Saturday, March 19, 2011


Think universally, eat locally.*

(Johnny-boy may like his peas, but all I am saying is give asparagus, fennel, and escarole a chance…)**

It has been a number of years since I last had breakfast at UNIVERSAL cafe (sans accent aigu on both their menu and logo, by the way). It is located over in the "demilitarized zone" somewhere between Potrero Hill and the Mission, and I usually don't feel like driving all the way over there on the weekends. Although, for a place basically in the middle of nowhere, they do a very good early Saturday morning business. It filled up almost immediately after they had opened. (What a buncha losers, don't they have anything better to do than drive all the way across town on a cold and rainy weekend morning?!)

Technically UNIVERSAL cafe is more along the lines of a brunchificated place ~ it even calls this early morning meal "Brunch" on their menu ~ in both price and atmosphere; however, they do open up early enough for my liking (9:00am), which is always nice. The place is larger than it appears ~ it's in a very narrow space, but they manage to pack in tables for 28 people, plus another 8 seats at the counter-bar (and even a few tables on the sidewalk, weather permitting… just not this morning).

Their "Brunch" menu changes regularly and they really don't have a lot of vegetarian choices on it; however, what they do offer are always fresh and interesting. I had the poached eggs and potato-spring onion cakes with asparagus, fennel, & escarole*** ragoût, Hollandaise. I also ordered a fresh squeezed Blood Orange juice Mimosa**** (they also had a Passion Fruit Bellini****, which I probably should have ordered instead) and a cuppa good, strong coffee: Equator Coffees and Teas brand (a nice local roastery from San Rafael) ~ this is how restaurant coffee should be made and taste.

They don't have the largest of portions (which is kinda to be expected from a "Brunch" place), but it was more than enough for my appetite and I finished all on my plate again for a change without feeling overly stuffed. If I had a bigger appetite, I would definitely have gotten a starter of their freshly made Apple Donuts, Dunkin. The lady at the next table had some and they looked great.

The Potato-Spring Onion Cakes were excellent. Again, any time potatoes are the main focus of a meal is fine with me. I always love any new take on the plain ol' boring Eggs Benedict (see 'blog-entries from July 31st, 2010 and September 25th, 2010 especially). Their Hollandaise sauce was very tasty, if not a little on the lighter side, which was fine with me, as the Potato Cakes were my real focus.

Now the ragoût was a real winner for me as it included some of my favourite fruits: (lots and lots of) Asparagus ~ good!; Fennel ~ good!; and Escarole ~ also good! Plus, fresh
ingredients (I could care less if they were "organic" or "artificial" really) are always a major bonus.

As for the Blood Orange Mimosa, I liked the idea of using fresh squeezed blood oranges and the colour was very cool; however, it just wasn't as good as I was expecting. More orange juice, less champagne might have been more to my liking. I know most people would probably prefer more champagne, as that is what makes this drink usually so pricey.

They offer as condimentary supplements just the standard red Tabasco® and Cholula®. So I went with a little Trees Can't Dance ~ African Hot Sauce (Thanks again, Cindy & Greg!) on the ragoût only. I did loan both bottles that I had brought with me to the guys at the next table: the Palo Alto Fire Fighters Pepper Sauce went over very well (Thank you, Amy-monster!). They do have mini-pepper grinders/mills on every table, which is always nice.

Next time I get over that way, I will really have to try their Passion Fruit Bellini (or whatever special tropical "Brunch" drink that they are offering at that time) and "force" myself to get some of their fresh baked goods as a starter.

Glen Bacon Scale Rating: Poached Eggs and Potato-Spring Onion Cakes ~ 7.0; Asparagus, Fennel, and Escarole Ragoût ~ 7.0; Blood Orange Juice Mimosa ~ 6.8

*(This is not their actual corporate motto, but they are more than welcome to borrow from my idiocy.)

**(And, yes, I know "Across the Universe" by the Beatles would probably have been more à propos, but, as I've stated before, "My 'blog, my stupid jokes.")

***(For those of you not really familiar with what escarole is, it is just a variety of endive, which is part of the daisy family. It is a very popular fruit with Italianos ~ which they call either scarola or scarole ~ and is usually an ingredient in good soups, like Minestrone. Here is a little more info swiped from Wikipedia:

"Escarole, or broad-leaved endive (var latifolia) has broad, pale green leaves and is less bitter than the other varieties. Varieties or names include broad-leaved endive, Bavarian endive, Batavian endive, grumolo, scarola, and scarole. It is eaten like other greens, sauteed, chopped into soups and stews, or as part of a green salad.")

****(As I am basically lazy ~ and why not borrow from Wikipedia when they have already done all the work? ~ here is a bit o' info on Mimosas and Bellinis:

I have no why it is called a "Mimosa". Just for the heck of it, and at no extra charge, here is today's completely useless cunning linguist pointer:

The word mimosa is derived from the Greek word
μιμος, meaning "mimic", Mr. Little.

As the story goes on the "Bellini", this drink was made up by the owner of Harry's Bar in Venice. Harry's Bar was a favourite hangout of expatriate and well-know drunk Ernest Hemingway. It is a little known fact that Ernesto's real middle name was "Bellini", not "Papa"; hence the drink was named in his honour. You can look it up on the Intro-Net, I would never make up this stuff.)

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