SANTA CRUZ (June, 2009) – Here’s the thing. I’m not really a breakfast person. I’m not wild about morning in general, which explains how I’ve managed to live on the Westside for more than ten years and never eaten at Café Brasil. I’d heard plenty of rave reviews for this colorful Brazilian bistro, but every time I passed by the vibrant green building there were daunting crowds of people spilling out the door, sprawled on bright blue benches in the lush garden or sipping coffee on the steps—crowds that I’d heard could wait for up to an hour for a table. An hour during which one could still be sleeping. However, one fog-free morning, curiosity beat inertia and my daughter and I decided to ride our bikes over for a mid-week breakfast. Surprisingly, it’s a ride I expect we’ll make many times in the future.
COFFEE FOR TWO, HOLD THE "PERKY"
Yawning but game, we met our friend Michelle at the unexpectedly quiet entrance and were immediately shown to a corner table in the cheerful, multicolored dining room. I stopped to stay hello to friends and before long they were chatting with new acquaintances at the next table. So this is where all you morning people gather!
We were quickly greeted by our waitress, who was helpful and charming without being perky. (I can’t take perky before noon and really, anytime after.) Of course, there must be coffee, so we started off with pingado, a pot of coffee and a pot of hot milk served with a baguette and fresh fruit ($5.75). This simple, satisfying opener arrived in minutes while we perused the plentiful menu, which features familiar breakfast fare such as omelets and scrambles alongside Brazilian specials such as feijoada completa, a traditional black bean and sausage stew. The juice bar offers juices and smoothies featuring tropical papaya, pineapple, and Amazon cherry.
I’d been told not to miss the acai (ah-sigh-ee) bowl, an icy blend of the Amazon blueberry with strawberries, bananas, apple juice and guarana syrup ($6.75). It appeared in a generous glass serving dish topped with granola, sliced strawberries and more bananas. Packed with antioxidants, the acai berry is getting plenty of attention lately as a healthful dietary supplement. We dug in and quickly agreed that this was health food worth waking up for, a delightful combination of sweet and sour flavors with smooth and crunchy textures.
My daughter ordered a half stack of banana pancakes which proved to be light and fluffy, the sweet, abundant banana slices making syrup redundant ($5.75). Did I say I wasn’t a breakfast person? I made an exception for the avocado a cavalo, avocado laid over a baguette, topped with two poached eggs, tomatoes and mozzarella cheese ($7.95). Served with a side of potatoes, it was rich and filling. Michelle opted for creamy organic polenta served over a bed of spinach, topped with two eggs, and parmesan cheese ($8.95). It was also served with fruit and baguette slices.
FRESH AND FRIENDLY
We all agreed that the best word to describe our entrees was “fresh”. My avocado was perfectly ripe, its cool, firm flesh warmed by the melting egg yolks. The side of tropical fruit was bursting with exotic flavors. But more than the delicious food, it was the positive vibe that delighted us. Patrons chatted happily with one another and with the staff. There was no rush, no hassle, just contented people sharing a relaxed meal in a lovely, languid setting.
Opened in 1991 by Claudia and Joao Luiz Frota, Café Brasil is family owned and operated. When I asked our waitress if she was a Frota family member she said with a smile, “No, but they treat me like family.” Our little breakfast party felt equally appreciated when we received a 10% discount for riding our bikes.
As for that infamous wait, don’t let it dissuade you. In the name of research, I headed back to Café Brasil with the whole family mid-morning on the Sunday of Father’s Day. We put our name on the lengthy waiting list, ordered coffee, and settled in at a wrought-iron table on the patio, expecting to linger a while. In spite of a bustling crowd, twenty minutes later I was initiating my son in the pleasures of the acai bowl. My pleasure increased upon learning that Café Brasil serves breakfast and lunch all day, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. So, while I could speculate that Café Brasil might just make a morning person out of anyone, well, there’s no need to get carried away.