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The Cliff Cafe is a cheerful, cozy antidote to chilly morning fog

By Selene Latigo

Saturday morning. A time full of possibility, a blank canvas on which to paint the whole day. As is often the case in this town, however, our Saturday morning canvas had already been tampered with, awash in one color only: gray. A foggy cold dampness enshrouded us as we took our first step outside, presenting us with two options. Crawl back into bed until the fog cleared, or find a cozy place to sustain our spirits with a hot and filling breakfast. We opted for number two and immediately headed over to the Cliff Cafe in Capitola, confident that this cheerful haven would do the trick.

We arrived a couple of minutes before the magic breakfast crowd hour of 9am, and since Cliff Cafe has all of six tables tucked into its single dining room, we waited a bit before being seated. Our friend Aubrey showed up just in time and we sat down eagerly, hot dark coffee in classic thick diner mugs arriving shortly thereafter. This small space is tastefully decorated with colorful beachy paintings and table cloths, glowing Japanese lanterns and one Giant of Paradise in the corner, creating a sunny welcome for this cold morning. Jazz played over the warm hum of happy diners as we looked over the simple menu. With just enough unique twists to make this traditional breakfast and lunch menu interesting, such as the red pesto and mushroom omelette or the multitude of tofu options, we each quickly decided and placed our order.

Aware that this restaurant is basically a three-person enterprise --one server, one cook manning the grill and one prep-cook/dishwasher in back--we expected a long wait. However, the friendly and efficient crew was on top of things and we had a brief wait, just enough time to catch up and let the coffee kick in.

Aubrey's Vegi + omelette ($7.95), which she requested be turned into a scramble, came piled with thick slices of flawlessly ripe avocado, tomatoes, black olives and cream cheese, and topped with a scoop of sour cream. The addition of the cream cheese created a decadent velvety texture to this fresh and flavorful dish. Aubrey also ordered a side of bacon, which, she commented, was the ideal crispness.

Dave's omelette, the bacon, tomato, avocado and cheese ($7.95), was the BLT of breakfast. Light and fluffy, every bite held the supreme balance of each ingredient, including the aforementioned avocado and not at all greasy bacon.

I went basic and ordered the two eggs "Gal's Way" ($6.95). This was a liberal portion of fresh eggs, tomato, green onion and melted jack cheese, which I spiced up with some smoky hot sauce. All of our dishes were accompanied by crisp hash browns and toast. The use of margarine on the toast and heavy oil flavor in the potatoes was our only complaint.

Remembering my previous enjoyment of Cliff Cafe's special pancakes, we also decided to split a short stack ($5.50). These moist, thick and hearty cakes hold a rich cinnamon and whole-wheat flavor, great with the pure maple syrup ($1 extra). Unfortunately, they were served with a large scoop of margarine instead of real butter, something that would have made these all the better.

Feeling completely fulfilled and ready to face the day, no matter what color, we paid the bill (cash or local check only), admiring the antique cash register still in use. I was glad to see this quaint touch of the way things used to be, especially here on the booming corner of 41st and Portola. As we walked out we passed hungry patrons shivering, expectantly waiting for our coveted space to be vacated. They also knew that regardless of the weather or developmental bustle surrounding them, Cliff Cafe is a perfect place to soak in a little warmth and nourishment with consistently welcoming service and food.

The Cliff Cafe, 815 41st Ave., Capitola; open daily 8am-1pm, and starting July 2 weekends 8am-2pm; 831.476.1214.

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From the June 22-29, 2005 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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