Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Dish on Dining: Aunt Mary’s Café

Homey Brunch Spot with a Nawlins Twist
4307 Telegraph Ave. (near 43rd St.), Oakland
Temescal neighborhood
PH: 510.601.9227
Open Tues.–Fri., 7 a.m.–3 p.m.; Sat.–Sun., 8 a.m.–3 p.m.

The number of new eateries opening in Oakland’s Temescal neighborhood is stretching farther out along Telegraph Avenue with new hot spots like Aunt Mary’s Café.

Opened a month before Thanksgiving last year, this spacious and cutesy restaurant (next door to a Korean restaurant) has turned into a popular brunch spot on the weekends. The crowds can get pretty heavy as people wait for a seat at the many tables in the big dining area or along the counter facing the line cooks in the back.

I visited Aunt Mary’s after Thanksgiving and was excited about its eclectic menu that is a cross between fresh, seasonal ingredients meet New Orleans with a few sprinkling of Asian comfort food for good measure. It all translated to a fun, unique experience.

Of course, that was also the time that my tiny digital camera decided to break down, causing me to loose all the photos I took of the red flannel hash (yes, this was where I ate this dish for the first time) and the beautifully plated dishes my friends ordered, including an enticing Hangtown Fritatta and a towering Pain Perdue (kind of like French toast on steroids).

I’ve been meaning to go back to give Aunt Mary’s its proper review (with photos), so this past weekend I took my nephew from Chicago, who was in town visiting his girlfriend. The three of us arrived and ended up waiting for 20 minutes for a table. There wasn’t a big crowd waiting, but it just took awhile to get the right configuration for a table of three. The staff, however, was gracious and apologetic, offering up coffee while we waited in the kid-friendly front area.

When we were seated, we looked over the menu. I noticed a few New Orleans-influenced dishes still on the menu, including the Hangtown frittata and po-boys sandwich (both dishes are made up of fried oysters). My nephew went with another Southern classic, the Biscuits with Gravy and Sausage ($6) and his girlfriend ordered La Strata ($11) served with a beet salad. I went with a special, the Champagne Seafood Gumbo ($12.50).

Both my nephew and his girlfriend’s dishes demonstrated the excellence of Aunt Mary’s as a place for baked goods. Just like the Pain Perdue I had on my first visit, the biscuits and the huge La Strata were airy and tasty. Their dishes were also beautifully plated, showing the sophisticated level of the preparations beyond your typical brunch fare.

My seafood gumbo was also very beautiful when it arrived at the table, and I couldn’t wait to dig in. But despite having fresh ingredients in good-size bites, the gumbo seemed to need more seasoning. It wasn’t bland, but it just needed that extra pinch of salt to take it to a more satisfying level. The gumbo was served over either couscous or polenta, I wasn’t really sure.

Because my gumbo didn’t really fill me up, I ordered the special dessert of the day, which was a Chocolate Berry Parfait ($5). This totally made up for the less-than-satisfying gumbo because the dessert was sooo delicious. Again, Aunt Mary’s is perfect for baked goods as the light cake layers tasted great with the layers of strawberries and custard blending with the cream and chocolate. It was a classic strawberry shortcake, but with fresh, quality ingredients.

Side note: Aunt Mary’s is so popular that the cooks behind the counter really looked like they were juggling a lot of orders. In fact, it took nearly 25 minutes for us to get our orders from the time we placed it with our friendly waitress. I saw other tables who came after us getting their orders before our table. It didn’t bother me, though, because I was busy catching up with my nephew and his friend, but on another day by myself I might make more of a note on the wait.

Still, Aunt Mary’s has been warmly welcomed into the neighborhood and offers a fun spot for brunch. With a friendly staff and spacious environment, you don’t have to go into the city to find a fresh spot for brunch or lunch. It’s right here in Oakland.

Single guy rating: 3.25 stars (Baking some brunch)

Explanation of the single guy's rating system:
1 star = perfect for college students
2 stars = perfect for new diners
3 stars = perfect for foodies
4 stars = perfect for expense accounts
5 stars = perfect for any guy's dream dinner

Aunt Mary's Cafe on Urbanspoon


Anonymous said...

For another take on New Orleans-style breakfast food, check out Powderface, a beignet shop in the Fruitvale Village shopping center. Worth the BART ride over there.

Ammie said...

I've been pretty disappointed with Aunt Mary's the few times I've been there, but I think it's related to their egg dishes.

I agree with you on one thing -- they seem to know how to bake. The biscuits are wonderful! I also love that they serve whole kernal grits.

Anonymous said...

I'm toasting breakfast right now and this all sounds so much better than an english muffin... I love biscuits and that parfait looked so delicious. Thanks for posting about this, I always love to know about good breakfast spots in the east bay.

Passionate Eater said...

Similar to Foodhoe, I am on the lookout for good New Orleans style restaurants. I had never heard of Aunt Mary's before your post. But I am a bit disappointed that the gumbo did not fill you up. Southern food should be made with lots of butter, so you will be full instantaneously!