There are few things more sublimely civilized than weekend brunch -- or a great weekday breakfast in a cozy cafe. This trio of bistros offers a little something for everyone, from the all-American retro charms of Orinda's Village Inn to the Pan-American allure of Oakland's Bocanova. Plus: Millionaire Bacon in Pleasanton.
Address: 55 Webster St., Oakland
Contact: 510-444-1233; www.bocanova.com
Brunch hours: 11 a.m.-4 p.m. on weekends
Breakfast tab for two: $39
On a crisp Sunday morning, there's almost nowhere as pleasant or happening in the East Bay than Jack London Square on Oakland's waterfront. You can hear the live music and bustling farmers market from Bocanova's chic outdoor seating, which overlooks the sun-dappled water. Sip on a fresh-brewed cup of Oakland's Roast ($5 pot for two), and you might linger until lunch.
Bocanova updated its brunch menu to include all the Pan-American goodies available for lunch, such as short rib empanadas or quinoa salad with duck confit and Marash chili, plus a few egg dishes ($9-$15) and some baked goods ($5-$7). We stuck closer to those breakfast-type offerings, starting with the colossal Belgian waffle ($7) draped with maple syrup and topped with fresh Chantilly cream and baked apples. It was great for sharing as a breakfast dessert, should you want to create such a course. We did.
The soft scrambled eggs with papas fritas and toast were a nice complement, with spice from aji amarillo and palate-cleansing sweetness from pillow-soft lumps of Dungeness crab ($14). If you want something to soak up last call, tuck into a bowl of Chilean Hangover Stew ($13), tender chunks of beef and seasonal veggies topped with shredded lettuce and avocado slices. It sounds shareable, but you'll want the whole thing for yourself.
-- J. Yadegaran
Farmhouse Eatery & Bar
Address: 600G Main St., Pleasanton
Contact: 925-398-8665; Facebook.com/eatdrinkfarmhouse
Breakfast hours: Opens at 9 a.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, 8 a.m. weekends
Breakfast tab for two: $35
Tucked away in a small space just off Pleasanton's busy Main Street, the new Farmhouse Eatery offers traditional breakfast fare with a few twists, all served in a cozy dining room with a small adjacent bar.
The Waffled French Toast ($9.75) has vanilla and cinnamon bread put on the press, adding an extra touch of flavor and a softer texture than a typical waffle. Those with a stronger sweet tooth might like the Stuffed French Toast ($10.50), served with a berry-infused mascarpone filling that manages to be rich but not heavy. Enjoy either dish with a small carafe of French press coffee -- in bold, regular or decaf ($3 per person).
The Farmhouse Polenta ($10.50) is only available in limited quantities; it was already sold out when we first visited, and once we tasted it, it was easy to see why. The earthy mushroom flavor shines through in the creamy polenta, which is topped with sauteed spinach, Black Forest ham, a delicately poached egg and tangy Mornay sauce.
But the breakfast star was the Millionaire's Bacon, which is served with the standard egg platter, tucked inside several lunch-menu sandwiches and available as a side dish ($4 for 3 slices). Thick-cut applewood-smoked bacon boasts caramelized brown sugar, crushed walnuts and a dash of chili pepper, giving it a sweet flavor, a slightly crunchy texture and the faintest touch of spice. They say everything's better with bacon, but these flavors are what makes bacon better.
-- D. Jimenez
Village Inn Cafe
Address: 204 Village Square, Orinda
Contact: 925-254-6080, www.orindacoffeeshop.com
Breakfast hours: Opens at 5:30 a.m. weekdays, 6:30 a.m. Saturdays and 7:30 a.m. Sundays
Breakfast tab for two: $32
Between the framed, historic photographs and vintage vibe, Orinda's Village Inn Cafe is a retro treasure. The breakfasts are hearty, the welcome warm and the coffee -- toted by a server we fully expected to call us "Hon" -- is unlimited. Orindans have been flocking to this cozy diner for more than 20 years, and the line that stretched out the door on a recent Sunday morning made us think a goodly percentage of the town's population had dropped in that very day for pancakes, waffles and over-easies.
Expect to wait a long time for a table on a weekend morning. Expect to wait a long time for your cooked-to-order food, too. It's all worth it for the epic platter of corned beef hash with two eggs and killer waffles. (It's $12.50 for a full portion, which is more than any human being can eat. We'd suggest ordering the half-portion, except that the leftover hash is so very good the next day.) The hash features house-made corned beef, and both it and the waffles were so delicious, we can't quibble over the faux maple syrup.
The cafe's breakfast menu includes all the usual suspects -- pancakes, scrambles, omelets -- with a little twist here and there. The Huevos Rancheros ($12), for example, were served atop a cheesy quesadilla instead of a mere tortilla, with sliced avocado, fresh salsa and sour cream. Olé, baby. We may never settle for unquesadilla'ed huevos again.
-- J. Burrell