Monday, August 11, 2014

The staff of life

(Originally posted at OC Tastemakers on March 25, 2013.)

I admit I do not eat as much bread as I used to. Not because of gluten paranoia, but because I have become more discerning when it comes to “the staff of life.” Bread is like wine – if the quality is not up to par, the disappointment is crushing because we know what great tastes like.

I define great bread as:
1.     Freshly baked

2.     Crisp on the outside

3.     Chewy on the inside

Drab, spongy dinner rolls disappoint, as well as nutritionally correct but dull-tasting whole wheat loaves. I enjoy the fresh artisanal bread which most good supermarkets provide, or a croissant from a coffee shop. I almost always pair the latter with a cappuccino.

The croissant-and-cappuccino combo is, in fact, one of my favorite lunches when I eat out. It’s simple, it’s satisfying, and it’s tasteful. And inexpensive – I typically spend between five and seven dollars, including tip.

I have been fortunate to have sat down in some of Orange County’s best coffee shops for this special meal . My favorites include:

1. Zov’s Bakery and Café – 17440 E. 17th St., Tustin (in the Enderle Center) 714-838-8855. Whether I eat inside or on the patio, I feel special every time I hold one of Zov’s signature orange coffee cups. (Orange…I wonder why I like that?)

2. Blue Frog Café – 136 South Glassell Street, Orange 714-538-3764. Make sure to take the stairs to the upstairs loft – or eat outside, as I did on a late summer afternoon. I had a chocolate mousse this time – yes, sometimes a sweet pastry or cupcake substitutes for the croissant (more on cupcakes later!)
3. Kean Coffee – 13681 Newport Avenue, Suite 14, Tustin 714-838-5326; 2043 Westcliff Drive, Suite 100, Newport Beach 949-642-5326. A happy irony: The Tustin shop used to be a Diedrich Coffee. Then Starbucks bought and consumed the Diedrich brand, making the short-sighted (and selfish) decision to change all Diedrich shops to Starbucks stores. Shortly afterwards, Starbucks imploded (not a moment too soon) and had to close some stores. Now Martin Diedrich has brought his coffee intelligence back to Tustin (and Newport Beach) with Kean.

4. FreeSoulCaffé – 191 East Main Street, Suite 1B, Tustin 714-371-0976. No croissants here, but you will find vegan treats like pumpkin waffles and delicious dairy-free pastry. You will feel European in the courtyard complete with fountain.
5. Le Pain Quotidien – #1103 Fashion Island, 401 Newport Center Drive, Newport Beach 949-287-5592. I first encountered this shop in Santa Monica, and when I learned that it would be coming to Orange County, I rejoiced.  Note the handle-free cappuccino cup – most tasteful!

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