By Richard Foss (Richard@RichardFoss.com)
A visit for brunch, the most enjoyable of meals, makes for a perfect morning in Santa Monica
I rarely get time to go out for brunch, which is a pity as it’s a meal I enjoy more than any other. Breakfast is usually hurried over in order to get ready for the day, lunch taken alone or in the company of strangers, dinner with friends delightful but ending too soon because work schedules pull my companions away. Brunch is the meal to laze over, to savor before some outing or exploration.
It was one of those rare days when my wife and I had no pressing responsibilities, nor did our favorite companions, so we visited Thyme Café and Market on Ocean Park Boulevard. I hadn’t been there before, but a friend who worked in the area had remarked on the quality of their midweek lunches, so we decided to give the place a try.
Thyme Café and Market is more café than market. There is a refrigerated case where some items, mostly house-made, can be bought to go, but this is not a place for grocery shopping. The neat, bright room is dominated by a long counter full of pastries, salads and other ready-to-go items, but at 11 a.m. on Sunday morning the crowd was there to dine in. There was a long line to order, which was good because the menu is very large and not well thought-out — you can only see the chalkboard sandwich and salad menu from the back of the line, and might not notice the breakfast menu until you are closer. There were also weekend brunch menus that weren’t posted on the wall at all, but were right by the register. A board outside with all the menus, or a second posting where you can see them in the area where the line forms, would eliminate much confusion.
We ordered food and various forms of caffeine — mimosas and such are offered, but we were being virtuous that morning — and headed for a table. There were a few empty tables on the back patio when we arrived, but these were taken by the time we were ready, so we ended up at a shared table indoors.
There’s a balance called kitchen timing that every restaurant struggles with: Is it better to deliver each item as soon as it’s ready so that everyone gets their meal at peak freshness, or to hold some items until everything is ready so that everyone eats at the same time? Here they side with freshness, so one member of our party had a steak and watercress sandwich with horseradish aioli and caramelized onions several minutes before the rest of us. It was an exceptional sandwich, the thin-sliced beef tender and juicy with the mildly peppery cress and garlic mayo flavor accented by a mild horseradish bite. The bread was good enough that I wished I had bought a baguette to take home, and the lightly dressed arugula salad made a pretty presentation and a fine contrast.
The sandwich was about half gone when the rest of us got our meals: an order of cornmeal pancakes with berries baked in, brioche French toast with raspberries, and a special of lox and crostini with honey mustard, goat cheese, red onion and boiled egg. I had rather expected the lox and other ingredients to be either on the crostini or in separate piles next to it, but they were on the plate with the crostini on top, a topping of microgreens crowning the whole assemblage. You stacked the toasted baguette as high as you liked, or alternated bites of bread with the mix. It was an elegant presentation and tasted delicious; I am usually wary of honey mustard because the sweetness often takes over, but this was finely balanced.
The pancakes were less spectacular but very light with the wholegrain texture of the rough-ground corn adding to the interest of the dish, and I enjoyed it with the sliced banana and real maple syrup that were provided. I had ordered chicken sausage as a side, and these arrived slightly smoky from the grill, a great improvement over frying in a pan. The only item not to my taste was the French toast, and that only because it was sliced too thick and hadn’t absorbed the egg batter — it wasn’t bad, just not up to the rest of the meal.
We lingered over our breakfast and coffee until the sight of the line of other diners made us feel guilty about taking up table space. It had been a delightful and decadent start to the day, and we strolled to look at neighboring businesses with the leisurely manner of those who had not merely eaten, but eaten well. Our meals had run just over $15 per person, but the morale boost, as the commercials say, was priceless.
The Thyme Café and Market is open from 7 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays and from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sundays. Park in a rear lot or on the street. Beer, wine and vegetarian/vegan options served.
The Thyme Café and Market, 1630 Ocean Park Blvd., Santa Monica (310) 399-8800 thymecafeandmarket.com