For some reason, I love going out to breakfast. I think it’s because it always made me proud of myself that I was up before noon. (That was back in the day--now unfortunately, I rarely sleep past 6AM because I’m always up writing this column!) It couldn’t be because that’s my favorite meal of the day due to the fact that I was never thrilled with breakfast food.
As a matter of fact, when I was little and traveled with my family in the summer, it was constantly a big deal in the morning because I always asked for “real” food (meaning a hot dog.) Time and time again, there were scenes at restaurants that wouldn’t fire up the grill in the morning just to cook me something crazy. I’d sit at the table hungry and sulking while my fam chowed down on e-words and such.
[For new readers, “e-words” are the things that you all eat in the morning that can be scrambled, etc. I hate them so much that I seriously get nauseated just saying the word!]
So now I go out for breakfast whenever I have a friend who’s awake and willing, though I’m still never enthralled by the menu offerings. But all that changed recently when I found the perfect breakfast spot, The OP Café in Santa Monica. A friend had a friend who recommended it, so off I went with MY friends Marcia and Lou to see for ourselves.
When we walked in, I panicked for a second because I had a flash of being there before a few years ago, and not being overjoyed. But there’s a new owner and manager, and it’s a whole new day.
Usually I’m worried about getting somewhere at the right time, before whatever the cut-off is. But there were no worries in this case because OP Cafe is open until 3PM daily, and serves breakfast the whole day. Lunch, as well.
The place itself is kind-of small, but doesn’t feel cramped. And though it’s been pretty hot out, and they have only ceiling fans, no air-conditioning, I was actually comfortable enough. There are outdoor tables, too.
We arrived at around 11AM on a week-day, and by 12:30 there wasn’t an empty seat. It was totally bustling, and Mary, the waitress, was pleasant throughout, which is a rarity in that business.
Shades of my past, when Lou went outside to accept a phone call, Marcia and I started our meal with freshly-baked chocolate chip cookies. They looked so yummy that we just couldn’t help ourselves. They elicited a lot of “um”s. I wish I had some more right now!
Then we got normal. I wanted to sample the oatmeal first because I never love it anywhere, but still eat instant every day at home because health experts say to do that for many reasons. I’ve tried it at several restaurants and always feel like I’m choking down medicine. But at OP, it was delicious! The perfect consistency with brown sugar, strawberries and bananas. Little extras just make such a difference, as I found out with the French toast, as well.
That came with carmelized bananas, and the magic ingredient: mascarpone cheese! Never in my life have I been upset that I shared my food with friends. But this case was different. Knowing that I order French toast only as a last resort, I was more than willing to give away some of the slices. But the rest of the day, I obsessed about wanting them back.
Marcia knows the feeling; she DID take back a pancake she had given Lou. Literally. She grabbed it off his plate as he was innocently scarfing his gift. And they barely knew each other! I felt like I was in a Third World country! This gave new meaning to the term “food fight!”
Maybe it was the light, non-doughy texture that they loved. Or the choice of real or fake syrup. It certainly wasn’t the lack of food because it just kept coming.
Lou ordered the Mark Special, named after the owner. It was a protein-packed combo of chicken breast, scrambled e-word whites, black beans, and tortillas, that Lou knew to throw back and forth between his hands, the way we’re supposed to eat them. He said the meal was the perfect balance of breakfast foods. And he’s a muscle guy.
Marcia had the “2+2+2.” In my teen-age days, that meant codeine pills from Montreal. Actually, I think those were just 2+2s. Anyway, this is obviously far superior to that. Well, that depends on if you’re hungry or in pain. Anyway, this was a simple 2 e-words, 2 pieces of bacon or sausage and 2 pancakes, yes, the ones my friends were fighting over. Marcia loved the bacon, too, and that’s her favorite food, so she’s a good judge in that category.
We accompanied our breakfasts with fresh-squeezed orange juice. The small was the most generous pour I’ve ever seen for that size.
The lunch choices were so tempting that we had to try a few of those, as well. The OP House Salad was gorgeous. Unfortunately, we gobbled it so fast that I forgot to take a picture of it. But it was the perfect combination of ingredients, for the eye as well a s the taste buds, including candied walnuts and sundried cranberries.
Marcia’s other big food is Caesar Salad, and she said this one was light and tasty. That’s a relief. I loved the 50/50 Fries, which is half French and half Sweet Potato, all the perfect consistency.
I rarely mention prices (I don’t know why--it’s just the way I’m used to reviewing), but this is a good time to tell you how super-inexpensive this place is. The whole order of fries is $2.00! And bacon, ham, or sausage goes for $1.85. I haven’t heard of prices like this in quite awhile.
They also serve some paninis and wraps and a burger, but we were way too full to try any.
John, the manager, makes the whole thing run smoothly, being incredibly cordial the whole time. He’s introduced on-line ordering, daily specials for $4.99, and my favorite part--gum when you leave, instead of boring mints. That’s one of the best, and simplest, restaurant innovations I’ve ever seen. Oh, and there’s free parking to boot.
The OP Café 3117 Ocean Park Blvd. Santa Monica 310-452-5720 www.theopcafe.com