Looking for a new East Bay brunch spot? This trio -- Pleasant Hill's cozy Plaza Cafe, Union City's Break Your Fast and Oakland's sublime Sweet Bar -- does breakfast deliciously. Here's the scoop, waffles, frittatas and all.
Break Your Fast
Address: 1688 Decoto Road, Union City
Contact: 510-324-8599, www.breakyourfast510.com
Hours: 7 a.m.-2:30 p.m. daily except Tuesday; open until 3 p.m. weekends
The big chalkboard wall at this petite cafe near Union City BART lists a variety of daily specials, including chocolate chip-studded, pumpkin spiced pancakes as big as a plate. But we couldn't resist the lure of fresh beignets ($2.50 for five). Light as a cloud -- not quite NOLA-style, but with a crisp exterior and pillowy inside, powdered sugar and housemade vanilla sauce -- these disappeared fast.
Chicken & Waffles ($9.25) is everywhere these days, but Break Your Fast adds a twist, deep-frying three waffle wedges, which gives them a sweet, crunchy, buttery texture. They're the perfect pairing for two tasty fried chicken breasts topped with a porky white gravy.
We've never seen Fried Chicken Benedict ($9.75) before, but this hearty dish comes with two biscuits, instead of English muffins, topped by boneless fried chicken thighs. Three poached eggs crown the dish, napped with that rich white gravy. Break the eggs and they ooze sunny yellow goodness over the chicken and biscuits. You can get potatoes, white rice or fruit as a side, but we prefer the creamy, crisp-edged hash browns.
For a lighter option, go for the Smoked Salmon Scramble ($8.50), a jumble of smoky fish, tomato, onion and briny capers served with a dollop of cream cheese, along with toast and your choice of sides.
Service is super friendly, and dishes come out fast: just the ticket when you're about to hop the next BART train. On weekends, get here before the line starts forming around 10 a.m. It's a spot to linger over your morning meal, especially when the weather's nice enough to sit out on the patio.
-- M. Orlin
Address: 1912 Contra Costa Blvd., Pleasant Hill
Hours: 6:30 a.m.-3 p.m. daily; closed Tuesdays
Pleasant Hill's Plaza Cafe, shoehorned into a corner spot in a shopping center on busy Contra Costa Boulevard, is certainly a humble spot. But within lies a cozy diner with a familiar feel, offering a wide range of breakfast dishes from American classics to dishes you may not be used to seeing -- calamari and eggs ($10.50) or prawns and eggs ($10), anyone?
Be prepared to wait a bit on weekends; with a small seating space, there can sometimes be a line for tables, but it usually won't take longer than 15 minutes or so. When the weather's nice, a few extra tables that are set up outside can help relieve the crowds.
There's no shortage of variety here; you can choose from a dozen omelets and scrambles, with another dozen-plus choices in breakfast burritos and benedicts. For the heartiest appetite, the rich crab and avocado benedict ($13) will fill you up, with sizable chunks of crab meat swimming in classic hollandaise. Benedicts can be as rich or light as you might like, with toppings ranging from smoked salmon to tomato and spinach.
Similarly, you have plenty of choices with those sizable breakfast burritos; the vegetarian ($8.75) combines eggs, cheddar cheese, green chiles, tomato and mushrooms.
For the breakfast sweet-eater, your thin-style waffle ($6.75) can have add-ons at 75 cents each; it can be topped with pecans or chocolate chips, or have bacon or sausage added to the batter -- a tempting treat if you're one of those people who dips your breakfast meat in your syrup. You'll often find a fruit-topped waffle on the specials board at the front of the restaurant, too.
Plaza's coffeecake ($2.50) is dense and buttery; if you're planning a savory breakfast, splitting a piece can be a perfect way to begin or end the meal, or a simple start to the day all on its own.
-- D. Jimenez
Sweet Bar Bakery
Address: 2355 Broadway, Oakland
Contact: 510-788-4997, www.sweetbarbakery.com
Hours: 7 a.m.-7 p.m. weekdays, 8 a.m.-7 p.m. Saturdays, 9 a.m.-7 p.m. Sundays
With its soaring ceilings and airy atmosphere, it's almost possible to pretend that the calories at Mani Niall's Sweet Bar Bakery are ethereal, too. They're not, of course, but the ingredients in Niall's pastries and sublime breakfast fare are organic, the treats are sweetened with agave syrup or organic sugar -- so they're about as healthy as something that tastes this good could possibly be.
Niall, who was Michael Jackson's chef back in the day, opened Oakland's Sweet Bar three years ago -- an opening marked by a "Thriller" flash mob, of course -- in the old MacFarlane's Candy and Ice Cream building. These days, the crowds are more urban than "Thriller" zombie, and they flock here for the pastries and breakfast fare, which includes baked eggs, frittatas and breakfasty takes on the sandwich and egg-topped pizza themes. (They do great lunch fare, too.)
Tempting as it was to start the day with, say, raspberry macarons or chocolate-dipped peanut butter cupcakes, we tried to be grown-up about this. Instead, we opted for a baked gratin of tomatoes, fresh spinach, feta and two eggs ($11), which emerged from the oven sizzling hot and savory. It was so tasty, in fact, that we burned our mouths repeatedly, unwilling to wait for the Egg Bake to cool down a bit before forking up another bite. The breakfast sandwich is essentially a frittata-focaccia sammy. You can add sausage, ham or another protein to the frittata, but the veggie version ($6), filled with sweet carrots, tomatoes and other tasty produce, is simply terrific, especially when washed down with a cafe au lait ($3.25) or a bottomless coffee ($3).
-- J. Burrell