Since opening in 2006, Berkeley’s Epicurious Garden has retained an air of culinary remove. Lunch lines form daily at the Cheese Board across the street and around the corner at Fava. Next door, dinner patrons continually walk through the gates of Chez Panisse the way worshippers enter a temple—for a taste of holy communion.
In comparison, the indoor food court at Epicurious often appears deserted. The adjacent courtyard is less an active oasis than a small-scale Brigadoon, materializing in this universe for a few brief moments then vanishing again into a shadowland.
Until it closed in 2021, the Imperial Tea Court upstairs served as the anchor business that set a more subdued tone for the entire establishment, indoors and out. After the brief arrival and departure of the Sunny Side Café, Eggy’s Neighborhood Kitchen has reinvigorated the kitchen and the courtyard. When I ate brunch there on a weekday, every seat at every table outside, on three different patios, was taken. Inside sat a few more empty tables, and pop music playing on the speakers amped up the cooks and the diners. By the time we left, a slow-moving line was gathering in mass and density outside the entrance.
The hubbub signaled an evolution in the demographics of the neighborhood and in the Epicurious business plan, should such a document exist. Overall, the crowds skewed younger, though one older couple sat next to us at a small table in the shade. While several umbrellas are spread out randomly around each patio, the sun beats down hotly on exposed patrons. However, everyone soaking up the sunshine seemed to enjoy the combination of the late summer’s heat and light.
Eggy’s Neighborhood Kitchen serves hearty and mighty brunch fare. The menu is vast, with variations on familiar breakfast items. If the Imperial Tea Court’s philosophy tended towards the subtle and subdued, Eggy’s approach to cooking shouts, and sometimes screams, indulgence. A churro waffle ($17) is deep fried before being drenched in a bath of cinnamon powdered sugar. Not content with that amount of sweetness, the kitchen adds fresh berries, a dulce de leche drizzle and finishes the dish with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
The deep-fried waffle left a slightly burnt aftertaste in my mouth. When I’ve liked churros best, there’s a softness, a chewy bite of dough underneath the crunchy exterior. That tenderness was missing from this waffle, possibly the result of an overly enthusiastic cook operating the fryer. The sugar coating, the dulce de leche drizzle and the ice cream scoop—which had begun melting into a small white puddle by the time it reached my table—transformed the humble waffle into a full-fledged dessert. One bite was enough to satisfy anyone who’s ever claimed to have a sweet tooth.
Many of the savory dishes are Mexican or infused with Mexican flavors and ingredients. Chilaquiles come with a tomatillo verde or a roasted tomato rojo sauce (each is $18). Apart from the sauce, the only other difference between them is that the verde plate includes black beans whereas the rojo comes with pinto beans. Both are piled high with two fried eggs, cotija cheese, crema and avocado. We went with the smoky, pungent, assertive and potent verde sauce. It’s a tall, delicious mess of a dish that requires the presence of a nearby, easily accessible cooling beverage such as a guava mimosa.
The breakfast sando ($16) is fit for a giant’s appetite. Wedged between the slices of an enormous brioche bun, I found a generous stack of bacon, cheesy eggs and avocado. My request to hold the aioli was politely and mercifully granted. In my kitchen, mustard always wins the day. Eggy’s Kitchen is not holding back on the portion sizes when they land on the plate. While humanity continues to look for the common hangover cure, this sando will work as a temporary stopgap until the real panacea is discovered.
The rest of the menu features something for absolutely everyone—huevos rancheros; an omelet; French toast; tacos and salads, though no sign of a taco salad as yet; fried chicken and waffles; sandwiches; burgers; and eggs Benedict with chorizo ($19), lox ($21) or avocado and bacon ($19).
Eggy’s Neighborhood Kitchen, 1511 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley. Open Tues-Sun, 9:30am to 3pm. 510.647.9847. instagram.com/eggysberkeley