721 Ninth Avenue, East Village
He comes bounding across G Street against the light, stops, looks at me for a moment, then lopes on up Ninth Avenue. He’s a beautiful, big German shepherd, young, free, strutty, and out to cause havoc.
Me, I’m sitting at a table outside Cafe Chloe, causing havoc with my morning gut, munching on arugula. It’s that bitter kind of lettuce they also call rocket. But for breakfast? Then again, sliced Granny Smith apple sits on top of it, and thin-sliced sautéed spuds sit smokin’ beside it, and it’s so dressed up in a sweetish vinaigrette that I’m enjoying it. Oh, there’s also an omelet on the plate with herbs and brie inside, and a sausage all the way from France with char marks from the grill.
All in all, pretty interesting, as breakfast dishes go. And what a way to start the day — it’s a breezy, sunny, late morning. What I like is how they’ve captured that French café thing so danged well here. The inside-outside, the art, the bistro tables, the cute-shaped trees, the full-size stone greyhounds guarding the entrance. Only thing is, it ain’t exactly cheap. But I got paid last week, so, on impulse I sat down outside. Actually, confession: this is my second visit to Cafe Chloe this week. The place has the feel of a naughty weekend in Paris, and that’s something that gets me every darn time.
So, today I’ve ordered me this brie-and-herb omelet “with grilled boudin blanc sausage,” a French “white” sausage, made with milk instead of blood. It’s costing me $11.50, plus $1 for toast and butter and plum jam and $3.50 for a coffee. (You do get endless refills, and hey, it’s Illy coffee.) I had plenty of choices, like “eggs and piperade-peppers, onions, and prosciutto with potato, 11.” Meaning $11. (Either they’re just being cool, ’cause this is East Village, or they think you’ll worry less about prices if that dollar sign isn’t there.)
“Piperade? Is that like a Scottish Gatorade?” I ask Rebecca, who’s brought my coffee.
“Well, no,” she says. “It’s a spicy French-Basque tomato garnish with red and green peppers. We put it on onions and prosciutto and potatoes, then lay the eggs on top, so you can break them and their yolks ooze down through the mixture.”
Sounds more interesting than choices like two eggs with bacon, baguette, and butter. That’s priced at $9. Or the crêpe Lorraine wrapped around eggs, bacon, and gruyère cheese, $9.25. And it’s probably more filling than the “savory custard du jour with brown bread toast & greens,” $9.75. Cheapest is a “Greek yogurt with apricot-hazelnut granola and lavender honey,” $7.50.
My omelet is good — mild, yes, but perfectly cooked, herby, and the brie makes it a little custardy, and the milky boudin sausage gives it just enough tang. Plus, Rebecca doesn’t skimp on the coffee. She also brings out a big, frosty bottle labeled, in raised glass letters, “Geyer Frères, Maison Fondée 1895.” “That’s a French lemonade,” she explains. The bottle looks vintage, with its thick glass and ceramic flip-lid and all. Or maybe it’s a replica. Whatever, today it holds icy water. She pours some into a glass, like it’s champagne.
Must say, the biggest pleasure is watching the world from here. One guy comes and sits down cross-legged outside Farka’s Store Fixtures and never moves. There’s also an incredible number of (mostly) men taking dogs on walks or holding mini-pooches in their arms as they stride briskly around the block.
Last time I ate here it was nearer to sunset. I was heading downhill toward the buses at 12th and Imperial when I spotted a corner sign with the cute silhouette of a kid’s face (Chloe, the owners’ daughter) and a menu talking about “four, five, six.” That’s when their happy hour’s on, 4:00–6:00 p.m., Monday–Friday, and also how much their dishes cost at that time, four to six bucks. So, I went in and sat at the smooth, half-round faux-marble counter. Couldn’t resist ordering an olive selection ($4) and a tarte flambée ($5) from Nicolae the bartender, who sounded French but turned out to be Romanian. He recommended a glass of happy-hour wine to pair with the food: a Colle Maggio Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, 2006, five bucks for the glass. I caved. Oh, God, it was good. If I were a wine-sniffer, I’d say cherries, chocolate. It was rich, red, rousing, and paired beautifully with the black and green olives — they gave me a way-big plateful, 45 of them; I counted — and this tarte flambée, which was a flatbread topped with bacon, caramelized onions, and crème fraîche (slightly soured cream). Such a taste. I swear, it filled me up fine. And soon enough this photographer guy Ed and I were yapping with Nicolae, and the hour flew by, and I came out as though I’d eaten a satisfying meal. I knew I’d be back.
So, here I am, five days later, chomping arugula for breakfast. Just getting up when I hear this panicked voice yelling across G Street, “Tom! Tom! Come here!” Guy runs into the street, chasing that German shepherd. Screech! Car almost hits it. People join in the chase, before the dog comes to harm. Suddenly you get a feeling. Folks helping each other? Dogs? We may have the makings of a neighborhood here. Maybe condo-cool East Village is becoming warm-blooded at last. ■
The Place: Cafe Chloe, 721 Ninth Avenue (at G), 619-232-3242
Type of Food: French-Californian
Prices: Two breakfast eggs with bacon, baguette, butter, $9; crêpe Lorraine with eggs, bacon, gruyère cheese, $9.25; savory custard, toast, greens, $9.75; Greek yogurt, apricot-hazelnut granola, honey, $7.50; eggs, piperade peppers, onions, prosciutto, potato, $11; happy-hour olive selection, $4; tarte flambée (flatbread, bacon, caramelized onions, crème fraîche), $5 (happy hour, normally $9); charcuterie selection, with grilled bread, pickles, mustard, $6 (happy hour)
Hours: 7:30 a.m.–10:30 p.m., Monday–Friday; 8:30 a.m.–10:30 p.m., Saturday; 8:30 a.m.–9:30 p.m., Sunday; happy hour, 4:00–6:00 p.m., Monday–Friday
Buses: 3, 11, 120, 901, 929
Nearest Bus Stops: Market and 8th (3, 11); 4th and G (120); Market and 10th (901, 929, southbound); Market and 11th (901, 929, northbound)