Perfect match: croissant, eggs, avo, bacon.
Guess what? Bright orange umbrellas on Orange Avenue. They light up the blue sky near Tenth in Coronado.
The gods must’ve been speaking to me this morning. It so happens the scarf I wrapped around my face is bright orange. Is this Destiny or what?!
Whatever, there is a kind of rebirth going on hereabouts. A favorite haunt had been the Cafe Madrid, right outside the original Bay Books. You could grab your book, or magazine or iPad, and then go sit down right in front of the bookstore, and start reading and sipping in the aura of that shopload of knowledge.
Of course, the Cafe Madrid was only a coffee cart, started by the much-loved Luis Madrid, but it had a perfect feng shui about it. Nobody told you to “Please wait to be seated,” and — way ahead of its time — it was all outside. So, Covid-ready.
And usually, it would be full of local characters and tourists, arguing about, well, let’s not even go there. But not bitter and twisted. Relationships mattered more. And all you had to buy was a $1.50 cup of joe.
1007 Orange Avenue, San Diego
Then comes the new landlord, triples rents, and closes down all who can’t afford to play ball. Then, Covid. But finally, good news: Bay Books has reopened, a few doors north. And, included, the Bay Books Cafe, Covid-ready, all outside. And this time, guess what? They’re offering actual food!
Breakfast, anyway. And reasonably priced too, looks like.
You can spot the cook among the books, Jose Wong, swirling eggs, shaking pepper on top, popping a pan into an oven.
The smells are enough to stop me in my tracks. I know their joe is good. I’ve paused for a cuppa here before. The two baristas, Paulina and Jorge, pour a flavorsome blend. It’s from Cafe Virtuoso out of Barrio Logan. Organic. Roasted right.
And today, I’m spotting an extra sandwich board on the sidewalk, advertising hot breakfasts. They have the normal baked goods display, but now they have added two more serious breakfast options. Croissant egg sandwich, and avocado toast.
Hmm. I still ain’t holding out much hope for anything you could actually call a full-on brekky. Except that the garlicky, bacony aromas filtering through my orange scarf are telling me to hang in there.
Jose and Paulina: new ideas for the bookshop cafe.
So why not? But which one? The toast with stuff piled on top, or the croissant with everything stuffed inside. Toast’s $7.95. Croissant’s $8.25. Good prices. Honestly, it’s hard to find anything cooked for under 15 bucks on the island. Usually, as they say in Hawaii, it’s Island Prices. So just on principle, I go for one of each. Plus lay down about three bucks for the coffee.
I secure a table spot just as Paulina calls out “Avocado toast!” She slides over a white box. We’re not talking silver service. Not even paper plates. But I open the box, and have to say, it does look nice in there. It’s an artistic mix of egg, pepper, red onion, queso fresco, radish slices, and avo. Lots of avo. Sliced, not squished into a paste people usually wipe on in an avocado toast situation. And on top, purple and white edible orchid petals. It’s a piece of art.
I hate to bust it up, but I take one bite anyway, right at the counter. Oh yes. So-o savory.
“It’s toast from a batard loaf,” says Jose. He tells me the batard is called that because its football shape was between the classic long baguette and the round boule type. (Think Mexican “bolillo,” but bigger.) The “bastard” shape was called that because it was neither long nor round. It was the last shape to arrive on the French scene, in the 1800s. Nouvelle kid on the bloque!
Whatever, it’s a delicious, tangy toasty bread. “I put French butter, olive oil, and then crumble queso fresco on top,” Jose says. “And pepper is important for the taste.”
The avocado’s sliced, not crushed, and plenty of it.
He’s right about that. It’s essential for the egg and avo combo. Really, it’s a beautiful lush mix that hits just the right notes with the coffee. And munching it out here on the fresh morning sidewalk? Can’t beat it. I even enjoy the orchid petals, though they are more for looks than flavor.
Turns out Jose is a highly-qualified chef. His family owns an Asian restaurant in Merida, in the Yucatán, not far from Cancun. The Xing Yun. “It means ‘Good Luck,’” he says. “I’m 24 now, been cooking since I was 14. I have cooked in 29 restaurants.” One was Micaela Mar y Lena, one of the most famous in Merida. “It was 18 hours a day, seven days a week, for three months. No days off, $200 a week. But I learned everything there.” He also graduated from a prestigious culinary school, has worked with three Michelin-starred chefs, and later this year will be heading to a job in Japan. “I want to learn as much as I can,” he says. In the meantime, he has plans for Bay Books Cafe. “The owners are applying for a wine and beer license,” he says. “We’re talking about offering sunset oysters and other delicacies in a happy hour. It feels right for a bookshop cafe.”
Boy, what a great idea. Specially with the sun setting right across Orange.
Meantime, Paulina calls out “Croissant egg sandwich!”
Oh man. That’s me. And already I’m pretty full with the avo batard toast. Still, this loaded crescent turns out to be lighter than air, crispy flaky, eggy (there’s two over-easy eggs in there), and whacked into a tangy sharpness by a thick wad of bacon. Fresh coffee helps too.
It hits me: here, outside a book store, right in the middle of the sidewalk, we are becoming seriously gastronomic.
I sit back, get ready to liberate this table. The rising sun’s rays become orange through the umbrellas. The orchid petals look luminous.
But I’m already thinking oysters. Can’t wait for the oysters.
The Place: Bay Books Cafe, 1007 Orange Avenue, Coronado, 619-435-0098
Hours: 7:30am-6pm, daily (till 8pm, Friday, Saturday, Sunday);
Food hours: 8am-2pm daily
Prices: Croissant egg sandwich, $8.25; avocado toast, $7.95
Buses: 901, 904
Nearest bus stops: Orange at 10th