The Mission Café
2801 University Avenue
North Park, CA 92104
Taking Michael out in public is always something of a gamble. It's never clear, right up until the moment of truth, which version you're going to get. There's articulate, argument-for-the-sake-of-argument Michael: "The best French toast ever? You do realize what a bold statement that is."
Then there's the barely contained tree monkey who drinks creamer from the tiny ceramic jug, takes great delight in testing the definition of "socially acceptable" and bites my arm on the walk home. Most times, as was the case last Sunday, you're lucky enough to get a little of both.
"Hey do you want to go get breakfast with me in the morning?"
"Whenever. What time do you want to go?"
"I can do noon."
"Great, I'll come over and we can walk. I'm taking you to The Mission."
Anyone who's driven past The Mission on a weekend knows that if you show up at noon, you're going to wait for the better part of an hour before you get a table. Luckily, there's a gallery of sorts next door, connected to the Cat Alley boutique, which your grandmother would simply swoon over. A book called Menopaws? Fantastic.
Eventually your patience will pay off, and you'll pass through a small bakery area to be seated in the large sunny dining room packed with hungry weekenders and serviced by a tattooed, dyed-haired waitstaff. You might want to stop on your way out and buy a loaf of cinnamon bread, and then make the French toast at home-so you can order one of the other splendors from the extensive breakfast and lunch menu.
There's a full coffee bar, so you're practically required to start there. For you fellow caffeine fiends, the Vincent Vega is heaven on ice. It's The Mission's fault I confound baristas all over town with my request for espresso with vanilla syrup over ice-in a large cup, please, and a Coke:
"Is it all going in the same cup?"
"Yes, all in the same cup. But you'd better let me do it, because it'll foam all over the place if you pour too quickly."
"Whatever you say, lady."
Trust me on this one-it's deliciousness beyond your sugarcoated, caffeine-addled dreams.
Time to order. Michael's a Mission newbie, but my first recommendation spawned his "bold statement" remark. By this time, his black coffee had arrived, and we'd also been down the creamer-sipping road. (The first batch was whole milk. Turns out they do offer heavy cream, but only if you ask.)
I already knew the French toast was superb, as is the chicken apple sausage, and the Plata Verde con Huevos-sweet corn tamales and eggs, with roasted tomatillo sauce. It was down to the roast beef hash, and the Zen Breakfast.
"Hey, Michael, are you still a veggie?"
Zen Breakfast it is, and make it two. What followed was far tastier than brown rice, tofu, scrambled egg whites and squash had any right to be, and much heartier fare than you'd expect $7.25 to buy. The eggs were so fluffy you never missed the yolks. The tofu was braised in a lightly sweet sauce that trickled unseen under the pile of pearly rice, making for a surprising compliment to the light drizzling of soy sauce on top. The green and yellow squash was sliced thin and grilled just long enough to retain a satisfying crispness. The chopped tomatoes and onion scattered sparingly throughout went wonderfully with whatever you happened to spear them with. Best of all, I wasn't left with that lethargic over-fullness so often associated with weekend breakfasting.
Having laughed and argued my way through yet another outing with Michael, peppered with such pearls of wisdom as, "This is a gift from God" (the cream), and, "Now this, this is the work of the devil" (the cilantro garnish). I was energized and ready to tackle what was left of my day. As it usually does, eating healthy also had the somewhat annoying side effect of reawakening the little voice in my head that says things like, "Go to the gym! Quit drinking coffee!"
Not to worry, though-I'll be back next week with a more carnivorous companion to give the Angus beef hash a run for its money. That should shut the little voice up well enough, or, at the very least, put it into a nice long, food-induced coma where it can't bother me anymore.