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RESTAURANT REVIEW : Simple Quality, Defined Mission Mean Good Start at Golden Egg : New breakfast spot is building a weekend following by paying attention to details. It holds great promise of excellent fare to come.


It would seem daunting by any stretch to dare to open a breakfast and lunch restaurant only steps up the street from Ventura's long-lived, long-loved Pete's Breakfast House, clotted with loyalists every weekend.

But that's what Eileen and Rodney Minnier have done. Since last October, they have run the trim, bright yellow wood cottage called the Golden Egg Cafe. And they have done so with convincing results: Good food and prices, joined by cheerful surroundings and competent staff, have brought in a burgeoning weekend trade, though midweek remains a slow build.

The Golden Egg's embryonic success is a lesson in restaurateuring: A defined mission and simple quality go a long way, even in the most competitive of markets.

Make no mistake, this is not a fancy place with endless choices. A selective breakfast menu of egg, omelet, pancake and waffle choices is joined by a small sandwich and quiche menu for lunch. And while numerous dishes are truly first-rate, a few slip into a perilous fresh-but-mediocre gray zone.

Overall, however, the Minniers show that they know good food and the telling details that make a difference--fresh fruit accompaniments to most dishes, real in-the-maker's-bottle maple syrup on every table, and the kind of fresh-ground horseradish that packs sinus-busting punch (trade name: Atomic Horseradish, made and marketed separately by the Minniers and available at Trader Joe's).

The standard breakfast is over the top: three eggs with firm grilled potatoes or fresh fruit and a choice of biscuit, toast, banana bread or bagel ($3.95). Opt for the fragrant, moist banana bread. Smoked bacon and sausage (patty or link) are $1 more, and a thick slice of deeply flavorful baked ham is $1.55 more.

The kitchen's ambition kicks in for omelets, however, best of them the Greek ($6.50), in which feta cheese, spinach, onion and tomato chunks are beautifully enrobed by a fluffy egg blanket. The dish is a bunker of pleasure: bracing, fragrant and fresh. As no one can eat three-egg dishes or omelets repeatedly without worrying about cardiac assistance, the Golden Egg fittingly makes Egg Beaters available in all omelets for 50 cents extra.

Belgian waffles ($3.95) and pancakes ($3.50 or $2.95 for the short stack) are lush, perfectly browned and abundant. Here, too, combinations quickly punch up the scale of the meals dramatically, and for reasonable surcharge: A stack of pancakes with two eggs and bacon or sausage is $4.50. Moreover, a grain-heavy almond pancake batter is available for the asking.

Quiche ($5.95) is decadently rich, incorporating crab, leeks, Swiss and Parmesan cheeses, and tomatoes--a perfect choice for late breakfast or lunch.

Standard lunchtime fare is less reliable. The oven-roasted turkey sandwich ($4.95) is, happily, the real thing: white meat generously carved from the whole breast, served with grilled onions. It's a huge sandwich but runs a tad dry--you might ask for Russian dressing on the side.

But the Reuben ($5.95)--a standard rendering of the classic corned beef/sauerkraut/Swiss cheese sandwich on grilled bread--is overwrought, skinny in the meat, and suffers from being too oily. The sliced sirloin of beef dip ($5.50), in which meat slices are piled high on a French roll and served with steaming beef broth and horseradish on the side, is just OK: The meat, while tender, is brown through and through and lacking flavor. A vegetable soup accompanying these sandwiches (included) is, sadly, wan: overcooked, mushy vegetables in pale broth.

It's clear that some fine-tuning can bring the Golden Egg Cafe to a level of uniform excellence. Then, this tidy former residence--which also features deck seating beneath umbrellas--will truly be the gem it seeks to be, delivering on its promise of simple foods beautifully turned out.


* WHAT: The Golden Egg Cafe.

* WHEN: 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 7:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

* WHERE: 2009 Main St., Ventura.

* HOW MUCH: Breakfast or lunch for two, food only, $10-$18.

* FYI: Major credit cards.

* CALL: 641-2866.

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