At the Table with Ellie: Esselon Café
Issue   |   Tue, 04/09/2013 - 22:27
Image courtesy of Ellie Andersen ’15
Esselon Café’s smoked salmon benedict exemplfies the restaurant’s ethos: fresh and creative, yet classic.

Saturday morning found me awakening far too late and starving for something novel. I enjoy eating at Val, seeing everyone, recounting a night out and sharing stories over badly needed coffee, but sometimes I like to get away, to leave campus and to find a change of scene. And so, prompted by this desire, I found myself heading down a busy Route 9 at around noon and stepping into Esselon Café, which happens to serve breakfast, lunch and dinner as well as beer and wine. (We also saw two women drinking mimosas.) Luckily they serve brunch too.

In passing through the door and a heavy set of draft-preventing curtains, I arrived at the back of a hefty line leading up to the front counter. I cringed at the thought of waiting while the sight of food stoked my burgeoning appetite. However, the results of my waiting satisfied my yearnings and explained Esselon Café’s popularity.

As I loitered in line, I examined the board of specials, placed conveniently by the door to make sure I felt ravenous upon reaching the register. Written artfully in colorful chalk were options like the special omelet with three eggs, arugula, Parmesan and sun dried tomatoes and the special pancakes that lost me with the mention of trail mix. I quickly snagged a brunch menu and a separate tea menu to review all of the options.

I experienced several minutes of anxiety. Having found three choices — blueberry pancakes, challah French toast and an egg special that involved eggs scrambled with scallions and served with toast and caramelized onions — I felt torn. How could I decide between the sweet and the savory when the savory included some sweet but the sweet sounded so good? And then, how to choose between pancakes and French toast (both of which include fresh fruit)? I asked my breakfast companion, who has learned both that I cannot make decisions easily and furthermore that his suggestions would probably not factor into my final choice. He said he wouldn’t even try to help me with my deliberations. So, I asked the woman at the register about the French toast and then the egg special, and she steered me to one of the best breakfasts I have had in a while.

As we turned from the counter, I carefully surveyed the room for the first time, having previously directed my attention to the menu until the last possible minute — except for those few minutes I spent eyeing the treats through the glass of the bakery style refrigerator. I certainly considered getting a cupcake or a lemon square or a cookie, but forcefully reminded myself that I was already set to eat a large meal.

We chose a table for two in the large interior room, seeking a bit of added warmth over sitting outside with the nippy breezes of a sunny but brisk spring day. I sat comfortably in a wicker-backed chair, noting the wooden floors and the beautiful, old-fashioned and gold-painted tin ceiling that complemented the deep red of the curtains and the brick walls. As I nursed my cup of coffee, my friend pointed behind my left shoulder, noticing what appeared to be an old fashioned coffee roaster. Upon later investigation, I found that Esselon roasts their own coffee two times a week, which they then serve, sell and ship.

Moments later, the barista announced that my chai tea latte was ready, which I had ordered from the beverage menu that is located above the register and lists the cold and hot drinks not included in their special tea menu. Shortly after, a waitress brought a tray with the well-steeped jasmine green tea that my friend had ordered. I felt a bit ridiculous as I realized that I had four drinks for myself: water, Esselon coffee, chai tea and fresh-squeezed orange juice. In my defense, I drank and enjoyed all of them, and I find fresh orange juice irresistible.

When the waitress arrived with our dishes, I scrambled to make room and then marveled at my breakfast. I had three fluffy slabs of challah French toast, each of medium thickness, all spread with strawberry compote and then spattered with fresh blueberries and strawberries. As I dug in, I realized that I didn’t need a knife because the French toast was soft enough to cut with my fork. That is not to say that it was overly soft because the texture was perfect.

As I savored my first bite, I enjoyed the mixture of the slight tang of the compote and the strawberries with the blueberries’ countering sweetness. I also appreciated that the butter was served on the side, rather than on top where it would have added an extra richness to my meal that I would have felt unneccessary. I did, however, enjoy drizzling my French toast with the real maple syrup provided at each table.

Suddenly I remembered that I wasn’t eating alone, and I inquired about my friend’s smoked salmon benedict, which consisted of two poached eggs served atop smoked salmon and sautéed spinach on a ciabatta roll (or gluten free bread in the case of my friend) and covered in a hollandaise sauce. He could not have been more content with the creamy saltiness of the hollandaise and the pervading smokiness of the salmon.

As we enjoyed the final, lingering bites of our meal and enjoyed sipping our various beverages, we realized that this was the best breakfast/brunch we had eaten in a while. Although the drive to Esselon had been longer than expected, the meal had made up for the wait. I actually appreciate the added distance because it ensures that each meal at Esselon will retain a greater significance.

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