I feel like I'm on a perpetual search for a non-gourmet breakfast place that churns out food that's a bit more than mediocre. That's not a high bar, and yet, somehow, my snooty standards are rarely met. But my stony breakfast heart grew three sizes bigger after dining at Bessie's 1929 Café.
Bessie's is a charmer—a longtime Oceanside eatery recently under new ownership. It's the building (at 232 S. Coast Hwy.) that dates back to 1929; Bessie didn't open her eatery until 1941. After her time as café queen ended, the locale served Mexican food. Now Bessie's exudes the vibe of a 1920s seaside town. Early big-band tunes greet your ears, and vintage photos (including one of Bessie herself ) line the walls.
The menu is that of any classic Southern California breakfast joint: a mix of American and Mexican eats. The gimmick item is what Bessie's calls a Monster Torta Burger. I find the concept of gluttonous eating contests to be stomach-turning, but I realize the appeal is huge. So, be aware, if you can down the nearly 2-pound assemblage of beef, ham, guacamole and oh-so-much more in 20 minutes or less, the whole thing is free. You even walk away with a complimentary T-shirt for your troubles.
But I recommend pacing yourself and enjoying a leisurely meal. I was extremely happy with a humble stack of pancakes. They're thick and fluffy, ringed with a sweet assortment of strawberries. The meaty links of maple sausage are salty-sweet and quite delicious, without any of the dreaded hard knobs of gristly fat you often find in greasy spoons.
Breakfast and lunch are served every day from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., but if you're not a breakfast-at-anytime kindof person (I could eat pancakes for dinner every night), there are plenty of lunchtime items. If the Monster Torta Burger strikes you as a bit much, grab one of the more traditional beef 'n' bun options.
Or, split the difference and order a wacky meld of American and Mexican traditions known as the Spanish Burger. A nicely hand-formed beef patty innocently crowns a slice of ciabatta, along with zesty habañero jack cheese, what looks to be a whole avocado sliced on top and smoked jalapeño mayo. Perched upon the other side of the bun is a whole chile relleno. Good luck putting the two sides together and getting a bite into your mouth without taking a chili-sauce shower, but the chile relleno is so gooey, and the whole concoction so familiar yet over-the-top, I couldn't help but dismantle it and enjoy every part.
The atmosphere at Bessie's is exceedingly friendly—it easily earned bonus points with me when a server, without asking, brought my baby her own little complimentary cup of fruit.
Have I found breakfast perfection? I'm get- ting closer. The familiar comfort of Bessie's food doesn't feel lazy or churned-out. The ease and charm is a welcome bit of warmth in downtown Oceanside.
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