By Frank Sabatini Jr.
Always on the lookout for meals that don’t originate from the copycat mill, I discovered on the revised brunch menu at West Coast Tavern a couple of signature dishes that were previously alien to my palate as well as traditional fare augmented with appealing dashes of novelty.
When initially viewing the menu online, the carrot waffles piqued my interest, as did the coconut-chia pudding. I wondered if the waffles would be orange and savory while realizing that nutritious hippie-hyped chia seeds had somehow evaded my consumption until now.
To a lesser extent, in terms of originality, my appetite was also cued by the notion of a fried chicken BLT and deluxe bloody marys promising “the bartender’s choice of tasty toppings.”
Within a matter of days, and with a brunch fanatic in tow, I was plowing through a thicket of fresh mint, celery, bacon, salami, olives and other savories rising from a tamely spiced bloody mary made with Kettle One Vodka.
West Coast fronts the historical Observatory North Park (formerly the Birch North Park Theatre), occupying in part an architecturally detailed space that was formerly the lobby of the Fox West Coast Theater some 85 years ago. To the right of it is a brick-walled tavern. And toward the back is another bar, the area from which a high-powered sound system cranks out music.
Brunch is served in all areas, including the sidewalk patio, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday through Sunday.
On this particular day of rest, the vibe started out quiet and mellow. We were seated along the street-facing glass panels of the main dining room. Though by 11 a.m., the noise level increased two-fold from the clamor of a full house competing with the cadence of moderately low-beat dance music.
Amid rum flights, bottomless mimosas and other libations flying around the room, we transitioned from bleary-eyed to festively alert.
Executive chef Abe Botello, who last worked at Urban Solace and its sister restaurant, Solace & the Moonlight Lounge, fuels the experience with everything from strawberry-avocado toast and assorted eggs Benedict draped in roasted poblano hollandaise. He also gives chilaquiles a welcome boost with chipotle chicken while appeasing vegetarians with skillets combining pasta, scrambled eggs and seasonal veggies laced in cheese sauce and residing under a mantle of toasted breadcrumbs.
My companion gravitated to the “loaded” biscuits and gravy constructed with house-made cheddar biscuits crowned with bacon, sausage and two sunny-side eggs. He orders them all the time in other places, but said these were exceedingly more satisfying with the proteins piled on top.
The same sweet-tasting gravy covering the biscuits reappeared alongside my fried chicken BLT as a dipping sauce. But it wasn’t necessary because the tender buttermilk-battered chicken filets and ripe tomatoes exuded enough juice to keep the sandwich moist. And unlike the room-temperature tongue of bacon curling down from my Bloody Mary, the strips poking out from the toasted sourdough were hot and crispy, thus unleashing a better smoky, cured flavor.
Our waitress wisely suggested we hold off on the carrot waffles until the end of our meal since they were anything but savory. The batter contains brown sugar, currants and candied walnuts, much like carrot cake. And the scoop of fluffy white matter on top of the dark-tan waffles was cream cheese icing that pooled into the squares as it melted. The dish can potentially enjoy success on an evening dessert menu.
The coconut-chia pudding topped with berries, jam, granola and shaved coconut was more intriguing than it was sweet. Thick and creamy, the chef soaks chia seeds in coconut milk, which morphs into a dairy-like paste.
The additions of nutmeg and cinnamon factored in nicely while the chia injected a flavor I can best compare to that of flaxseed, or something medicinal. My companion loved it. For me, it was an acquired taste with the help of knowing I was upping my intake of soluble fiber.
Botello takes a fun, friendly approach to brunch by skipping omelets and the scads of breakfast potatoes that often accompany them. His dishes are instead built on skill with just the right amount of inventive foresight to keep customers merrily engaged.
West Coast Tavern also serves dinner and offers happy hour seven days a week, 4 – 6 p.m.
—Frank Sabatini Jr. is the author of “Secret San Diego” (ECW Press), and began his local writing career more than two decades ago as a staffer for the former San Diego Tribune. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.