Brunches With Punch

A Profusion of Tantalizing Morning Fare

By and large, the economic recession has been terrible for restaurants, although the East Bay’s food-loving community seems to be keeping old favorites and hip new arrivals afloat. Still, many restaurant owners are looking for ways to appeal to budget-conscious diners. Enter brunch, that laid-back, homey meal that’s so much less intimidating than the full formal dinner. While brunch at the gourmet depots listed here isn’t bargain basement as average breakfasts go, it’s an excellent value for a meal at these high-end, sustainably-run eateries. And there’s nothing average about these brunches. After experiencing them, you’ll never be able to tolerate inferior French toast again.

C’era Una Volta

Mark your Calendar: 9 a.m. – 3 p.m. Sunday

Who’s Waking Up:
 Europhiles who long for a brunch that brings back memories of Italy

Quintessential Dish: Crespella d’Alba, a delicate crepe filled with chocolate-hazelnut spread, the addictive blend known as gianduja and even better known as Nutella.

On the Savory Side: Polenta “toast” topped with Pecorino cheese and soft-center eggs; optional truffle oil

On the Sweet Side: Marscarpone-almond pancakes until 11 a.m., mimosa paradiso and other brunch cocktails made with fresh juices
Price Check: Brunch entrees, $6 – $10

Don’t Forget: Groups of four can enjoy a prix fixe family-style chef’s tasting menu that includes communal dishes of salad, or a starter, pasta, a main course and dessert ($28 – $50 or more per person). Technically, brunch is only served Sunday, but the café is open from 10 a.m. Wednesday – Saturday with selected breakfast fare.

Contact: 1332 Park St., Alameda, (510) 769-4828,


Mark Your Calendar: 10 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. Saturday

Who’s Waking Up: Neighborhood dwellers and restaurant industry folks

Quintessential Dish:
 The “donettes,” miniature doughnuts that come with chocolate sauce and house-made fruit jam on the side

On the Savory Side: The bulk of the brunch menu changes every five weeks or so, but you’ll likely find dishes such as fennel sausage, potato, spinach and cheddar scramble served with Acme toast.

On the Sweet Side:
 Farro, an Italian grain that’s Flora’s answer to oatmeal, topped with butternut squash, golden raisins, walnuts and crème fraîche

Price Check:
 Brunch entrees, $7 – $16

Don’t Forget: The menu always includes a classic Louie salad made with fresh seafood such as bay scallops, shrimp or crab.

Contact: 1900 Telegraph Ave., Oakland, (510) 286-0100,


Mark Your Calendar: 8 a.m. – noon Monday – Saturday

Who’s Waking Up: The alternatively employed

Quintessential Dish: 
The doughnut. An exemplary, light cake doughnut with a crunchy coating of cinnamon sugar was the inspiration for this morning scene, which evolved organically as many things do under the direction of chef Charlie Hallowell. At first, the breakfast was just for staff, but gradually Hallowell started welcoming friends of the restaurant and neighborhood folks and eventually opened to the public. Go up to the bar and order perfect espresso drinks made with Blue Bottle coffee, plus whatever pre-prepared item you want to eat, then grab a table with your fare.

On the Savory Side: Frittata with greens

On the Sweet Side: Acme toast with jam

Price Check: Doughnuts, $2

Don’t Forget: Cash only

Contact: 5008 Telegraph Ave., Oakland, (510) 652-4888,


Mark Your Calendar: 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday

Who’s Waking Up: Oaktown foodies, hipster families

Quintessential Dish: Chef Russell Moore’s house-made pork sausage

On the Savory Side: Wood oven–baked eggs with cream, leeks and herbs served in a cazuela

On the Sweet Side: Thick-cut pain de mie French toast served with dried stone fruit compote, walnuts and crème fraîche. It’s
golden brown and crispy on the outside, pure custard within.

Price Check: Small items (toast, condiments), $3 – $5; larger items, $10

Don’t Forget: The menu changes daily, but you can always get an entrée-type dish, such as seasonal fish with breadcrumbs, capers and green beans, and there’s always a brunch dessert — a brilliant concept — such as tender little strawberries sliced in half and served atop a pool of fresh mint crème anglaise or sugar doughnuts fresh from the fryer.

Contact: 3917 Grand Ave., Oakland, (510) 547-5035,

Brown Sugar Kitchen

Mark Your Calendar: 7 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. Tuesday – Friday, 7 a.m. – 3 p.m. Saturday, 8 a.m. – 3 p.m. Sunday

Who’s Waking Up: Soul-food lovers from near and far. You’re likely to find local workers alongside imports from the Oakland Hills who arrived in their Jag.

Quintessential Dish: Cornmeal waffle. This dish belongs on a top 10 list for Bay Area food moments. Lacy, light, crisp. It shatters when bitten. Excellent with the tangy apple cider syrup, but equally satisfying topped, in true Southern style, with golden brown fried chicken.
On the Savory Side: Po’boys or grits topped with poached eggs or shrimp

On the Sweet Side: Beignets with house-made jam

Price Check: 
Chicken and waffle, $14

Don’t Forget:
 This is Tanya Holland’s neo-soul food, and it has a healthy bent. Look for veggie scrambles, salads topped with smoked trout and sides of garlicky spinach. But don’t worry: You can still get a buttery biscuit. Also, the restaurant has switched from Blue Bottle to ROAST coffee, good quality stuff produced just around the corner. The cost savings and an easier brewing technique allow Brown Sugar to offer refills, gratis.

Contact: 2534 Mandela Parkway, Oakland, (510) 839-7685,


Mark Your Calendar: 10:30 a.m. – 3 p.m. Sunday

Who’s Waking Up:
 Families with hungry teenagers; the Saturday night party set

Quintessential Dish: Fried chicken benedict. It takes a Southerner’s courage (or perhaps freedom from the Bay Area nutrition police) to put fried chicken and hollandaise sauce in the same dish, but the end result is nothing short of scrumptious, particularly when washed down with a mimosa.

On the Savory Side:
 Smoked beef brisket and collard green hash and biscuits topped with crawfish gravy

On the Sweet Side:
 Big, pillowy, cane sugar–dusted beignets

Price Check: brunch entrees, $12 – $18

Don’t Forget: Appetizers such as fried green tomatoes are available at brunch, as is the pimento cheese burger.

 2295 Broadway, Oakland, (510) 834-1000,

Savory or Sweet?

It’s the perennial brunch conundrum: Do you want oatmeal or eggs? Pancakes or the huevos rancheros? Here are your best brunch strategies:

• Go with friends and consider a brunch appetizer of something sweet, say the waffle, to share at your table before your savory entrees come.

• If you’re by yourself, order one sweet dish and one savory. Eat half of each dish, and pack the rest up to go.

• Consider the sweet add-on. Get the eggs, but throw in a doughnut, beignet or scone to start your meal. If you’re worried about getting too full, only eat half the pastry. The other half can easily be thrown in a napkin and taken on the road.

• Come back the next weekend to try what you didn’t have this one.

This article appears in the November 2009 issue of Alameda Magazine
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