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Early bird gets the warm coffee 

I have a good friend who I meet for breakfast once every few weeks. Literally, 6:30 in the morning is the only time our schedules do not conflict, so that's when we get together.

Surprisingly though, finding a place to meet and eat in the wee hours, particularly in the downtown area, has been no easy task. Through much perseverance and trial and error, however, we have discovered a few gems. Following are some recommendations for places at which to dine before 7 a.m.

Criteria used for evaluation were atmosphere (to allow for good relaxed, conversation), flow of coffee (omnipresent refills), meal quality (too much grease in the morning is bad) and menu diversity (sometimes you need more than eggs).

Number one on the list is Western Omelette (on the west side of town at 16 S. Walnut Street). Open bright and early at 6 a.m., the place is always in full swing by the time we arrive. Hustle and bustle abound, as does the smell of bacon and coffee. Coffee cups are about the only thing on the table prior to seating, and unless you say otherwise, your cup is immediately filled, before menus and silverware even reach the table.

The breakfast menu is extensive (pork chops to pancakes) and though best known for their giant omelettes, you really can't go wrong with anything you choose. And I would be remiss if I failed to mention two things: First, Western Omelette has stellar bacon -- thick, crisp and more meat than fat. Second, the green chili is phenomenal. My mouth burns (in a good way) just thinking about it.

Atmospherically speaking, it's a great big, laid back place with big booths, very casual, and conducive to conversation and hanging out. Or even getting work done before heading into the office.

Old City Caf, located in Old Colorado City at 2802 W. Colorado Avenue, also caters to the very early morning crowd with an atmosphere very different from Western Omelette. It is quieter and brighter. Providing the sun is up, the natural morning light flowing in through the giant street-side windows sets the large dining room aglow.

One thing to know about this place is that while it opens at 6 a.m., breakfast does not begin until 7. Until then, breads, muffins and sweet rolls are available. But these guys are quick with the coffee pot and most impressively, offer a choice between dark roast or light roast. And the coffee is outstanding.

The breakfast menu is not as large or diverse as others, but what they do offer is good -- with the exception of just plain old toast. For some reason, toasting is not a priority.

The French toast, however, is another story. Chocolate or plain, it's always warm, sweet and fluffy, lightly sprinkled with powdered sugar. Also worthy of mention is the oatmeal -- oats, nuts and dried fruit accompanied by milk, it kicks Quaker's ass. And I'll give anyone who can finish a bowl five bucks.

Considering the upscale looks, good coffee and decent food, Old City Caf is very reasonably priced. Breakfast for two, including coffee but not juice, is almost always under $10.

Finally, there's Detz Caf, located downtown at 7 E. Vermijo Avenue, across the street from the courthouse. I like Detz because cops and the courthouse crowd regularly dine there, which always makes for an interesting mix of people and good eavesdropping material. Their absolute specialty is the pancake, wholewheat or buttermilk, guaranteed to be larger than your head. Don't be fooled by the term "short stack."

Here too, the servers are exceptionally attentive with the coffee pot, as well as the refilling of water glasses. Most of all, though, Detz is low-key, the food is consistently good, portions are large and it's cheap, cheap, cheap.

I've been told the new Broadway Deli downtown opens at 6:30 a.m., and my friend and I will definitely be trying their cheese blintzes and egg scrambles in the near future.

There are those in the world who cherish being up and about before the sun rises. I am still not one of them. But as I am learning, that's when the coffee is freshest.

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