By Mollie McWilliams
By Molly Gore
By Pete Kane
By Pete Kane
By Anna Roth
By Alex Hochman
By Joseph Geha
By Anna Roth
I was complaining to Karen about the inevitability of having to wait in line for brunch at my goddaughter's favorite spot, Bette's Oceanview Diner (1807 Fourth St., Berkeley, 510/644-3230) -- we had just given up an amazing parking space practically in front of the place the Sunday before when we were told it would be an hour before we could be seated, and Anna's hunger pangs were too intense for us to stick around. Karen replied, crisply, "I won't wait in line for anything," but she relented almost immediately: "Except for breakfast at Rick & Ann's."
Berkeley, CA 94705
Spinach-and-cheese omelet $7
Sam I Am Scramble $8.75
Erica's French toast $6.50
Ham and fontina egg sandwich $9
Rose's French toast $7
Assorted baked goods $7 each
Scrambled eggs and gravlax $8
Apricot-hazelnut scone $2.50
Rick & Ann's, 2922 Domingo (at Ashby), Berkeley, (510) 649-8538. Open daily for breakfast and lunch from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; for dinner Tuesday through Sunday from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. Reservations accepted for dinner; for breakfast, Monday through Friday only, for parties of six or more. Wheelchair accessible. Parking: easy. Noise level: moderate.
Rose's Cafe, 2298 Union (at Steiner), 775-2200. Open Monday through Friday for breakfast from 7 to 11 a.m. and for lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; Sunday through Thursday for dinner from 5:30 to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday until 11 p.m. Open for brunch Saturday and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Reservations accepted for dinner only. Wheelchair accessible. Parking: difficult. Muni: 22, 41, 45. Noise level: high.
Desiree, 39 Mesa (at Lincoln), Suite 108, 561-2336. Open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Closed Saturday and Sunday. No reservations. Wheelchair accessible. Parking: easy. Muni: 29. Noise level: low.
Sears Fine Food, 439 Powell (at Sutter), 986-1160. Open Thursday through Monday from 7 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Closed Tuesday and Wednesday. Reservations accepted for parties of six or more. Wheelchair accessible. Parking: difficult. Muni: 2, 3, 4, 76. Noise level: moderate.
I promptly put Rick & Ann's, a venerable (since 1989!) Berkeley place, on my to-try list, and the opportunity to do so came up very quickly, when my friends Suzanne and Peter drove up from Los Angeles to stay with his parents, who live on the edge of Tilden Park. It's a weekday, midmorning, and we have to wait for only about 10 minutes before we're escorted to a nice window table from which we can keep an eye on their dog Cali (short for, yes, California), who is happily leashed to a tree nearby and enjoying her sidewalk breakfast, thoughtfully brought along by her adoring family. (I am slightly shocked when Suzanne, who dotes on her daughter Rikki, says that she thinks dogs confer many of the benefits of parenthood on their owners. "Except conversation," I say, but I can tell she thinks I just don't know how to speak dog.)
Because it's breakfast, a meal priced reasonably enough that we can afford to be extravagant, we order three egg dishes plus French toast (Peter's favorite) and a plate of chicken-apple sausage to share. We are thrilled with our meal. The eggs are cooked just as we asked, my first requirement for a perfect breakfast: an American-style soft -- that is, not as runny as the French and I prefer -- fresh-spinach-and-cheddar omelet for Suzanne; a Sam I Am Scramble for me, just as custardy as I like it to be, with smoked ham, pesto, sweet peppers, onions, and jack cheese; and two over easy for Peter, with a lovely vegetarian hash of sweet and white potatoes, bell peppers, fresh corn, and apples. Suzanne's and my plates come with home fries made from a mixture of several potato varieties, some cooked crisp, some mealy, with sautéed onions and a bit of sour cream and chopped green onions. We're all offered our choice of toast or freshly baked muffins or scones (today's assortment includes lovely nectarine scones and strawberry or bran muffins). The French toast (called Erica's) is made with thick slices of challah dipped in an unusually fragrant orange-cardamom batter. We like the juicy sausage. We are getting enough to eat.
I grab a bag of reduced-price day-old peach scones for my mom, the tea-with-scone queen. We have had such a good meal and a delightful, relaxed time that I am not surprised when there is a request for brunch when Suzanne and Peter return to the Bay Area a few months later. If Rikki had been with us, I might have taken us back to Rick & Ann's, so she could try her namesake French toast, but she's not, so we decide to try Rose's Cafe in Cow Hollow, after I call and am told we won't have to wait more than 15 minutes.
And it's almost exactly a quarter of an hour before we're offered a sunny sidewalk table (a trifle too sunny; Suzanne has to keep edging her chair around to avoid being broiled by the noontime rays). I'm tempted by the breakfast pizza with fontina, smoked ham, and two sunny-side-up eggs that I see headed for another table, but I've spent the last couple of days breakfasting on leftover linguiça-and-onion pizza, so I choose a similar but more modest offering: a sandwich of smoked ham, fontina, and one egg on ciabatta. It's just what I want. The ingredients are top-notch, especially the fat, crisp-crusted little roll. Suzanne has a pretty plate of creamy yellow polenta topped with chicken-tarragon sausage, poached eggs (whose runny yolks tint the dish an even brighter yellow), and a bit of spicy, fresh tomato sauce, staining the polenta rosy at the edges. Peter's French toast, named after Rose this time, is so thoroughly imbued with its batter that he happily says, "This is like bread pudding!" I think its garnish of fresh strawberries and whipped cream makes it taste delightfully like strawberry shortcake.
Our extravagance takes the form of a plate of assorted baked goods. We choose three from the tempting array on the counter inside: an extraordinarily tender sour cream coffeecake, with a delicate and pale vanilla-scented crumb; an iced orange brioche that elicits murmurs of pleasure; and an almond croissant that would ordinarily be quite satisfactory, but suffers because of its proximity to two such brilliant pastries. They're excellent companions for the terrific beverages (coffee for me, caffe latte in a bowl for Peter, real brewed loose English Breakfast tea for Suzanne). My only complaint as we drive away is that it hadn't occurred to me to order some brioche and coffeecake to go.