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Rising and shining in Webster: Golden Boys 

With few exceptions, the days of the 24-hour diner are long gone in the Rochester area. But if you're an early riser with an appetite, head to Webster, where Golden Boys Family Restaurant -- in the heart of the village since 1973 -- opens at 4:30 a.m. seven days a week. Koz Liapis, who manages the restaurant along with his sister, Kathie O'Neil, says that in the restaurant's early days, Webster was predominantly a farming community, and they'd routinely have 10 to 20 people waiting to get in when the doors opened. Liapis further explained, "Today, we still have about 10 guys come in every morning between 4:30 and 5:30, and they've been doing it for about 30 years." Impressively, he then rattled off their names, one by one.

Golden Boys closes at 2 p.m. except Fridays, when it stays open till 8 p.m. and offers an expanded menu to include various seafood dishes for dinner, including homemade New England- and Manhattan-style clam chowder (there are at least two homemade soups on the menu every day). As such, it's primarily a breakfast and lunch spot, but like any legitimate diner, breakfast is always available, and breakfast is Golden Boys' forte.

O'Neil develops many of the dishes and is a driving force behind the changing seasonal breakfast specials. When the calendar and weather shift to autumn, she adds pumpkin-chocolate chip pancakes and the harvest omelet, which includes spiced ground sausage, apples, and cheddar. When winter returns, so do such items as gingerbread and hot cocoa pancakes with marshmallows. But at this time of year, fresh berries play a leading role in dishes like mixed berry pancakes ($8.75), blueberry- or raspberry-lemon pancakes ($8.75), fruit (mixed berry, strawberry, or blueberry) and cream cheese crepes ($8), or stuffed fruity (mixed berry, strawberry, or blueberry) French toast ($6.75 short stack/$7.25 full stack).

Golden Boys is undoubtedly the sweet spot for breakfast in summer. In addition to fresh fruit-focused dishes, you'll find Fruity Pebbles pancakes ($8.50), turtle pancakes (chocolate pancakes with pecans and caramel; $9.25), cannoli pancakes or French toast (homemade cannoli chocolate-chip filling rolled up in buttermilk pancakes or layered between slices of Texas-cut French toast, and drizzled with chocolate sauce; $8.75/$9.00), Black Forest pancakes (chocolate pancakes topped with cherry pie filling and homemade marshmallow sauce; $8.75), and peanut butter-banana quesadillas (a grilled tortilla filled with peanut butter and sliced banana; $7.95).

On a recent visit, my girlfriend Molly's daughter, Jocelyn, scarfed down an order of Fruity Pebbles pancakes, which had the eponymous cereal in the batter and on top, splashed with homemade marshmallow sauce. Molly enjoyed the blueberry-lemon pancakes, which feature a hint of lemon in the batter, lavished with lemon curd and fresh blueberries. I delighted in the stuffed fruity (blueberry) French toast, which had sweetened cream cheese and fresh blueberries between slices of eggy, golden French toast, topped with the same sweetened cream cheese and more blueberries. Just barely sweet, with no syrup necessary, it's ideal for a fruit lover who typically does not choose sweet breakfast dishes.

Golden Boys also excels with savory breakfast dishes. I housed a tomato and avocado omelet ($9.25 with home fries and toast), to which I added pepper jack cheese. But the stars of my savory breakfast were the tender, fluffy, and crispy-at-the-edges homemade breakfast biscuits smothered with spicy, salty homemade sausage gravy, rich with crumbly sausage ($4). Other noteworthy savory breakfasts I'd like to try include the crab cake eggs Benedict ($9.25) and the golden platter, which is hash browns with cheese, sour cream, and sautéed onions baked into a casserole and topped with bacon, then topped again with two eggs of your choice ($6.75).

Lest I shortchange Golden Boys' lunch offerings, I must first mention the soups. On one occasion I had Italian wedding soup that defied tradition with both kidney and garbanzo beans added to the customary ingredients. I also had to try the Manhattan clam chowder, which for some reason, can only be found locally in diners. In addition to chopped clams, this zesty chowder was chock-full of tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, carrots, and celery. The homemade soups are $2.25 for a cup, $3 for a bowl.

During a lunch get-together, my friend Dave devoured a Rachel melt: thick-cut roasted turkey breast with thick-cut cabbage slaw and melted cheese on sourdough ($9.25 with a side of fries). I chowed on a shaved steak melt with fresh peppers, onions, and mozzarella on golden-from-the-griddle sourdough ($9.75 with fries). He and I each complemented our meals with milkshakes -- Dave, chocolate; me, vanilla -- both classically thick, smooth, creamy, and not too sweet.

The original Golden Boys -- a moniker dubbed to the restaurant's original owners (Liapis and O'Neil's father, Gus, and their Uncle Steve) by an early regular -- burned down in 1987, but rebounded and has sustained itself with vitality since. This is in no small part due to Liapis and O'Neil's determination (both have worked there since their teen years) and desire to provide a consistent, family-like experience for their patrons who, as Liapis states, "are always gonna get an honest meal at an honest price."

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