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Photograph by Jenn Ireland
Heaven on a plate: Boysenberry pancakes at Walnut Avenue Cafe

Eye Opener

Walnut Avenue Café continues the breakfast traditions we can't live without.

By Christina Waters

When my mom was a kid, she used to come "downtown" from Boulder Creek to see movies at the corner of Walnut and Pacific avenues. I imagine the fun of those movie palace days every time I have breakfast in the cafe now housed in the old theater. Somehow the footprint of the turn of the century still haunts this low-key, completely welcoming breakfast spot.

The beamed ceiling, small cozy booths and diner-style counter seating, even the polished wood floors and suspended chandeliers, retain the feel of a kinder, gentler era. And that oasis of old-fashioned comfort definitely attracts an energetic clientele of downtown workers and professionals on weekday mornings.

Warm, friendly service goes a long way toward getting the day off to a positive start, and we got it here. The minute we claimed our booth at Walnut Avenue Cafe, our server arrived and suggested coffee. A double cappuccino ($3.45), a regular coffee ($1.95) and a $2.10 glass of grapefruit juice (Jack always orders grapefruit juice when we have breakfast out in the real world) were brought so fast we barely had time to make our food selections.

I usually look forward to the full-on eggs, potatoes and bacon breakfast, but last week I indulged in a bit of two-world nutritional ideology. Yes, I needed bacon after that workout we'd just had at the gym, but I also craved multigrain pancakes with boysenberry sauce ($7.35). So I simply ordered a side of bacon ($2.95) as well as some genuine maple syrup ($1 extra) for backup, in case the berry sauce didn't hit the spot. (Oh, but it did.)

Meanwhile, Jack departed from his usual omelette strategy--Walnut Avenue offers a huge array of omelettes filled with all the favorite protein implants like cheese, ham and sour cream, as well as peppers, spinach, mushrooms and you name it. But Jack craved beans, and one of the house specialties, Huevos Mexicanos, served with flour tortillas and tons of black beans, answered all his flavor needs for $8.45. Actually, it answered not only his breakfast needs but lunch needs the next day as well. There are no tiny portions at Walnut Avenue Cafe.

The pancakes were the kind that breakfast fantasies are made of. Golden-brown and generous without being ridiculous, the trio of nine-grain hotcakes was joined by a pitcher of sensitively made boysenberry sauce, full of berries and not too sweet. The warm, earthy pancakes and the tart sauce enjoyed real chemistry, especially when enhanced by butter! I sometimes think that breakfast is actually an excuse to indulge in butter, but hey, maybe that's just me. And to take the decadence a step further, I applied (sorry, but it was my breakfast and so I had it my way) maple syrup to one of the pancakes and alternated bites of sweet, sensuous pancakes with the salty machismo of excellent bacon.

Jack was already in another world, a world in which not one but two different Tabascos were applied to a field of scrambled eggs laced with avocados, cheese and salsa. He scooped up black beans with warm flour tortillas and said very little for about five minutes.

My fork discovered why: this was a terrific variation on the all-star huevos rancheros classic. The scrambled eggs (which I tend to ignore in restaurant settings) were given real respect by the kitchen. They stayed nice and moist, partly thanks to lots of ripe avocado.

The salsa Jack requested added just enough kick to make things interesting, and the black beans--well, black beans are one of the elemental items of the hearth, no? Without them, life would lack an essential flavor molecule. Yeah, I'm waxing metaphorical here, but go out and test this theory for yourself. At any rate, the beans, the eggs, the flour tortillas--Jack could have ordered corn, but it seemed to be a flour tortilla kind of day--were a splendid way to gear up for the day. Especially a rainy one.

Lots of folks love Walnut Avenue Cafe for lunch, when burgers, salads and sandwiches rule. But for me, it's all about breakfast.

Walnut Avenue Cafe

Address: 106 Walnut Ave., Santa Cruz

Phone: 831.457.2307

Hours: Open 7am-3pm Mon-Fri, 8am-4pm Sat-Sun; lunch from 11am

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