Ellie's Table At North Beach: A Line of Good

Don't mind the sign near the entrance of Ellie's Table At North Beach that says, “Line Starts Here.” Actually, scratch that: If there is a line, follow it. But in the few minutes or so this San Clemente restaurant isn't slammed but merely busy, the sign only confuses. There is no line at those times; instead, it becomes a free-for-all of people zig-zagging in front of the multiple glass cases before them, each filled with deli salads, sandwiches, croissants, cupcakes and whatever other marvels the kitchen has cooked up for the day. It takes minutes for people to decide, leaving the poor gal or guy standing behind the counter to wait until a look of certainty finally crosses a customer's face, as they've decided what to order for breakfast.

Ellie's is a beaut of a place, occupying a spot of historic San Clemente that just happens to have a view of the ocean and the railroad tracks. It's the first storefront restaurant of the much-beloved Jay's Catering, which has fed North County weddings and banquets for decades. Here, the menu is simplified to pastries, some salads and sandwiches, all designed for on-the-go eating or quick bites. About the most complicated thing here is a flat-iron steak served alongside a relish and with a cheese roll; at $11, it's pound-for-pound one of the better steaks in South County. But the most popular offering are the palm sandwiches, those relics of Elks Lodge meetings of yore that find new life in the able hands of Ellie's. On a topside tray sit five styles, from a straightforward ham-and-mayo to a roast beef, its meat stacked so tightly that folds jut over one another like the deckle-edged pages of a 19th-century book. Cold, they're fine; warm, the focaccia bread used in the palm sandwiches shines through with its slightly herby-cheesy beauty.

Save some room for the sweets, of course, whether flaky croissants, hefty cinnamon rolls, super-sweet cupcakes or airy macarons. Ellie's has only been open since last fall, but it has already established itself in San Clemente's competitive breakfast scene, one for women who lunch and non-beach-bum millennials. One only hopes it gets a dinner menu soon or expand its lunch offerings. But in the meanwhile, stand in line—or join in the most delicious scrum of the year. Besides, any place that carries Kéan Coffee is a pal of ours.


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