Pretty shrimp corn cakes with poached eggs on a cilantro cream sauce
2736 Adams Avenue, San Diego
It was a happy coincidence that within a week of enjoying a dinnertime meal at the Georgian restaurant Pomegranate I happened by the similarly exotic menu at Café 21, just to learn that the owners are from Azerbaijan, a country that borders Georgia (as well as Iran, Russia, and Armenia). For an interesting, detailed story about the husband-wife chef and owners, check out Reader writer Leorah Gavidor’s feature from last year. I’m just here to talk about the food.
Dutch-style pancake with lamb kofta
House chips, as good as they look
Short Rib Cast Iron Omelette
Patio at Café 21 in University Heights
Steak Cast Iron Omelette with house salad
Particularly, the brunch kind of food. One of the more unique options on the brunch menu is the Savory Cast Iron Pancake ($11), which is a Dutch-style pancake, meaning it’s huge in diameter but very thin. This version was cooked with house-made lamb sausage, peppers, onion, tomato, and goat cheese in the iron skillet in which it was served. On the side I got Turkish-style ajika salsa, which had a nice hot red pepper kick.
Usually, I was told, there are chips served atop the pancake. But as the order got mixed up and took an unusually long time to make it to the table, our server brought them in advance as an appetizer.
The service seems to be always friendly but slow. By my third visit, I determined that this is one of those places to go only when I have plenty of time to spare. When the pancake did arrive, it looked so impossibly huge that David and I preemptively asked for a box. But it was so flavorful, and the dough so thin, that we ended up killing it right there.
On one visit, David ordered the Shrimp Corn Cakes ($13), a beautiful presentation of Café 21’s take on the classic Benedict. Here, the shrimp and organic sweet corn were formed into balls with hashed potato and topped with poached eggs. On the plate below was a pool of cilantro cream sauce. It was gorgeous to behold, but David found it a little bland and ended up adding more than a pinch of salt.
Though much smaller in diameter, the Cast Iron Omelettes at Café 21 are dense and filling, and I need a to-go box when I order one. My favorite so far is the Short Rib ($14) with braised short rib, bell pepper, caramelized onions, mozzarella, and gorgonzola. My preferred side is the potato pancake, a creamy patty of shredded potato cooked with mozzarella and lightly crisped on the outside.
With the skillets, David goes for the Steak ($15), composed of flat iron steak seasoned with garlic and rosemary, bell pepper, and goat cheese. Most recently he chose the salad to go with it, featuring mixed greens, raspberry vinaigrette, and strawberries. David much prefers this dish to the shrimp and corn cakes.
Our schedules have had us always happening by Café 21 around brunch time, but David and I have peeked at the tantalizing options on the lunch and dinner menus and may just have to prioritize a dinner here soon.