Monday, March 14, 2011

Cafe 21, University Heights, San Diego, CA

I eat breakfast, really. I know everything I’ve posted so far has rotated around fine dinner dining or light but tasty lunch items, but I adhere to the saying that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. It just happens that I, like most people, have to fit it in those scant moments between waking up and running out the door to work. Yes, I always have it, and most of the time it is healthy and somewhat tasty meal for me, but it isn’t until the weekend that I get to luxuriate in the meal.

This weekend I managed to drag my girlfriend out of bed and head off to a little place in University Heights by the name of Café 21. Not much of a moniker, and looking at it not much of a location. It’s parked in a strip mall and sits next door to a liquor store. No, not the ideal location at first glance, but come in and sit down and you will be amazed by just how nice an atmosphere can be created with some pretty decorations and a friendly server.

Despite a slight chill in the air we sat outside, and instantly the smiling faces of the staff and the other diners put us at ease. Our server Derek (I apologize if I’ve spelled your name wrong), actually seemed happy to see us. Not pretend happy like a lot of servers put on, or efficient happy, but happy happy, like a man who honestly enjoys what he does. My girlfriend ordered a coffee and I got a large orange juice while I perused the menu. It looked smaller than the first time I had been there. Gone were the Green Eggs and Ham, and I noticed the item I’d had last time, the Salmon Diamonds, had been downsized to a sandwich. My eyes were drawn to a series of breakfast cakes, not the sweet kind, but the savory. My eyes were lingering on one with shrimp when I heard Derek say “lobster.” I instantly sat up and paid attention as he told me the special of the month was a Lobster Cake with a brown butter citrus sauce. I resisted the urge to tell him he had me at lobster. I ordered, and my girlfriend surprised me by getting the Monte Cristo.

We waited a short while passing the breeze and taking in the local color. Despite a view dominated by cars and pavement the outdoors area of Café 21 is really quite comfortable, almost homey. There is relatively little noise from the road, a pleasant but not overpowering breeze finds its way through the front dining area, and the music… well that is a matter of opinion. If you find yourself sitting in the front patio area you might hear the not so gentle sounds of techno wafting through the air. It doesn’t dominate the conversation, but it is definitely not something you can tune out. I found it quite pleasant, a needed change from the muzak that you find in the bigger chain restaurants. My girlfriend, well, she was not so much a fan of it. Still it did little to deter our enjoyment of the food.

Which thankfully arrived in a relatively short amount of time. I looked down and was pleased to note there appeared to be just the right amount of food on my plate. I must admit to a moment of trepidation as I saw a distant diner receive their Lobster Cake combined with a shudder that I had been lured into ordering another great tasting meal in a very small portion. Still in my moment of weakness I had asked Derek for a side of grilled prosciutto, which after some consideration was not a bad addition to the meal. My first bite was heaven. The whole thing was like a superbly modified Eggs Benedict balanced on a perfectly made cake with bits of visibly recognizable lobster. That along was the butter citrus sauce culminated into a perfect pairing of complimentary flavors and consistencies. I knew I’d found the right dish when I found myself consciously eating my food slowly, savoring each bite.

I glanced over at my girlfriend’s plate and received a smile that told me it was alright to try some of her Monte Cristo. Now, I should say that I prefer my Monte Cristo’s fried, sometimes even deep fried, and was a bit hesitant to take a bite when I saw what looked like it had just been grilled, but upon taking a mouthful I knew I’d finally found a great grilled Monte Cristo. The center was warm, but not hot, the bread had a nice crust to it, and again I had to stop myself from snatching my girlfriends plate off the table and making a run for it. Still I ended up eating half of her Monte Cristo in addition to my lobster cake, and mopped up the rest with a few pieces of grilled prosciutto.

I would not hesitate to say that Café 21 is one of the best places to pick up a delicious breakfast on a quiet Sunday morning. The staff is friendly, the food is great, and the environment is serene. You won’t notice the electronic soundtrack in the background, you’ll be too busy ooing and aweing over the food in front of you.

Café 21

2763 Adams Ave

San Diego, CA 92116