This is your brain on veggies. I mean, look at it. You’d swear that’s what this was. It’s brain-shaped. It has all the wrinkles and bulges, the bike-helmet shape.
Except it’s not a brain, it’s an omelet. My omelet. Maybe the most scrumptious omelet I’ve chowed into in ages. And cooked here at the pier by a chef who hails from a restaurant atop the Eiffel Tower.
I’d been wandering toward the I.B. pier, looking for a quick Sunday brunch. Beautiful afternoon, people in a sauntering mood. A preacher telling a group sitting on the pier plaza lawn not to stress so much. “Live in the present. Have faith.”
My only stress is a really empty belly. Carla’s eating with family. But all the Sunday brunches around here stopped at, like, 2 p.m.
It’s when I cross through the transparent red, orange, and green plastic arches that I notice these two little shops on the Pier Plaza. Cow-A-Bunga, the craft ice cream place, and something called “Par Amour.”
Seems like a little social center. When you get closer you notice games of chess at the ready, on the bench outside. “Anybody can join in,” says this older guy. “We play from around sunset. Sunday evenings.”
Huh. Meantime, I notice two magic words painted on the window.
“Still on?” I ask the lady inside. She nods.
Hey hey! Mind you, food sounds a little lite on the window list. “World’s best pretzels,” it says, “authentic French crêpes, salads, sandwiches, homemade soups, pizzas, 100 percent beef jumbo hot dogs.”
But for breakfast details you’ve got to go into the pale green and tan interior. And the first thing you see here ain’t menus. It’s a seaside teaser on a counter-top board:
- Come out of your Shell.
- Avoid Pier pressure.
- Be Shore of yourself.
- Don’t get Tide down.
- Go ahead and make Waves.
But, aha. Chalkboard on the right lists breakfasts.
We’re basically talking sandwiches, omelets, and wraps. Cheapest are the sandwiches. The egg sandwich is $3.50, then the egg and cheese ($4.50), and the ham, egg, and cheese ($5.50).
Then, “French-style” omelets. Hmm... They start off at $5.50 for the egg and cheese, go to $6.50 for the egg, cheese, and veggies, or the ham, egg, and cheese. The “vegetarian” costs $6.50 (with or without cheese), and top o’ the line is the ham, egg, cheese, and veggies omelet for $7.
“They’re all organic, three-egg omelets,” says the gal at the counter, Shirley.
That makes them cheap at the price. I go for the top: the ham, egg, cheese, and veggies-style omelet. And pay another $1 for toast, and one more for coffee. So, nine bucks. Deal.
“But ‘French-style’?” I ask Shirley. She points to the cook with a totally stylish goatee rolling out lengths of dough in the kitchen. Then tying them into knots. “Marc,” she says. “He’s French. He used to be a chef in the top restaurant in the Eiffel Tower.”
Whoa. Parisian chef about to make my omelet here at the pier in I.B.
Marc brings a couple of loosely tied pretzels to the oven up front. Pops them in. It doesn’t take a minute for the aroma to waft out. Oh, man.
“That’s the garlic-parmesan,” says Shirley.
Looks like they specialize in pretzels here. They have ten types. You can get them with Celtic salt, Himalayan salt, or smoked salt on top, plus pretzels with cheese, sesame seed, garlic parmesan, a pretzel dog, and I don’t know what-all else. Mostly $5.75. Then for about another buck you can get sauces to dip them in, like different hummuses, chef’s pesto, or on the sweet side, melted French chocolate.
“Marc started this as Pretzels and More in 2008,” Shirley says. “By 2013 he was exhausted, about to sell up. We met right outside! I said, ‘Don’t sell. Let’s change it up, together.’ And we did.”
So, finally, here I am outside, sitting at one of the concrete tables, looking down at this steaming, brain-shaped omelet, and going totally ooh and aah. Turns out the French-style omelet is fluffier and rounder than American style. And this one just looks, like, perfecto. Lots of spinach, plenty of ham, and a taste, texture, and umami flavor to it. The toast comes with a jam that’s tart and fruity. Marc made that, too.
Part of the charm’s eating in the midst of all the pier life around you. Guy comes and sits down with his bowl of açaï. And a trumpet. Patrick. “I’ve been busking on the pier,” he says. “Spending some of the take on this.”
I ask about his açaï. “I had some in O.B. last week,” he says, “and the fruit was old. It was all sticky. This cost $8 but Shirley makes it totally fresh and organic and the açaï is good quality. What a difference.”
Pretty soon, we’re a little gathering. Jason sits down with an omelet like mine and a pretzel for his three-and-a-half-year-old kid, Norah. “Mysterious Norman,” who told me about the chess, is waiting for a game. Tells us about the guy who came the other night and quietly cleaned everybody’s clock. “Turns out he was chess champion of Brasilia.”
It’s getting dark. I take my plate back. Notice one more sign inside.
“Love captures us in a moment and changes us forever.”
Marc and Shirley? For sure. She ditched a corporate life, he ditched a chef’s life cooking for the glitterati at, like, the Eiffel Tower. For this. Together.
“Don’t you miss that?” I ask.
Marc shakes his head.
“We work four days a week,” he says. “You see the sunset out your front door here, you don’t miss a thing.”
10 Evergreen Avenue, Suite D, Imperial Beach
Hours: 10:30 a.m.–5 p.m., Thursdays; 10:30–6:30 p.m. Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays; closed Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays
Prices: Egg breakfast sandwich, $3.50; egg and cheese sandwich, $4.50; ham, egg, cheese sandwich, $5.50; organic, three-egg and cheese omelet, $5.50; egg, cheese, veggie omelet, $6.50; vegetarian omelet (with or without cheese), $6.50; ham, egg, cheese, veggie omelet, $7; 1/4 lb beef hot dog, $4; mixed bean soup with tomatoes, Indian spices, $5; pepperoni 8-inch pizza, $6; cheese melt sandwich, $5.50; jalapeño cheese and spicy pesto pretzel, $5.75
Buses: 33, 34
Nearest bus stops: on Seacoast Drive at Evergreen