It may be to Le Peep’s detriment that it opened in Laguna Hills, the territory of the Snooty Fox and Break of Dawn, both of which, in my opinion, have not only set the high bar for breakfast joints in Orange County, but also become indelible landmarks that designate this city to be more than just a bedroom community.
For any morning meal purveyor to throw its hat into the ring here is equivalent to picking a title fight with Pacquiao or Mayweather: It sets all your expectations too high. So that’s how I approached Le Peep. I thought it could be a contender. Plus, Le Peep is part of a multistate franchise that began in Colorado, the land of the Denver omelet and a state that has also brought Snooze An A.M. Eatery to our shores in recent years.
But things did not start well the Sunday morning I visited. Although I was seated promptly, I scanned the strangely silver-and-metallic room for 15 minutes, looking for someone to take my order or at least acknowledge my presence. I finally made eye contact with a server as he was delivering food to an adjacent table. Detecting my growing frustration at being ignored for so long, he asked, “Did anyone help you yet?”
“No,” I glowered.
“Oh, okay,” he chirped. “Can I get you something to drink?”
“Actually, I’m ready to order my food,” I said curtly. I wasn’t going to have him leave my sight without taking my order.
But before I told him what I wanted to eat, I asked about the orange juice. On the menu, it was featured prominently in its own section. It was headlined and highlighted with no less than two cartoon graphics and four available serving sizes that include a “tall glass” for $5.
“Is the orange juice squeezed here?” I asked.
“No,” he said, mumbling something inaudible, which I took to mean it’s probably Minute Maid.
I skipped the juice and proceeded to order the Desperado, a meal that straddled Le Peep’s most prominent breakfast menu categories. There was the so-called “South of the Border” category, which included tacos, a burrito and an enchilada. And there was the “Panhandled Skillets” category, which consisted of potato-based one-skillet breakfasts that the restaurant trademarked with names such as Drifter, Hobo, Gypsy and Wanderer—all puns intended.
Ordering the Desperado, I thought, would get me the best of both worlds. It was a skillet that began with the standard base of Peasant Potatoes (also trademarked) topped with two basted eggs, which is just a term for fried eggs that are finished with a splash of water to steam them in a covered pan.
Most important, this skillet was supposed to have chorizo. So it was confusing when the server asked me whether I wanted sausage, turkey sausage or bacon to go with it.
“I don’t understand,” I replied. “Doesn’t it already come with chorizo?”
“Oh, we’re out of chorizo,” he said, “but you can have any of the other meats to substitute.”
Disappointed, I reluctantly picked the sausage. But later, when the dish came out, I discovered that the crumbles of meat mired in the potatoes, melted cheese, onions and green chiles was actually chorizo. And a good thing it was: That was the highlight of the dish. The potatoes were soggy cubes that didn’t taste much different than what any number of midrange hotels would serve at their complimentary breakfast buffets. And the eggs were just eggs.
But my disappointment with the Desperado was nothing compared to that of Le Peep’s dry French toast. Compounding the problem was the filling of ricotta and cream cheese, which was so gritty and flavorless it could’ve been spackle. Perhaps it would’ve been a better idea to slather the bread slices with plain old cream cheese. After all, I saw it being used to good effect as a side for the Gooey Buns, which are split English muffins broiled with brown sugar, cinnamon and sliced almonds. That dish is served with a separate bowl of softened apples that seemed disembodied from a pie.
If you’re going to order the Gooey Buns as a starter, you should know it won’t be the last time you see English muffins here. Le Peep includes English muffins as a side with every breakfast dish or incorporates them into nearly everything else. And although I didn’t actually see anything resembling an Egg McMuffin here, perhaps I should’ve taken it as a hint to stick with just the basics.
For sure, I should not have come with the expectation that Le Peep could be as good as the Snooty Fox or Break of Dawn. But as I looked at the sad, barely there side of corned beef I ordered and for which I was charged $4.59, I realized comparing it with the likes of Denny’s wouldn’t be fair either. Denny’s would’ve charged me a buck less.
Le Peep, 26548 Moulton Pkwy., Ste. M, Laguna Hills, (949) 600-7079; lepeep.com. Open daily, 7 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Dishes, $5-$14. No alcohol.
Before becoming an award-winning restaurant critic for OC Weekly in 2007, Edwin Goei went by the alias “elmomonster” on his blog Monster Munching, in which he once wrote a whole review in haiku.