8 years ago
|Dale F. Bentson , a Professional Reviewer, wrote:||
by Dale F. Bentson, Palo Alto Weekly (Dec 11, 2009)
While adjacent Kepler's Books feeds the soul, Cafe Borrone nourishes the stomach. The two storefronts have been neighbors for two decades, creating the cultural crossroads of Menlo Park.
Cafe Borrone, opened in 1990 by Rose and Roy Borrone, is the most visibly successful eatery in town. Much of the almost always crowded seating is al fresco, in a spacious open-air, Euro-styled plaza. Umbrellas shade tables on glaring days; the broad building overhang keeps patrons safe during inclement weather.
There are a myriad of reasons why Cafe Borrone remains successful: The food is good, the ambiance energetic and preppy, the staff friendly. Tables are bussed quickly so the place is always clean and inviting. There are some irritating imperfections as well. I'll get to those later.
The restaurant is open long hours, seven days per week, and there is no pressure to ever vacate a table. Students sip coffee, read or tap on their laptops; business people grab quick bites then scurry back to their offices; others meet for breakfast, lunch or dinner and protracted conversation. It's an ideal spot to watch the medley of humanity that defines the demographics of the area.
Live music is performed on Friday nights, and occasionally other evenings as well: mostly jazz, sometimes swing or Dixieland or bluegrass, sometimes outside, usually inside.
There are ongoing art exhibits hung on the walls, with Marnie Spencer's oeuvre through Jan. 17. The artists are chosen by Roy Borrone, an accomplished artist himself who paints in the abstract figurative genre. Add to all that the myriad of events at Kepler's and it is no wonder that the corner of El Camino Real and Santa Cruz Avenue is a hub of activity.
Food prices are not inexpensive but not high enough to drive off patrons. There is no table service; it is belly up to the bar to place your order. Quite often, the ordering queue extends well outside the door, and therein lies a bugaboo at Cafe Borrone.
There are no printed menus; the bill of fare is jam-packed onto a series of chalkboards that stretch the width of the broad service area. The boards are difficult to read until you have progressed nearly to the point of ordering, or have better than 20/20 vision. It's unnerving unless you already know what you want to order.
Stepping out of line to examine the boards will add many minutes to the procedure, and who knows if someone will let you step back in line ahead of them. It just isn't very user-friendly for the occasional customer.
While all the savory dishes and their ingredients are on the chalkboards, many of the desserts and pastries are not listed, nor are they all priced in the enticing glass display cabinets. After an order is placed, the total is announced but there is no printed receipt, so no way of itemizing or checking. You are given a number and best wishes to you on finding a table during busy hours.
The food, though, is good. One morning I ordered a Belgian waffle ($8.95) with spiced apples and pecans. The waffle was plate-sized and thick, crusty on the outside, soft on the inside. There was no skimping on either fruit or nuts and the maple syrup was the real deal. The butter, however, was an ice cold blob that barely started melting by the time I had finished. As a side, a single Italian sausage link was $3.95.
The morning pastries were first-rate. I especially liked the blueberry biscuit ($2.49), which was bigger than most scones. Loaded with blueberries, it is a pastry I will seek out on my next visit. Many, but not all, of the pastries are house-made including scones, muffins, coffee cake, rolls and buns.
There are egg dishes as well, with a half dozen scrambled egg combinations. Also, there are granolas, oatmeal, smoked salmon and bagels, fresh-squeezed juice and an entire menu board of coffee choices. Breakfast is served until noon when the chalkboards are switched out.
The all day menu features house-made soups, salads, hot and cold sandwiches, charcuterie selections, pates, cheese plates, quiches, lasagna, kids' plates and several daily specials. There are many options for vegetarians as well.
According to Roy Borrone, all the ingredients are of the highest quality obtainable with emphasis on organic, sustainable and locally grown.
The cream of cauliflower soup ($3.25 cup, $6.45 bowl) was a bit of a misnomer — chunky cauliflower chowder would have been more apt. But the soup was delicious, with large florets of cauliflower in abundance, delicately flavored.
The Niman Ranch pastrami melt ($7.25) was stacked high with tender, flavor-packed beef brisket that was smothered with gooey Monterey jack cheese. I also enjoyed the Italian torta ($8) made with mild Italian sausage, artichoke hearts, eggs, onion and cheese. A torta is a Mediterranean version of quiche with less egg and more cheese; Cafe Borrone's version incorporated loads of both meat and vegetables.
Note: Nothing comes with any accompaniment, so consider adding a side or a dessert when ordering. The long line might deter you from going back for more.
I only tried one dessert, a slice of carrot cake that was $6. While the cake was spongy, not too sweet and well iced, it was not a particularly big slice for the money.
Wines were available by the glass or bottle, and prices seemed reasonable ($8 to $13 per glass, $30 to $52 per bottle). Trying to make much sense of a wine list on a chalkboard left me a little befuddled. There were about a dozen or so wines listed, half red, half white, with an array of varietals, mostly from California. It was difficult to absorb it all while standing in the beverage queue.
Cafe Borrone has loads of appeal for those hungry and those just looking for a place to have coffee and hang out. Despite the crowds, the ambiance is upbeat and relaxed. It's a good place for readers, eaters and dreamers — just be prepared to do a little speed reading before ordering.
1010 El Camino Real
Menlo Park, California 94025
650-327-0830 | phone
650-327-6277 | fax
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