2145 Fern Street, South Park
I tend to be averse to sweetening food that's meant to be savory, so I've long put off visiting Eclipse since it moved in to South Park last year. William Gustwiller's confections are unquestionably delicious, and I couldn't think of a better place to take someone for the traditionally "hot" beverage he refers to as drinking chocolate. But I've long felt maple-glaze kills the very thing that makes bacon great, and I don't figure melted caramel has any place near my Eggs Benedict, so I quite consciously ignored the Sweet & Savory Brunch advertised in Eclipse's window when it overlooked El Cajon Boulevard, and have done the same to the one on Fern Street.
But there are only so many brunch spots in this city that don't require waiting an hour for a table, so eventually I knew I'd wind up giving my sweet tooth a morning workout. But not with a sweet savory dish — it would have to be a savory take on something sweet: pancakes.
Yes, the Eclipse brunch menu offers far more than pancakes. It leads off with evocative names like Blood Orange French Toast and Crispy Quinoa Fritter. Just remember, bistro gets second billing to chocolate here, so expect some sort of candy element. Even something as seemingly simple as buttermilk toast gets the orange peel and vanilla bean butter treatment.
To wit, vanilla buttermilk pancakes come standard with roasted white chocolate. Okay, so it reads like something you've always wanted without realizing it; so obvious that someone should have thought to do this by now. There's a lot of that throughout the menu — ingredients using other ingredients as adjectives. Hickory Salted Avocado. Brute Cocoa Mole. Alluring. Editorial. But is the point to read well or taste good?
I bypassed the Chocolate Chip and even the Chile Spiced Pecan Banana pancakes to go with a third option: Blueberry Maple Bacon. It's almost as if the menu was daring me to find out whether bacon and blueberries could coexist simply by putting some maple between them.
Apparently they get along just fine. Every aspect of this dish came to play. The white chocolate gratings aren't frivolously roasted just because it markets well; the roasting actually adds depth of flavor that meshes well with the light bitterness of the buttermilk. The blueberries speak up with acidity, and the maple bacon – well, taken in contrast with the actual maple syrup provided, it delivers that bacon something America so ardently craves, without trying to take over the dish. And altogether it complimented my coffee, the minimum requirement for any good breakfast.
And I have to admit, I would never have expected pancakes to liven up so many corners of my mouth. I probably shouldn't have been surprised; everything about the place screams Attention To Detail, from the cocoa percentage of each chocolate piece to the interplay of light and dark found in the bistro's decorative treatments. Perhaps there's nothing at all gratuitous to what Eclipse is doing, and maybe that's even the case with its Chile Burnt Caramel Hollandaise.
In all fairness, by the end of the meal, the presence of overall sweetness began to accumulate, with the last few bites tasting increasingly less complex as a result – not that it stopped me from picking up a couple of confections on the way out. Otherwise the only legitimate flaw I have to report is a minor typo in the entertaining and educational "From Bean to Bar" mural in the restaurant's northeast corner. Somewhere in its description of chocolate-making process, a single letter was left out. For a place so attentive to minutiae, that's really got to drive somebody crazy.