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A Touch of Europe, a Bite of the Sea

A Balboa Island tradition, Amelia's has home-style dishes, including eggs, fish, pasta, and desserts.


Amelia's on Balboa Island hasn't changed much since the Hollywood-set motored down from Los Angeles in the early 1960s for a day at the beach and Amelia Seton's home-style cooking.

One of the oldest restaurants in Orange County owned by the same family at the same location, Amelia's began as a seafood house. Then the late actress Claire Trevor Bren (stepmother of Donald Bren) persuaded Amelia to also serve food inspired by Amelia's homeland of Capri, Italy.

Today, husband and wife team John and Hetty (Amelia's daughter) Robinson run the little restaurant, with its European decor of oil paintings, ceramics and white linen tablecloths.

Sunday brunch combines about a dozen specials with 30 lunch items (lunch is served Friday, Saturday and Sunday only), providing a good mix of egg dishes with pasta and seafood entrees. Crispy-edged blueberry muffins and Italian bread with whipped butter are delivered right away and many selections come with an excellent fruit salad of strawberries, pineapple and grapes.

We started with a rather bland but tender fried calamari with marinara sauce, a minestrone soup chock full of vegetables in a tangy tomato broth and a fairly ordinary Caesar salad. Other starters include fried mozzarella, eggplant marinara and garlic bread; salads feature salmon, swordfish, or chicken. Caesars can be made with chicken, shrimp or fried calamari.

One of the most popular brunch items is a crispy salmon hash, made with potato and onion covered in perfect poached eggs, a pleasing combination of flavors. Other good picks are poached eggs on bagels with smoked salmon and seafood sauce or the linguine carbonara, the traditional egg-and-bacon pasta dish that can be ordered with broccoli.

On the lunch menu, we tried the rich chicken lasagna with mushrooms in a cheese and white sauce and a combination of pastas. Choices include a spicy chicken fettuccine, stuffed eggplant or penne with minced eggplant and spices or linguine with meatballs. All the pasta is made on site and cooked al dente.

Seafood offerings include fresh sand dabs, baby clams over linguine, scampi and fish and chips. We were intrigued by the eggs Benedict that comes with a choice of filet mignon, smoked salmon, Black Forest ham, crab or eggplant. For the less adventurous, a variety of eggs with ham, bacon or sausage are offered.

Desserts are given special care at Amelia's. We had our sights set on the cannoli, which we had heard was terrific. Unfortunately, the restaurant ran out of this popular choice. But we had good luck with an excellent pecan tart made with a butter-cookie shell and pecans in bourbon filling, the moist chocolate-truffle cake and a wedge of spumoni ice cream prepared with rum, strawberry, chocolate hazelnut and pistachio ice creams layered with chopped pistachios and maraschino cherries.

We arrived about 11 a.m. and enjoyed attentive service. But the restaurant filled quickly and our waiter was scrambling to keep up with customers' demands. Your best bet is to make reservations and arrive before noon. You'll also have a better chance to snatch up the cannoli.

Amelia's, 311 Marine Ave., Balboa Island, (949) 673-6580. Brunch served Sunday from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Prices range from $7 to $13.

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