Two years ago, I was introduced to Cafe 21 at Gaslamp and fell in love with it instantly. Since that initial visit, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve returned to it, each time with gratifying meals shared with friends and loved ones. So it was indeed an exciting day for me to visit Cafe 21’s original location at University Heights and introducing my best friend to it for the first time! I’d been raving about the food ever since that first time and now it was time to share it.
This location is cozy and ever so quaint. I’ve always loved the eclectic nature of Cafe 21 and here, it is even more evident with vivid Moroccan and Turkish themes throughout. Naturally, we began with some cocktails — even though it was lunch — and I suggested one of their famous Sangrias ($9/glass) made in-house….. I, on the other hand, opted for their green Bloody Mary ($14) made with green tomatillo, instead of the traditional tomato juice base, infused with spicy vodka.
I had seen a photo of the Cafe 21 Breakfast Board ($17) on Facebook the day before, and couldn’t get my mind off it. Therefore, it was the only way to kick off our brunch that day. Two pieces of filet mignon, house-cured salmon, beet infused egg, Venissimo cheeses: Big Rock Blue (from Paso Robles) and Bucherondin (one of the first French goat cheeses exported to the US), pistachios, cranberries, rhubarb compote and lavash complete the platter. I love the presentation, staying true to the Moorish theme.
A Flight of Mimosa ($18) at the next table caught our eye and of course it was too pretty to miss out on.
I have enjoyed the Cafe 21 “cakes” before but never the Chicken Curry ($13) option. Shredded roasted chicken breast tossed in yellow curry, bits of celery, red onion and saffron cream sauce was delicious as is, but topped with two perfectly runny poached eggs? That made it as decadent as it was tasty. We both oooo-ed and ahhh-ed as we took a mouthful proclaiming it one of the best things we’ve ever eaten. The oozing poached eggs were just the icing on the cake (no pun intended).
I love Dutch baby pancakes and here, they offer it two ways. Savory Cast Iron Pancake ($11) is baked with house made sausage, bell peppers, onion, tomato, rosemary and goat cheese served with a house made ajika (red pepper sauce). Reminiscent of a mix between a pancake and quiche, the texture was very pleasing and ajika adds another level of depth to the dish. It keeps well too so take your leftovers home for the following day!
The sweet version — Drunken Cherry Cast Iron Pancake ($14) — is a Dutch-style pancake baked with Bourbon soaked cherries and served with a tart raspberry sauce. The pancake itself wasn’t sweet which totally appealed to my palate. The raspberry sauce was more like a puree than a sauce and was perfect as an accompaniment for the pancake, but we were discussing how it would be great over some vanilla ice cream as well.
We were stuffed, but ended the meal with Creme Brulee Cheesecake ($8) something I’m more than familiar with. I’ve had it the traditional way and also, pumpkin style during the holidays. The version here has a layer of custard giving it a different mouth-feel which we both liked a lot. The side of Blackberry Cabernet Sorbet ($4) was incredibly refreshing and a perfect end to the perfect meal.
Although both locations have almost an identical menu, you will find several dishes exclusive to each location. I’m excited for the new Gaslamp location in a few months, and will definitely return to see what it has in store for all of us who love this place so much.
Cafe 21 — North Park
2836 Adams Avenue
San Diego, CA 92116