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Bucking the breakfast norm at Café 222

From sweet to savory, longtime Gaslamp spot has mornings figured out

Oreo cookie cakes
Oreo cookie cakes

Hot chocolate and Oreo pancakes might not be what my wife had in mind when she sent me off with the children in search of breakfast. But it’s a chilly morning, and we’re dining outside, and the kids are insistent, having spotted the word Oreo on the menu. I’ve grown accustomed to handing off all the abundant kid-energy to teachers this time of day, so with winter break upon us, I capitulate.

Place

Cafe 222

222 Island Avenue, San Diego

I’m a bit surprised. Not that I’d cave so easily, but that Café 222 offers such a thing. The Gaslamp eatery (named for its address of 222 Island Avenue) has specialized in breakfast for a quarter century, so the menu is loaded with all the expected items. I see corned beef hash, huevos rancheros, and a litany of waffles. I’m not even taken aback to see a tamale and eggs dish, because that’s commonly what’s for breakfast in Mexico.

A corner breakfast restaurant over 25 years

But I’m quickly discovering that Café 222 offers a handful of unique variations to the breakfast norm. The hot chocolate comes with whipped cream topped by a squeeze of chocolate syrup. The Oreo cookie cakes ($14.25) are well enough loaded with cookie crumbles and melted cream that the kids don’t even think to ask for syrup.

The surprisingly savory peanut butter and banana french toast

We order another dish that I expect will rival the cookies and creams short stack for sweetness. The menu points out that the peanut butter and banana French toast ($14.25) was featured on a Food Network show called “The Best Thing I Ever Ate,” so it’s clear this Bobby Flay guy has beat me to them. But the menu doesn’t mention that, despite a dusting of powdered sugar, there’s not actually much sweetness. I was expecting another round of dessert for breakfast, but this eats more like a monte cristo with the ham and cheese swapped out. The saltiness of the peanut butter is what stands out, and the bananas’ three types of natural sugars all seem subdued in service to it.

A sausage patty eggs benedict, served on a fresh biscuit

Anticipating something sweeter, I’ve ordered eggs benedict to at least role model the notion of a savory breakfast. However, for my tastes it’s better than a traditional benedict. This is the pork patty benedict ($13.75), which bypasses ham in favor of the clearly superior sausage breakfast patty. Better yet, for two bucks, they replace English muffin with a house-baked biscuit.

I don’t wish to overstate how satisfying it is, but as I start eating, the children look up from their pancakes and grow curious. I don’t flinch when they start to pick off pieces of what turn out to be top-level breakfast potatoes. But before I quite realize what’s happening, they’ve poached my poached egg, divvied up the sausage patty, and pulled apart the biscuit. Now I’m having to explain Hollandaise sauce to them.

There are a few, mostly counter seats inside Café 222, but the tiny corner restaurant keeps most of its customers outside. We’re seated out there by the hostess stand, so I’m keenly aware that a steady flow of customers continue to show up throughout this weekday morning. Several parties include children, and I wonder, will they also be ordering hot chocolate? Or am I just step-dad of the year?

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Oreo cookie cakes
Oreo cookie cakes

Hot chocolate and Oreo pancakes might not be what my wife had in mind when she sent me off with the children in search of breakfast. But it’s a chilly morning, and we’re dining outside, and the kids are insistent, having spotted the word Oreo on the menu. I’ve grown accustomed to handing off all the abundant kid-energy to teachers this time of day, so with winter break upon us, I capitulate.

Place

Cafe 222

222 Island Avenue, San Diego

I’m a bit surprised. Not that I’d cave so easily, but that Café 222 offers such a thing. The Gaslamp eatery (named for its address of 222 Island Avenue) has specialized in breakfast for a quarter century, so the menu is loaded with all the expected items. I see corned beef hash, huevos rancheros, and a litany of waffles. I’m not even taken aback to see a tamale and eggs dish, because that’s commonly what’s for breakfast in Mexico.

A corner breakfast restaurant over 25 years

But I’m quickly discovering that Café 222 offers a handful of unique variations to the breakfast norm. The hot chocolate comes with whipped cream topped by a squeeze of chocolate syrup. The Oreo cookie cakes ($14.25) are well enough loaded with cookie crumbles and melted cream that the kids don’t even think to ask for syrup.

The surprisingly savory peanut butter and banana french toast

We order another dish that I expect will rival the cookies and creams short stack for sweetness. The menu points out that the peanut butter and banana French toast ($14.25) was featured on a Food Network show called “The Best Thing I Ever Ate,” so it’s clear this Bobby Flay guy has beat me to them. But the menu doesn’t mention that, despite a dusting of powdered sugar, there’s not actually much sweetness. I was expecting another round of dessert for breakfast, but this eats more like a monte cristo with the ham and cheese swapped out. The saltiness of the peanut butter is what stands out, and the bananas’ three types of natural sugars all seem subdued in service to it.

A sausage patty eggs benedict, served on a fresh biscuit

Anticipating something sweeter, I’ve ordered eggs benedict to at least role model the notion of a savory breakfast. However, for my tastes it’s better than a traditional benedict. This is the pork patty benedict ($13.75), which bypasses ham in favor of the clearly superior sausage breakfast patty. Better yet, for two bucks, they replace English muffin with a house-baked biscuit.

I don’t wish to overstate how satisfying it is, but as I start eating, the children look up from their pancakes and grow curious. I don’t flinch when they start to pick off pieces of what turn out to be top-level breakfast potatoes. But before I quite realize what’s happening, they’ve poached my poached egg, divvied up the sausage patty, and pulled apart the biscuit. Now I’m having to explain Hollandaise sauce to them.

There are a few, mostly counter seats inside Café 222, but the tiny corner restaurant keeps most of its customers outside. We’re seated out there by the hostess stand, so I’m keenly aware that a steady flow of customers continue to show up throughout this weekday morning. Several parties include children, and I wonder, will they also be ordering hot chocolate? Or am I just step-dad of the year?

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4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
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