirsty customers, belly up to the bar for a mimosa ($7) served in chalice-like cups described on the menu as "bowls." (They clock in at 17.5 ounces.) Anyone looking for a boozy breakfast can choose from bloody marys, coffee with Bailey's, Mexican coffee (tequila, Kahlua, coffee and whipped cream), Irish coffee with Jameson whiskey, a chavela (Model Especial beer served with lime in a glass with a salted rim) or Bill's "super Michelada" (Negra Modelo beer, a splash of tomato juice, lime juice and a "touch" of tequila served in a large chilled glass with a salted rim).
Bill's Cafe should be a welcome addition for breakfast lovers with hearty appetites looking for something new on the Midpeninsula.
3163 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto
Hours: 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily
Credit cards: yes
Parking: street, lot
Alcohol: beer and wine
Happy hour: no
Outdoor dining: patio
Noise level: moderate
Bathroom cleanliness: excellent