Monday, November 17, 2008
Cafe Estelle is the newest in a line of popular brunch places in or around the Northern Liberties neighborhood. Unfortunately, word is slowly leaking out and Cafe Estelle is just as crazy as Honey's or A Full Plate on a Saturday or Sunday for brunch.
Once you find the restaurant, it's located on the ground floor of a complex of condos near 4th and Callowhill, you enter through the lobby and are greated with nice smells of breakfast sausage and rich coffee. The space is slightly industrial with small touches that attempt to make you feel like you're not in the lobby of a condo. It's cute, but I'm not sure I would call it homey or friendly feeling. I received the homeiest feeling from the cute frilly aprons that the servers wore around their waists. Adding to the industrial/cafeteria nature of the place are a few off the beaten path policies that Cafe Estelle implements. You are responsible for getting your own coffee, and for getting and paying your own bill. The coffee station is directly in front of their order counter, so at busy times it can be a confusing mess. The coffee is always hot and fresh, I just wish I didn't have to get it myself. It's not laziness, but the fact that I work in food service, when I go out to pay for food, I don't want to have to get up and get it myself. I'm paying and tipping for service, so serve me, please!
Breakfast sandwiches are only somewhat successful. Bread choices include bagels or house-made "hard" rolls, which the waitress assured me were soft and billowy, much like a croissant. Maybe their rolls are soft and billowy, but mine was hard and tasted stale. Equally annoying was the lack of veggie meat options, an additional $1 charge for lettuce and tomato, and the fact that my requested over-medium eggs were undercooked for a breakfast sandwich and ran all over my plate.
The table shared the fruit plate which was comprised of only fresh fruit. The banana, grapes, pineapple, canteloupe and blueberries were excellent, but the pear was so hard and dry, it was inedible. If they'd not served me the pear, I would have nothing but praise for the fruit plate.
Two eggs any style were cooked to order, but we were disappointed in the lack of toast choices and didn't feel like the tiny pucks of baguette were satisfactory for our purposes. When you order eggs over easy you need good toast to soak up all the egg yolk. These hard toast rounds helped very little with eating the rest of the dish. The best part of this breakfast was the house made breakfast sausage. It was lightly flavored like sage and had a gloriously fresh texture that I appreciated.
Every day at Cafe Estelle there are specials which may be some of your best bets. This day's omelet was spinach, red pepper, and goat cheese. The eggs were soft and smooth, and the omelet was beautifully folded, but the filling was skimpy and the accompanying potatoes were soft and mushy.
You can't be everything to everyone, and this is true at Cafe Estelle. The restaurant's committment to sustainability is clear with it's selection of organic fair trade coffees and locally raised meats. However, in a neighborhood as diverse as Northern Liberties, you'd think that at least one vegetarian meat substitute would be offered, or that with all the great locally made bread in the city, they could give you a choice for your toast.
444 N. 4th Street
Philadelphia PA 19123