A side of celebrity with your eggs…
The Rose Cafe & Market
220 Rose Ave.
Bike Access: good (take Main St. if coming from the north or south; the alley parallel to Rose Ave. if coming from the east)
Bike Parking: parking meters out front; various poles and rails out back
Attire: casual-rich (if you have to ask… Just kidding! Casual but not sloppy seems to be the norm here.)
Another weekend, another perfect brunch at Rose Cafe.
Located in what looks like a renovated public library, Rose Cafe is one of my most frequent and favorite weekend spots. At first glance at the menu, this sprawling restaurant/deli/bakery/knickknack shop/celebrity hangout seems like any of the other slightly pricey, yuppie, glossy places around town (think Coral Tree, Huckleberry, Clementine, and Thyme, all of which, by the way, I love). After eating here consistently for the past few months, however, I have to concede that Rose Cafe is just a little bit different from the rest. One unexpected quality is a very Hollywood-in-Venice vibe; the back outdoor patio feels very much like the commissary on a studio lot. Not that I’m a regular at such things, but one look at the tables of middle-aged men with authoritative airs about them pretending to be nonchalant and you get the very distinct suspicion that lots of power lunches are going down here. I’ll admit that in most restaurants I find this to be an irritating rather than appealing quality, but here there is none of the snooty attitude that usually comes with this cachet. Rather, I take the potential for star sightings to be a perk to my delicious food (the frequencies are unusually high, for my boring life anyway).
I have yet to have anything bad here, but the absolute crown jewel of the menu is the egg sandwich, which consists of 2 medium eggs, folded omelette-style over bacon, sautéed peppers and onions, feta, mozzarella, and jalapeno on crunchy rosemary bread. Obviously, anything with the above ingredients is bound to taste good, but there is definitely something of a secret ingredient going on here that I have yet to be able to pinpoint, that makes this sandwich addictively delicious. Some sort of savory broth that they cook everything in, with just a hint of gingery flavor. The combination is satisfying in a nurturing but not gut-busting kind of way. I will never be able to fully describe the sensation this dish brings to me – you will just have to try it yourself.
Another dish that must be mentioned is the potato au gratin with chives. It comes as a side to most breakfast entrees or can be ordered by itself for $2.50, in my opinion one of the biggest bargains at this or any other breakfast place on the Westside (and order it I do). Not the typical cheesy scalloped potato “au gratin” usually brings to mind (not that there is anything wrong with them), this version arrives as a dryer yet melded square of cubed potatoes, cheese, and chives. The cheese forms a slightly browned crust on top, the potatoes a warm and puffy layer underneath, but for me the chives make the dish. I often enjoy a side order of the potatoes (which means 2 squares!!) with a single soft-poached egg broken over the top, so the runny yolk can perform its magic (not that the spuds need elevating). I will admit that I am a bit of a potato whore, but, even then, the combination described above is for me the ultimate version of a greasy spoon breakfast (without the grease).
I have so many good things to say about the menu at Rose Cafe I probably need a Part II to this post, but I’ll just briefly mention the other stand-outs (note that the brevity of their description is in no way meant to suggest inferiority – if the dishes below showed up alone on the menu of any other cafe, they would probably be the best item on that menu). The hamburger is juicy ground chuck with a fantastic tomato and onion jam, fontina and blue cheese (which I don’t even usually like), and arugula (in my opinion the best greens to serve with burgers) on an awesome buttered brioche bun (in fact, all of the burgers come with it). The turkey sandwich is among the best I have had anywhere, with a fennel-basil slaw, arugula, Parmesan, a tomato-mayo spread and none of the dry-mouth feel I often get after ingesting even excellent renditions of this classic. The Chinese chicken salad is delicious, fresh, refreshing, and tastes of quality ingredients. Even the veggie burger clearly showcases the mastery of the kitchen staff; the house-made patty is composed of brown rice, sunflower seeds, cashews, millet and tofu, bursts of wholesome goodness, and is the opposite of the sad, dry poor excuse for a burger most versions turn out to be. This veggie burger is soft and almost crumbly and combines perfectly with the tomato, red onion, mayo, and brioche bun. It also carries a hint of the aforementioned gingery broth, which makes it extra special.
For those who need a pick-me-up or hangover fix from the revelries of the previous night, excellent chai lattes and coffees can be had here; I myself love the latte with condensed milk. As a self-proclaimed dessert connoisseur, I am ashamed that I cannot really extend any useful knowledge on the offerings here; it’s not my fault, but I’m usually just so stuffed and satisfied from my main course that I actually have to forgo the sweets. However, I can say with confidence that the baked goods and pastry shelves look amazing and I doubt that they would disappoint.
Rose Cafe is very popular during peak weekend brunch hours. However, I have never endured more than a 10-minute wait or poor service. At worst, you will have to settle for a table inside. At best, you may be rubbing shoulders with Giovanni Ribisi (true story…OK, OK, fine, he’s not that big of a deal, I know!).
Take-Home Message: I can confidently say that, if it is within easy reach of your abode, Rose Cafe will be one of your go-to spots for brunch that lives up to your expectations.