There's something irresistible about brunch. The lattes, the French toast, the mimosas signal that it's not just the weekend, it's something special.
So here are three East Bay hot spots you may not yet have tried -- a sweetly sassy brunch house in Alamo, a comfy, family-oriented eatery in Orinda and a Benicia coffeehouse with more culinary craftiness than expected.
Java Point Cafe
Address: 366 First St., Benicia
Brunch hours: Nothing set, but 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekends
Brunch tab: $29.68 for three entrees and coffee
It's the right time of year -- well, the right type of weather -- for an early afternoon walk along the Benicia waterfront. If the stroll below the palms and above the Carquinez Strait waves gets your stomach grumbling for brunch, you're in luck. Java Point Cafe is a few blocks away on movie-shoot-cute First Street.
Don't expect white tablecloths and mimosas. Java Point is a crammed coffeehouse with a creative culinary streak. Brunch isn't defined by a special menu, but by the comfort-food offerings completed with more care than you'll find at many cafes of similar size.
But first things first: Head to the counter and order a coffee (12 ounces, $1.50). Make that a cappuccino (single, $2.40). Actually, get a cafe bianco (20 ounces, $3.25). Whatever drink you order, you'll be satisfied. Java Point is on point with its beans, featuring selections from Mr. Espresso in Oakland and Uncommon Grounds in Berkeley.
After securing your caffeine-infused drink of choice, focus on the food. Brunch standards such as the veggie eggs Benedict ($8.75), huevos rancheros ($8.50) and breakfast sandwich with ham ($6) are satisfying, and such specialties as the crab melt ($9.50) and longganisa sausage with egg ($7.75) shine -- when they're not out of stock.
In the mood for something sweeter? If you're plenty hungry, opt for the berry waffle combo ($9.50), which comes with eggs and a side of bacon, ham or sausage. The waffle is crisp, and the fruit is a grade above standard grocery store fare.
Thanks to Java Point, you have a reason for a walk along the Benicia waterfront before brunch.
-- T. O'Rourke
Address: 2 Orinda Theatre Square, Orinda
Contact: 925-254-0124, www.table24orinda.com
Brunch hours: 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekends
Brunch tab: $31
Brunch at Table 24 may be the best-kept secret around. If this stylish, family-friendly eatery -- whose attractions include bottomless mimosas -- were in Berkeley or Oakland, the brunch line would stretch down the block. But we have this sunny, comfortable place nearly to ourselves on a recent Saturday morning. Lucky us!
This popular neighborhood restaurant draws enthusiastic crowds at dinnertime, but on this particular morning, the rest of Lamorinda is, apparently, off at T-ball practice or a volleyball tournament instead of here. They could be drizzling syrup over French toast ($8.95) or cinnamon waffles ($8.95), or dipping a fork into four variations on the eggs Benedict theme, including one with fried chicken ($11.95).
Everything sounds terrific, but we can't resist the breakfast pizza ($9.95), which emerges from the wood-fired oven topped with bacon, caramelized onions and an egg. It's a sensational breakfast, full of flavor and big enough to share.
The scrambles -- in this case, softly scrambled eggs with Italian sausage, tomatoes and sweet yellow bell peppers ($10.95) -- are both gorgeous and delicious. Too often, scrambles end up looking debauched on the plate -- overcooked, overworked and strangely speckled. These are beautiful. They do other versions, too, with bacon, avocado and Monterey Jack ($10.95), and mushrooms, spinach, tomatoes and goat cheese ($9.95).
It's a perfect way, in short, to start the weekend.
-- J. Burrell
Address: 115 Alamo Plaza, Alamo
Contact: 925-855-9000; www.xeniabistro.com
Brunch hours: Breakfast, 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays; Brunch, 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Sundays
Brunch tab: $25.93 for two entrees and three beverages
Conveniently located in the Alamo Plaza, Xenia Bistro is a quiet, mellow, Italian-themed place to enjoy an omelet or French toast on a lazy weekend. If you don't like unreasonable waits for eggs, this is your place. We rolled in at 9:30 a.m. on a recent Sunday and had our pick of where we sat and the attention of the considerate waitress on duty. Within minutes, she had brewed us fresh coffee, won over our toddler and taken our order.
The two-egg California Omelette ($9.95) was generously loaded with bacon, cheddar cheese and caramelized onions and dressed with four ripe avocado wedges. I loved the sweet flavor of the browned onions against the salty bacon. Don't forget to ask for fresh chopped red bell peppers and green onions on your country potatoes -- the chef adds them at no extra cost.
Little extras like that made our visit worthwhile. If your kids like French toast, then frown when the fancy thick stuff shows up, they'll applaud Xenia's version: Simple, sliced bread battered, sauteed in butter, and sprinkled heavily with cinnamon. Our son loved it, and I appreciated the accompanying egg made the way he liked it.
Xenia doesn't have foodie cache. There's no pork belly on the menu, and they don't claim to use fancy purveyors. But they do produce a quality breakfast without the long waits and double-digit omelet prices. They have all the classics, from eggs Florentine to berry-stacked Belgian waffles. We'll be trying those two on our next visit.
-- J. Yadegaran