Toast of the Town

Sabrina's 2.0 is just as adorable as the original.

By Kirsten Henri
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Sep. 19, 2007

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Eyeful tower: Sabrina's stuffed French toast is a delicious hot mess.

Who could hate Sabrina's Cafe, the darling of Bella Vista, famed for their French toast and general adorableness?

To hate Sabrina's you'd have to be the sort of unpleasant, angular person who shuns cheer, avoids the color pink and loathes the soft, plump roundness of comfort food.

Actually, if you hate waiting to eat, you might also hate Sabrina's. The lines for brunch on the weekends at the original location can be mercilessly long, especially if you're in need of a coffee or a restorative plate of hangover-battling grease.

The opening of a new and larger branch on the north side of town should offer some relief to the hungry hordes. On a recent brunch visit, this nouveau Sabrina's was happily full, but there was no line.

Located in a former diner, Sabrina 2.0 still has a distinct diner feel, but it's been updated with a fresher, more modern vibe. Walls have been painted the comforting shade of sweet potatoes, booths upholstered in colorfully printed fabrics, and instead of 900-year-old waitresses with teased cotton-candy beehives calling you "hon," you get skinny-jeaned kids who haven't yet mastered the art of clearing and stacking plates. Ah well, not everything new is better.

The menu too is a riff on diner food, much of it the same as at the original. Describing in detail what we ate at Sabrina's seems pointless. Each dish contains so many ingredients combined together in inexplicable ways (that really shouldn't work as well as they do) served in such egregiously large portions that it seems improper to analyze.

This is food built strictly for comfort, meant for instant gratification, not for picking apart and considering its individual components. You're not coming to Sabrina's for delicate flavors or to challenge your oh-so-refined palate. You're coming to shove great forkfuls of sugar, butter and cheese down your piehole until your eyes glaze over, your belly bulges and you drop off into a satisfied post-brunchial daze.

So how to explain a special of strawberry-coffee pancakes? There were big buttermilk pancakes, there were strawberries, there was coffee cake crumbled on top. Chocolate too. There was a warm fruit compote with strawberries served in a silver gravy boat to pour on top. There was much butter. Like Britney Spears, it was a hot mess. But a delicious hot mess that wins you over and demands that you root for it while it wobbles and shimmies its woozy way across the table.

The same could be said for an epic serving of French toast, a mighty triangle of challah that stood upright on its platter like a mainsail on a tall ship, cutting through the crowded sea of the dining room. It allegedly involved that most addictive of nut spreads, Nutella, plus raspberries, farmer cheese, hazelnuts and coconut. There was also powdered sugar, which I can confidently say was the most unnecessary garnish on anything I've ever eaten. Four of us attacked this magnificent loaf and managed to make only a minor dent.

In a similar fashion and with equal success the humble egg was inundated with extra ingredients. A Mexican-inspired scramble of steak bits, Monterey jack cheese and pico de gallo was as good as any kitchen sink scramble I've had. The only item that didn't satisfy was a "summer's last stand" special of salmon and egg whites served over a potato with herb gratin that lacked the bursting-at-the-seams richness evident in all the other dishes.

Stray too far from brunch and the good-natured, over-the-top-ness (so appealing in the French toast and eggs) starts to feel clumsy and heavy-handed. Vegetable spring rolls were greasy and tasted only of ginger. A jerk chicken entree was all syrupy-fruity-sweet sauce with none of the necessary fire and spice to balance it out. Meatloaf was tastier and packed with large hunks of vegetables, but so dense beneath a red pepper cream sauce that it bordered on oppressive. A burger ordered medium was cooked past well done into the doorstop zone, and the accompanying sweet potato fries could've done with more salt and less powdered sugar and cinnamon. A Jenga-like stack of creamy polenta fries, prepared with cheddar and jalapeno, were a better choice.

Despite the disappointing dinner fare, there's much more to like about Sabrina's than to dislike, and there's no need to hate. There's definitely no need to be disappointed--brunch is served all day.

Sabrina's Cafe & Spencer's Too
1804 Callowhill St. 215.636.9061.
Hours: Sun.-Mon., 8am-4pm; Tues.-Sat., 8am-10pm.
Prices: $6-$18.
Cuisine: Comfort food.
Sound advice: Standard diner bustle.
Atmosphere: Not your grandpa's diner.
Service: Wifty.
Food: Bangin' brunch, humdrum dinner.

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