Friday, September 21, 2012

Savoring Sunday Morning

As published in Ojai Quarterly, Summer 2012

Photo by Bill Snider
Sundays are for sleeping in, only to have a dog’s wet nose wake you too early, shuffling in slippers for hours, scoffing at morning political pundits on the tube, percolating coffee, browsing the funnies and indulging in a hot breakfast. Breakfast. It just might be my favorite meal of the day. For me, no other meal conjures more feelings and smells quite like breakfast.
            If I’m lucky, my husband, Bill, will whip up a frittata - an oven-baked Italian omelet - and stuff it full of roasted red bell peppers and broccoli to ease the guilt of eggs and cheese. While the frittata cooks, we talk about the week ahead, forgetting the week left behind, and linger over fresh berries, caramelized potatoes and the snoring dog at our feet.
            If we wake to an empty fridge, there are plenty of eateries in the valley from which to savor a top-notch breakfast, from the usual suspects with traditional sit-down fare like Bonnie Lu’s, Café Emporium and Eggs ‘n’ Potatoes, to the not-so-usual hidden gems. It’s these off-the-radar lesser-knowns that make visiting and living in Ojai so special.

Plaza Pantry
221 E. Matilija Street, Suite G
From a small shop tucked behind the downtown arcade, proprietor Beryl Tognazzini has been bringing the U.K. to Ojai for 30 years with shelves stocked full of hard-to-find confections and souvenirs flown across the pond. Her traditional English breakfast comes with eggs to order, sausage or ham, grilled tomatoes and, if you’re game, a side of baked beans. A buttered crumpet with lemon curd rounds out the meal, along with proper tea service that includes your own pot of tea nestled in a knitted kettle cozy served on a tray with a fine English china cup. Other specialties include homemade scones, Cornish pasties, sausage rolls and banger butties (sausage with bread and butter). Order at the counter and enjoy your breakfast at one of about a half-dozen indoor tables adorned with mini Union Jacks. Flip through a British gossip magazine or admire a Princess Kate commemorative mug set while you sip your tea with your pinky in the air. You’ll feel like you’re dining in an English grandmother’s kitchen.

Knead Baking Company
469 E. Ojai Avenue
This family-run artisan bakery specializes in breads, pastries and beautiful custom-made cakes, but breakfast is starting to take center stage. The menu is simple, but manages to satisfy. A basic egg sandwich turns gourmet with the addition of Vermont white cheddar, La Quercia prosciutto, and lightly-dressed spinach or wild arugula. Served on a fresh-baked sourdough bagel, Italian country roll, brioche or whole-grain English muffin, this is a breakfast you can take anywhere, or simply enjoy in the bakery’s charming outdoor courtyard. Sleep in late if you want, because in addition to the breakfast sandwiches, a daily quiche selection, warm-from-the-oven muffins, cheddar-dill and apricot scones, homemade granola and mini coffee cakes are served all day (or until they run out). Spilling out of the display case and onto the surrounding counter tops, a selection of cookies, cupcakes, tarts and other tempting sweets make leaving here empty-handed nearly impossible.

The Farmer and the Cook
339 El Roblar Drive
            Within walking distance of my house – just down the hill and a few more blocks away – is a local hippie market and café. Bill and I like to walk the dog there by way of the Ojai Land Conservancy’s Meadow to get our four-legged friend good and tired before sitting down to a big organic breakfast on their pet-friendly patio. Owned by a farmer and his wife – you guessed it, the cook – this small grocery store sells the daily produce haul from their local organic farm, and also boasts a full-service kitchen that churns out meals inspired by their harvests. The breakfast menu offers organic Mexican specialties, including my favorite breakfast in the entire valley, the huevos rancheros. Theirs features hand-rolled corn tortillas (spelt is substituted when corn is out of season), scrambled eggs, sliced avocado, beans and cheese all smothered in a not-too-spicy guajillo chili sauce, and served with a side of pico de gallo. Everything is homemade and organic. We like to find our way to one of the dusty rickety outdoor tables (this place is anything but fancy) so the dog can have a snooze, and we can eavesdrop on nearby conversations about Mercury going retrograde. The bakery case is not to be missed; here you will find vegan, raw and gluten-free baked goods that are as decadent as the real thing. And don’t forget a mug of their signature chai, made in-house with organic black tea, their own spice blend and soy milk.

            So if the dog wakes you too early and you find the egg carton empty, change out of your slippers and don your flip flops; a non-traditional Ojai breakfast awaits.