Real Men Lighten Up

Crepes and Tapatio at the Crema Cafe

The Crema Café is a café in the time-honored Main Street USA way—with good and hearty food like that of the Sugar Shack or the Harbor House—but also a café in the more cosmopolitan way, too, with a menu dotted with accent aigus and the kind of delicate light-lunch fare that makes Long Beach's La Muse (now back in business after last year's unfortunate plumbing catastrophe) such an excellent early afternoon destination. At the Crema, real men can refuse not just quiche (quiche Lorraine with ham and cheese or spinach quiche) but salade niçoise, caprese salad with buffalo mozzarella, prosciutto mozzarella with Swiss, or a modest selection of featherweight crepes. And real men can also knock the bite out of a hangover with make-your-own omelets or good ol' bacon and eggs, plus simple fresh-brewed coffee. As a deeply confused person, I got a little of everything.

And as a person who drags around a hangover or two, I started with a Crema make-your-omelet: trucker-strength but art-gallery presentation, arranged with the sort of pomp that usually demands waiters wear something more uncomfortable than a T-shirt. Crema's omelets aren't like the tough guys at local benchmarks like Egg Heaven; instead, they lean toward a surprising lightness closer to the healthy-and-don't-you-know-it? breakfasts at Mother's. The onions were juicy and sweet; the tomatoes were fat and firm; the avocado came in a long, thin domino line; and the eggs were beaten only with a sense of mercy. And then a little scoop of hash browns on the side. Had to ask for Tapatio and felt like I just asked for an ashtray, but they had a big bottle behind the counter, possibly because it might sort of gauche-out the very muted-earth-tones sort of décor. More Crema presentation-is-everything: in business for maybe a month or two, the Crema still has the shine on all of the fixtures, which nicely complements the obviously well-thought-out café design. Families and surf goofs and lone, unrecognized geniuses—each picky in his own way—were cordially sliding past one another's tables with modest cups of coffee and free, slightly-used newspapers from the rack. A lot of people were discussing Internet dating—that's great because at some of the more decent breakfast places, people just discuss what they should have done when that cop ticketed them for peeing on the beach last night. Earthy people like earthy food—you know.

Then Belgian waffles and a Crema crepe, a sugar shock after the conspicuously healthy omelet. Crema isn't shy about seasonal advantage, pyramiding fresh blueberries on the side and filleting strawberries into Gallic flower-petal patterns. Their waffles come crisp and light (but you can cancel that out with the cloud of whipped cream and butter on top) and their crepes come even lighter—you have to request they stuff out the Nutella crepe with banana chunks, but it already comes with chocolate and strings of caramel zig-zagged over the top. In tandem with one of Crema's staple coffee choices (macchiato, café au lait, all the necessary basics), you could pull down enough sucrose and caffeine to burst a Chihuahua's tiny heart.

Which is a hallmark of a complete breakfast. And if you last that long—Crema is a good place to take a balmy window seat and nurse a newspaper as the beach people bounce along outside—you can chase down a well-appointed lunch later. Even the humble tuna sandwich comes decked out for prom queen on a classy, oblong plate with a nest of salad on the side. Crepes for lunch, too—make-your-own with any menu ingredient at 75 cents per filler—and a bistro-style set of salads for the ultra-light crowd. It's a good blend: Crema lifts half the menu from the old-school beach town carbo delivery systems and the rest from the lazy-afternoon urban café, which whines a little for further sociological extrapolation but makes for a perfect set of meals for a weekend by the sea—a good place for real men to lighten up a little.

THE CREMA CAFÉ, 322 MAIN ST., SEAL BEACH, (562) 493-2501. OPEN TUES.-SUN., 6:30 A.M.-4:30 P.M. BREAKFAST FOR TWO, $15. VISA AND MASTERCARD ACCEPTED.

 
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