Photo by Jeanne RiceIt's no coincidence that breakfast is the favorite meal of the hung-over and the still drunk. In their vulnerable state, anything is palatable, as long as it's not crunchy, and generally, breakfast isn't crunchy unless you're a granola eater, and then you don't drink anyway. And truthfully, breakfast demands very little from the cook. There are four basic groups—eggs, griddle, bakery and cereal—on which a chef can spin variations. The repertoire is not extensive. Drunks may not care, but I do, and I find the same collection of gloppy omelets, greasy potatoes and limp pancakes at most places.
Brunch is included in this diatribe, for brunch is breakfast for the lazy. Late last year, I had the misfortune of reviewing Sunday brunches, and the pickin's were beyond thin—they were downright disgusting. The memories are too painful, even at this remove. And this I vow: I will never eat from a buffet again.
Of course, there are exceptions to this rule, and one I've come across recently is the Pacific Whey Café, Bakery and Coffee Co. in Newport Beach. Pacific Whey is a bit precious and overpriced, as its Newport Beach environs dictate, but it takes breakfast seriously, with its cooks making from scratch its breads, muffins, muesli and oatmeal. Plus, it's a treat to sip on oolong tea and watch the wealthy drag their dirty laundry into the dry cleaner's next door. They look so . . . human.
Pacific Whey is a bakery from which a café has sprung, which explains the alluring bakery case that greets you upon entering. Within it are a tempting collection of pastries, Danishes, scones, cinnamon rolls, coffee cakes and cookies. Any of these with a steaming cup of joe (freshly ground, too!) can suffice, but an intriguing breakfast menu awaits.
Given the faux-French look (all the way down to artificial black fungal seepage), it's no surprise to see crepes served here with either caramelized apples or strawberries (and whipped cream!). But I find crepes fey and too damn sweet; I refuse to eat them. I can tell you about the excellent pancakes, slightly spongy and light and made with either buckwheat or buttermilk with blueberries, raspberries, chocolate chips or (as I prefer them) grilled bananas. The pure maple syrup helps, too.
Pacific Whey follows up with a mess of omelets and egg-scramble dishes (which include quesadillas and burritos). The best of these is the dreamily rich country French omelet filled with sautéed eggplant, leeks, oven-dried tomatoes and a creamy goat cheese. It was so rich I could only eat half, but that half was sublimely delicious and cannot be found anywhere else.
Not all of the egg dishes reach these exalted heights. The Skinny Boy scramble, so named because it features only egg whites and a load of vegetables, could use another egg white or two because it's all vegetables here. All quite tasty, mind you, but one does opt for egg whites for a morning protein boost without the cholesterol that comes with the yolk.
But overall, these are wonderful dishes, made more enjoyable by the excellent accouterments. I could nibble on the freshly made toast all morning and be happy. And then there are the red potatoes, sectioned and fried in light oil and topped with herbs and parmesan cheese. A fruit cup finishes off the plate, a mélange of fresh berries, grapes, bananas, melons, papaya, kiwi, mango and watermelon. This is fruit Valhalla, and it's also offered in a larger form as a single breakfast item. Give me the fruit bowl and toast with a cup of coffee and a newspaper, and I'm going in late to work.
Pacific Whey offers its breakfast menu all day long, but at 11 a.m., it's joined by the lunch menu, with soups, salads, and hot and cold sandwiches. And then at 5 p.m., dinner specials are offered to supplement everything else. Dinner selections are limited—a three-cheese macaroni and cheese is only served on Monday and Tuesday nights, for example—but they do offer a mix of intriguing vegetable dishes and steamy pot pies and stews for those upcoming foggy nights.
Still, you start your day with breakfast, and even though the prices may be on the high side ($9 for pancakes with fruit?), what you get in return is freshness and quality. And for this reason, Pacific Whey easily rates among the elite of the egg set.
Pacific Whey Café, Bakery and Coffee Co., located at 2622 San Miguel Dr., Newport Beach, is open daily, 6 a.m.-10 p.m. (949) 644-0303. No alcohol. Breakfast for two, $15-$25, food only. All major credit cards accepted.
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