We need to add a corollary to the adage about breakfast. A leisurely weekend brunch isn't just the most important meal of the day, it's usually the best one. French toast, waffles, bacon ... mmmmm.
So we've spent the last year seeking out the best brunch spots around the East Bay. Here's the latest installment in that search: three fantastic places to grab breakfast on a weekday or loll about on a weekend, including a cozy cafe in Alameda, a retro diner in Concord and a bustling bistro in Dublin.
Address: 2302 Encinal Ave., Alameda
Contact: 510-521-8848, www.cafeqalameda.com
Hours: 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. weekdays; 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturdays; and until 3 p.m. Sundays
Brunch tab: $29.43 for breakfast for two
Traipse through downtown Alameda on a weekend morning, and you'll see brunch crowds lined up on the main drag, waiting their turn at Ole's and other breakfast mainstays. Silly them. Cozy Cafe Q sits just around the corner, and, apparently, its wonderful breakfasts and amazing coffee haven't been discovered by the masses -- yet.
Order at the counter -- and make sure that order includes a cup or two of Q's truly excellent coffee -- then grab a table on the sidewalk or in the airy backroom, where quirky artwork adorns the walls, a wood lath screen boasts a Q cutout, and the ceiling and back wall are painted a serene aquamarine.
Cafe Q does lunch and dinner service, too, but there are few things as civilized as a latte and some eggy deliciousness to start a Saturday morning. Here, the coffee is single-origin, roasted and ground locally -- yes, you can buy it by the pound. As for the food, the emphasis is on locally grown, organic ingredients, and it shows in every bite.
There are plenty of choices here, from egg-filled burritos and chilaquiles to Q-Granola, French toast and design-your-own omelets. But whatever you do, get the Breakfast Sandwich ($8). Between the softly scrambled eggs, melty cheddar and applewood-smoked bacon, this is seriously delicious. It's also huge; light eaters might want to share an order.
The Corned Beef Hash ($13) is also terrific, with satisfyingly chewy bites of corned beef and potatoes, topped with two poached eggs. If you like your yolks runny, best to say so when you order. These were tender and moist but fairly firm. Happily, that's exactly the way hubby likes them. In fact, everything was.
-- J. Burrell
Address: 6058 Dougherty Road, Dublin
Contact: 925-829-6200, www.denicascafe.com
Hours: 5 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays; 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays; and until 3 p.m. Sundays
The brunch tab: $31.72 for breakfast for two
Breakfast burritos are a personal thing, and Denica's, the fresh food diner and bakery in Dublin, understands that by offering five, from the Original ($6.99) with scrambled eggs, red-skinned potatoes, Tillamook cheddar, black forest ham and salsa, to the Happy Vegan ($8.99), which comes with sauteed baby spinach, black beans, avocado and home fries.
Burritos and sammies are just the first entry on the Dublin institution's monstrous breakfast menu, which includes eight omelets or scrambles, such as co-owner James' Special ($10.99) with applewood bacon, sausage, linguica, mushrooms, green onions and cheddar, and the Mexican ($8.99), with avocado, diced chiles, sour cream and salsa. They all come with your choice of potatoes, grilled tomatoes, grilled veggies, black beans or a side salad. The same goes for the four varieties of eggs Benedict ($10.99).
The open-kitchen restaurant is split into two dining rooms, with a play area for kids in one and an enormous pastry case in the other. It's a fun, bustling atmosphere with a focus on from-scratch cooking and baked goods. Grab a few of their famous cookies or take a moment to gawk at the ginormous muffins and berry scones while keeping an eye out for daily specials, like the Cookie Dough Waffles.
Since breakfast is served all day, you can satisfy your sweet tooth anytime with real whipped cream on one of the nine waffles, pancakes or French toast dishes (the Josephine comes with warm, sauteed bananas) or five crepes, including the Maui No Ka 'Oi, with toasted coconut and caramel. They range from $4.99 to $9.99.
Our favorite dish, for flavor and simplicity, was the Roma via Paris ($10.99), a three-egg scramble with spinach, fresh basil, tomatoes, mushrooms, pesto and goat cheese. I'm sure we'll find others, though, as Denica's is opening two new locations by year's end in Walnut Creek and Livermore. Lucky us.
-- J. Yadegaran
Bay Leaf Cafe
Address: 2123 Pacheco St., Concord
Contact: 925-363-3983, http://bayleaf.tumblr.com
Hours: 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily
Brunch tab: $24.69 for breakfast for two
A block away from Todos Santos Plaza sits the kind of breakfast joint that locals love. Kitschy decor and vinyl tablecloths may not promise upscale dining, but the patio seating, near-packed dining room and delicious smells wafting from the open kitchen tell you this is the place to come for breakfast.
Bay Leaf serves lunch, too, but it's the all-day breakfast that has stamped this restaurant as Concord's homey, inexpensive brunch spot for the last 14 years.
The menu caters to every breakfast mood imaginable and even dabbles in some creative options: Joe's Special, scrambled eggs with cream cheese and chives ($9.95), and the Burrito Omelet, folded into a tortilla and topped with homemade salsa ($10.15), looked tempting.
But something about the retro feel and hospitable service made a more traditional breakfast sound equally appealing. For me, the greatness of breakfast is best judged by the French toast.
The Half French Toast Combo satisfied both the sweet and savory sides, with two slices of French toast, two eggs and your choice of meat ($8.20). The scrambled eggs were light and fluffy, and the slice of ham had a hint of smokiness, but it was the French toast that truly scored. Too often French toast tastes undercooked and overpowered with cinnamon. Bay Leaf's was perfect, with a grilled crispness, powdered sugar and warm syrup on the side.
We also sampled the low-fat omelet ($10.20) to see if a lighter choice could stack up to Bay Leaf's other breakfasts. The eggbeater omelet was loaded with spinach, zucchini, mushrooms, onions and tomatoes and served hot, with slices of melon, pineapple and oranges and wheat toast.
Not everything was perfect -- the coffee didn't taste fresh, and our server left the bill with my credit card on a table by the front door while she served coffee on the patio -- but the good food, homey atmosphere and menu prices more than made up for a few hiccups.
-- A. Tatko-Peterson