‘Laurel’ serves up breakfast right

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March 16, 2009

Brenna Smith

Oscar Wilde reportedly once said, “Only dull people are brilliant at breakfast,” and while it’s difficult to quibble with the likes of Mr. Wilde, clearly he was not taking his coffee at one of the colorful breakfast joints found between the wrought iron arches that bookend 35th and High Streets in the Laurel district.

“I just don’t have time to do breakfast,” blurted sophomore Alex Cruz as she hurried from economics to kickboxing class.

Like Cruz, many Mills students simply skip breakfast or grab and dash, their mornings a gastronomic blur, and it’s a shame, for only a mile away several worthwhile breakfast experiences await students when they are finally ready to slow down and smell the bacon.

You see, there is a difference between places that just might happen to serve breakfast, and real breakfast joints, which offer buttery short stacks and eggs over easy ’til closing. At a real breakfast joint, it is about the fluff of the omelet, the light, moist texture of an expertly mixed pancake.

“I will travel a long distance for the right breakfast,” said Paolo Sison, a culinary school graduate who once traveled two hours to try a mythologized mac-and-cheese omelet.

A breakfast joint is not about ambiance, though usually an owner’s odd sense of humor disguised as décor is happening somewhere. The real atmosphere is the banter between a waitress and a regular concerning the level of coffee in his cup, the little girl taking advantage of her mother’s distracted chatting to dip her bacon in butter and maple syrup, the man sleepily greeting neighbors as he goes to the same corner table, unfolds his paper and orders his usual ham and eggs. At a true breakfast joint, the real star of the show is the neighborhood.

The Full House Café is one of the most popular spots, according to Laurel locals, with lines often going out the door on weekends. Here, small talk carries across several tables and the staff seems to operate with a hectic nonchalance.

“I love that you guys always order so adventurously,” said the waitress to the next table who both ask for the day’s shrimp omelet special with a Jalapeno cheddar muffin.

The menu is slightly more audacious than the conventional greasy spoon, offering oyster or blue cheese and bacon frittatas, an Italian-style open-faced omelet, along with cornmeal pancakes, which have won accolades in the East Bay Express.

And there is something oddly enjoyable about eating breakfast while gazing at paintings of dogs playing poker, or a studio still of a dog playing cards with Frank Sinatra. While a poker motif pervades the place, it’s the gambling dogs that give this breakfast joint its winking charm and solidifies its greasy-spoon street cred.

Further down MacArthur, beneath a bright blue awning is the Café of the Bay, a staple of the lower Laurel that also specializes in all things breakfast.

“We’ve been here for like 18, 19 years,” the waitress said, totaling receipts behind the counter.

“The food was so good yesterday I came back again today,” said a grey-haired gentleman sitting down with two friends. A waitress rolled her eyes playfully.

The house special French toast plate is especially worth the visit, not overly eggy or smothered under a mound of powdered sugar, and the giant vegetarian and meat lovers’ omelets overwhelm even the most ambitious appetite.

Amidst the lime green walls, forest green checkered tablecloths and the rose pink counter, people-watching on a sleepy, rained-out Sunday is at its most interesting. You can also see a huge banner announcing a Louisiana Fried Chicken coming soon, and next door, beneath a faded tangerine awning, sits Lucky Donuts and Bakery.

For the student short on cash, but hungry and looking to sit back and commune with local flavor, there is no better spot than Lucky Donuts and Bakery.

“I just can’t eat a heavy breakfast, I need something crumbly,” said Jessie Pickworth college student and self-proclaimed coffee cake expert.

Lucky Donuts and Bakery is an eclectic spot that offers nine flavors of good, strong coffee, bakery-style breakfasts, donuts and the casino game Keno. Yes, Keno. This quick-fix breakfast spot draws a diverse and usually talkative crowd, so for the creative writing student suffering from writer’s block, it’s your very own rainbow-sprinkled, character-driven gold mine.

Plus, as one spiky haired customer whispered to another while pouring cream into her to-go cup, “Whatever, $1.30 for coffee rocks.”


‘Laurel’ serves up breakfast right was published on March 16, 2009 in Features

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