Breakfast, of all meals, tends to exist at either end of the dining-out spectrum. You’ve got your diners and you’ve got your fancy brunch splurges fit for Mothers’ Day or Easter, and in between, little creperies and coffee shops that offer a tempting morsel or two. What’s really needed is the breakfast equivalent of a lot of lunch places: a casual dining room and a range of simple, satisfying, well-prepared items — not all of them griddled — at reasonable prices, easygoing enough for catching a bite with friends but “nice” enough to serve food on real plates.
Caffe Mona sits right at that sweet spot. Its menu of omelets and sandwiches, French toast and salads, and crepes both savory and sweet spans breakfast and lunch. Everything is available all day from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. (except weekends, when the cafe sleeps in till 9), so there’s no rolling in at 11:05 a.m. only to find out that breakfast closed while you were parking the car.
Combinations such as turkey, apple, homemade fig jam, avocado and smoked gouda put Caffe Mona a notch above delis and diners. But it never strays into fussy territory, and several salutary combos are available in sandwich or crepe form. Other concoctions, such as the Elvis crepe, are more whimsical, but if straight-up butter and syrup or preserves are more your style, you can have that, too. Caffe Mona has something for nearly everyone.
- Photo by Vanessa Song
- Spanikopita French toast: baby spinach, feta, asiago and fresh mozzarella, drizzled with a balsamic glaze
Located in a storefront across from Children’s Hospital, Caffe Mona is deep and narrow, with a coffee bar as a buffer between the street and the brick-walled dining room. Its cozy, faintly bohemian, coffee-house atmosphere is enhanced by a charming mural of nature in silhouette and a couple large paintings. In good weather, a nicely sized rear deck offers outdoor dining away from the traffic of Penn Avenue. Caffe Mona prides itself on its excellent coffee and would be a nice place to linger over a cup, food aside.
But for us, food was front and center, and we sampled as much of the menu as four people could. On the sweet side, the aforementioned Elvis crepe was thinly spread with peanut butter, then folded into triangles, generously topped with banana slices and three slices of applewood bacon, then drowned in maple syrup. And we mean drowned; the pool of syrup nearly submerged the crepe in the shallow dish of the plate. It was much too much. The crepe itself was tender, the banana ripe and the peanut butter’s creamy sweetness was set off perfectly by the bacon’s smoky saltiness, but next time, we’ll order syrup on the side.
By contrast, the “Kordon” savory crepe was neatly folded into a plump rectangle and lightly pressed for a light crust. Within were thin, tender slices of beef, pleasingly chewy slices of dark, earthy mushroom, still-crisp peppers and onions, and a gorgonzola sauce that was so intense and rich that Jason had to take little breaks to rest his palate. To be clear, that’s not a complaint: The depth of flavor was amazing. Only the vegetables’ texture, in theory a pleasing contrast, stood out a bit too much.
Monte Cristo French toast split the difference between sweet and savory with ham, Swiss and apricot jam. While a true Monte Cristo sandwich is more like a grilled cheese with the fillings between two slices of grilled toast, here the fillings were transformed into toppings, with the cheese lightly melted, the ham layered on in a lattice of slices, and the jam in one big dollop in the center. The ingredients were not as melded together as in the sandwich approach, and it took a little work to make sure each bite was balanced. But the French toast withstood the scrutiny of a family that considers itself connoisseurs of the genre: thick and substantial, soft inside, well-browned outside and not forgetting to taste like bread.
Buffalo chicken on a baguette was agreeably spicy in a sriracha-based “Mona sauce,” mixed with crinkle-cut potatoes and tangy bleu cheese. It was accompanied by a simple side salad of mixed greens with a relatively thick, intense balsamic vinaigrette. Other salads all serve as meals, ranging from fairly traditional styles like cobb and chef to one with marinated chicken, brie, apples and avocado.
Caffe Mona is a charming place that serves great food at good prices and gets the little things right.