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| Sunday Brunch

Finding Beach Breakfast Central

Harbor House Cafe Offers Diners a Covered Patio, Sea Breezes and a Collection of Omelets to Keep Hunger at Bay Nearly All Day

August 20, 2000|TOM VASICH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The contemporary breakfast omelet seems to be exclusively West Coast property. Not a simple fluffy egg item, neatly folded with one, maybe two added ingredients, our omelets are densely packed mounds filled with a laundry list of meats and vegetables, and covered with a lava flow of melted cheese and rich additions such as sour cream and avocado.

Omelets of this girth and extravagance aren't easy to find east of our Pacific shore, and for better or worse, these pachyderms are what health-conscious Californians face when we venture out for brunch.

And no place I've seen in Orange County features a wider diversity or sheer quantity of omelet choices than Harbor House Cafe. Although there is one in Dana Point, I prefer the Harbor House in Sunset Beach, only a few hundred yards from the shore. This is breakfast central for the beach culture, where a late Sunday morning visit is almost a ritual.

Harbor House has all the touches of a classic diner, with counter seating and vinyl booths. The varnished wood paneled walls are covered with movie posters and an array of Elvis and Marilyn memorabilia. But the Sunday place to be is in the covered patio out back, a large, cool room filled with light and the whir of ceiling fans.

Breakfast here tends to be a leisurely affair, starting with orange juice and coffee. Harbor House serves breakfast all day, with three full pages of its voluminous menu devoted to this meal.

Omelets dominate; there are 30 listed, in different styles and combinations, making Harbor House to this egg dish what California Pizza Kitchen is to eclectic pizza.

There is a veritable United Nations of choices: Spanish, Greek, Hawaiian, Bavarian, Mexican, and an International made with baked ham, sausage, bacon, tomato and covered with cheese. There are omelets made with guacamole and chorizo, turkey bacon and chicken breast, and there is a plain, old Denver omelet too.

One recent weekend, our group of four dropped in and pretty much covered the map, ordering the new Club House omelet, one with guacamole, the Bavarian and the International.

Each comes with a choice of home fries, steamed rice, sliced tomatoes, cottage cheese, hot spinach or fresh fruit. Normally, home fries are the choice, but Harbor House unfortunately makes forgettable fried potatoes. Sliced tomatoes or fresh fruit, however, do hit the spot.

Our omelets came buried under great gooey gobs of melted cheddar cheese. The Club House was stuffed with hot spinach (a popular item here), bacon and tomato, and the sharp flavor of the cheese added some punch to the spinach. Guacamole practically gushed from one other omelet; you'd better like avocados to enjoy this one. The International proved to be a meat eater's delight--I've seen this called a hangover omelet elsewhere.

My Bavarian omelet proved disappointing, though. Made with baked ham and asparagus, it featured too little of the former and too much of the latter. I usually have no problems with asparagus, but its strong flavor and the overwhelming blast of cheddar didn't mesh at all. The dollop of sour cream added richness and texture this already troubled creation didn't need. Sometimes, I learned, simple can be better.

Harbor House features a few alternatives to eggs, ranging from pancakes and French toast to biscuits with gravy and a healthy bowl of yogurt, granola and fresh fruit.

I like their spongy pancakes, especially those covered with pecans. Breakfast at Harbor House Cafe takes a big, big appetite. These folks don't skimp.

The upside of brunch bloat is the old real estate adage: location, location, location. A long, sandy beach beckons, making post-dining activity at the Harbor House Cafe just as enjoyable as brunch itself.

Harbor House Cafe is at 16341 Pacific Coast Highway in Sunset Beach. (562) 592-5404. Open 24 hours. Breakfast selections range from $4.45 to $9.95. Also in Dana Point at 34157 Pacific Coast Highway, (714) 496-9270.

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