Long Beach Lunch: The Small Cafe in Naples
One of my favorite cafes in Amsterdam is a cozy corner spot on the Prinsengracht called t' Smalle Café that serves up hunks of fresh local goat cheese and grilled Dutch sandwiches called toastis. It is a great example of the 'Dam's "brown cafes"--casual, wood-paneled gathering spots where locals go to eat, drink and converse.
In the tiny, ritzy Long Beach enclave of Naples, there is the SoCal equivalent to my favorite Dutch hangout, an above-average wood-paneled diner that, oddly enough, is also called The Small Café.
Name and dark-wood-hangout vibes, however, are where the similarities between the two restaurants end. Instead of serving European snack food, Naples' The Small Café operates in the grand tradition of Long Beach breakfast spots with a scramble called simply "Hangover" and homemade cinnamon-roll French toast.
Most mornings, the narrow strip mall storefront is full of white-haired locals reading the newspaper at the counter of wooden swivel chairs. And by afternoon, the place mellows out as orders for omelets and corned beef hash turn into orders for burgers and tuna melts.
Build Your Own Burger with a side of potato salad.
Ordinarily, I try and make it in time for breakfast, but lunch came after 2p.m. recently and so I hit up The Small Café for some BYOB (Build Your Own Burger). Sure, I could have kept it simple and ordered "The Basic"--their $8.75 lettuce-tomato-pickle burger. Why do that, though, when for $11 I can get a custom burger with your choice of two cheeses and as many toppings as I want?
This time, I loaded up my burger with bacon, avocado, mushrooms and lettuce and it came to me wrapped in yellow paper, dripping with juices and thousand island dressing. On the side, I chose the potato salad, which, though sometimes hit or miss was thankfully spot on.
When done right (guess it depends on which prep cook is working), The Small Café's take on the ultimate pot luck staple--made with shreds of potato, minimal mayonnaise, bite-sized pieces of celery and chunks of hard-boiled eggs--is one of the better examples out there.
Just for fun (and to counteract the lack of heart-stopping mayo in the potato salad), I also got an order of "The Works," a plate of hash browns overflowing with chili, cheese and red onions. Out of the kitchen, the hash browns are not even visible on the plate, but a few forkfuls in and the browned goodness of breakfast potatoes emerges, mixing with its toppings for a hearty Long Beach take on chili cheese fries.
Yelpers often complain about the slow service at The Small Café--it did take a while to get some menus and for the food to be brought out--but that's the slower pace of life many of the restaurants retired regulars have come to expect. The menu may peg it as Naples' own Harbor House or Chuck's Coffee Shop, but like my favorite little dive in Amsterdam, it's just as the name says--a small café.
The Small Café is located at 5656 E. 2nd St., (562) 434-0226.
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