By Frank Sabatini Jr.
I was about 10 minutes ahead of my party for Sunday breakfast at Kensington Café, arriving at 9 a.m. sharp with the assumption of facing a wait list. But not only did I narrowly dodge the rush, the hostess ushered me straight to a four-top table without requiring that my tardy companions be present.
Waking up with the woodpeckers on lazy weekend mornings has its rewards.
Another stroke of luck ensued when perusing the menu. Chilaquiles, yes! I had been recently craving them. In addition, everything on the menu is $10 or less, including healthy salads and hot sandwiches also available during breakfast service.
The coffee fiend in our group wasted no time ordering a “flying nun,” which our waitress described jokingly as “a heart attack in a cup.” It mixes four shots of espresso with condensed milk and a choice of regular or low-fat milk.
“Glad I’m not hanging out with him today,” one of my tablemates said as she sipped from a cup of regular joe that was neither weak nor robust. All of the coffee drinks at Kensington Café use beans from WestBean Roasters on Mission Gorge Road.
The kitchen was already out of certain fruits that go into a pineapple smoothie I ordered. So I ended up with a somewhat watery banana-blueberry-mango concoction that cried for a dollop of yogurt in the blend.
We skipped over the café’s famous streusel French toast and blueberry-cornmeal waffles in lieu of savory dishes plated in restrained but satisfying portions you’d expect from a cute, neighborhood joint tailored to wise eaters. Basically, if you arrive with the appetite of papa bear, then mama and baby bear might need to relinquish some of their porridge to you.
Of the four dishes we ordered, the pulled pork hash was the best. Though not really hash in the traditional sense since the meat and potatoes weren’t fully intermingled, the flavors of the juicy, caramelized pork and tri-colored potatoes (sweet, purple and white) were tastefully clenched by Mexican crema and green onions.
Lemon-infused cream cheese added a gracious zip to the lox breakfast sandwich on a seeded bagel. The briny capers were aplenty, teaming nicely with the modest-sized salmon filet, red onions, alfalfa sprouts and a ruby-red slice of tomato. It was a step above most others with richer textures and brighter flavors.
Our tablemate who awoke that morning with lunch on her mind ordered the “Edgeware” from the hot sandwich category. Named after the nearby side street, it looked like a grilled American-diner sandwich, but carried far more flair featuring thinly sliced beef we suspected was braised in red wine. On top was a judicious layer of super-buttery Swiss cheese and Dijon mustard, all tucked between two slices of hearty, grilled bread. A leafy arugula salad was served alongside.
My chilaquiles were underwhelming, except for the perfectly moist scrambled eggs on top. The beauty of classic chilaquiles is their lasagna-like construct of tortilla chips that turn a little soggy from garlicky red salsa, Mexican crema and grated Oaxaca cheese layered in between. Add extra points when minced white onions or roasted chili peppers enter the recipe.
Here, the dish is pretty basic, starting with a puddle of so-so green salsa at the bottom of a bowl capturing loosely arranged chips, a plop of under-seasoned black beans and a few sprinkles of unfitting feta cheese. The ingredients are crowned with two scrambled eggs and a mini scoop of fresh guacamole. A bottle of Tapatio Hot Sauce on the table came in as a necessary booster.
Conversely, the “pio pico tacos” made with soy chorizo don’t disappoint. I had them on a previous visit during happy hour, and they’re available for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The soyrizo was convincingly meaty and accented with hearty doses of garlic, paprika and hot pepper. It tasted better than the real deal.
The offerings at Kensington Café run generally along nutritious lines with other choices extending to green chili frittatas, spinach-mushroom scrambles, acai or bulgur wheat bowls and roasted turkey sandwiches. There’s also a variety of wholesome salads to kick-start the day such as the “vegan power” made with lime-toasted pepita seeds, quinoa and a slew of veggies in cilantro vinaigrette.
The café’s dinner menu goes into effect at 5 p.m., daily, when dishes such as baked brie, braised pot roast, red quinoa burgers and blackened tilapia summon you back with the few extra dollars you saved on breakfast.
—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.