Café 222222 Island Ave.Downtown619-236-9902
The billboards have been gone for years now, but I'm sure you still remember them: the striking lone image of a bare-shouldered blonde with upcast eyes and a knowing smile. She is unadorned except for the perfectly round waffle perched atop her head like a golden-brown-baked headdress. They were successfully eye-catching; my curiosity was piqued when I first I drove past the one just off the Front Street exit into Downtown, enough to need to know who and what, the billboard was advertising.
The waffle-lady turned out to be chef Terryl Gavre promoting her restaurant, Café 222, which she opened in the early '90s on the edge of the Marina district, when the neighborhood was still in the midst of redevelopment and not quite so high-rise heavy. Her billboard campaign, a big venture for a small breakfast joint, turned out to be pretty darn effective. In the years since its opening, the café has been featured in Gourmet magazine and on the Food Network and has spawned a line of merchandise, from T-shirts to baking mixes.
Café 222 has also won a Gold Medallion Award for Best Breakfast many years running, including this year, from the San Diego Chapter of the California Restaurant Association, though I don't necessarily put much stock into those self-congratulatory awards.
In the early days, during my first meals at the restaurant, I remember being extremely charmed by its retro décor and comfort-food menu. Though those trends have since peaked and waned, the café is still a nice and comfortable spot for a filling breakfast, provided that you don't attempt a visit during a holiday or an unusually tourist-packed weekend. I like Café 222 best on weekdays or early weekend mornings, when parking is still easy to come by and the wait is a manageable few minutes.
It's a genuinely welcoming place, from the dog bowls on the pet-friendly patio to the free banana bread and coffee that are sometimes handed out to the hungry crowd if the line gets a bit long. The whimsical and colorful decorations add to the happy feel; I still smile when I see the chandelier made from coffee cups, saucers and spoons that hangs in the main dining area.
Out of its tiny, short-order kitchen, Café 222 serves diner breakfast classics like chicken-fried steak and eggs, a few tasty varieties of eggs Benedict and corned beef hash. In recent years, the ratio of corned beef to potato on the plate has shifted too heavily toward the starchy side for me, but I like the addition of sweet shredded carrots and green peppers to the hash mix. On one recent visit, though, I was disappointed by the hardened yolks of the poached eggs atop my hash, since I find few eats more awesome than an oozy egg yolk.
Off the griddle come giant, plate-sized pancakes in traditional buttermilk or flavored with orange and pecans or granola. They even make Mickey Mouse-shaped hotcakes for little ones, just like my mom used to make. There's also a peanut-butter-and-banana-stuffed French toast, though it's too sweet for me.
Waffles are obviously Café 222's signature, the most famous being the pumpkin waffle, the recipe for which was once published in Gourmet. They are good, though I'd enjoy an even more pronounced pumpkin flavor. One friend, a fellow waffle fan, has prepared for me a better, more pumpkin-y version in her Golden Hill kitchen. I also prefer a more crisp-textured waffle, so I like the cornbread waffle, with its sweet, crunchy exterior and fluffy middle. The five-grain waffle, with a little homemade granola mixed into the batter, is deliciously nutty-tasting. And though the lunch menu kicks in at 11:30 a.m. daily, breakfast is served until 1:30 p.m., so even late-risers can still start their day with a waffle. Write to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.