Holybelly

What would happen if an Australian or American style brunch place landed in the City of Light? No need to hypothesize: head to the 10th arrondissement and visit Holybelly to find great coffee, great breakfasts and friendly service.

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Holybelly is located near the Canal Saint-Martin, a working class neighborhood that has been increasing in popularity over the past few years and is gentrifying at an increasing rate. It still has its rough edges but the yuppies and hipsters of Paris are plentiful.

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The narrow interior leads to a larger, skylit seating area near the kitchen. The restaurant would be at home in Melbourne or San Francisco and differs from most breakfast restaurants in Paris by being coffee obsessive and offering a larger range of foods on the menu.

One notable difference from Parisian peers is the restaurant’s bold friendliness: the board above the coffee bar announces “Welcome to Holybelly, where the customer is always loved but ain’t always right.” The menus also offer similar salutations in both English and French. Tawn and I were first to arrive followed quickly by a rush of customers, most of whom seemed to be regulars, greeted warmly in French and English by the employees.

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The menu is fairly simple. We chose eggs cooked to order with two sides: roasted and pan fried mushrooms with thyme and garlic, and a homemade pork sausage patty. Everything came with beautiful artisanal bread from Du Pain et des  Idees bakery, where we had nearly wound up with a dozen croissants the previous morning. They also offered some varieties of pancakes and homemade granola for breakfast. A brief lunch menu kicks in mid-day.

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The highlight is the savory stack: a stack of griddled pancakes with fried eggs, bacon, homemade bourbon butter and maple syrup. You can turn that into “The Champ” by also ordering a topping of roasted and fried mushrooms. It was a pretty outrageous, and outrageously delicious, dish!

The coffee was fantastic, brewed from locally-roasted beans from la Brulerie de Belleville. Nice to have a proper latte after several days of cafe cremes that showed that Parisian coffee these days isn’t as great as it once was.

If you want to better understand Holybelly, read the facts page on their website, complete with Game of Thrones references. Better yet, fly to Paris and visit them.

Holybelly
19 rue Lucien Sampaix
75010 Paris

Open 9:00 am weekdays, 10:00 weekends, closed Tuesday and Wednesdays

 

 

Taper Restaurant

In addition to having a spate of restaurants serving “Grandma style” cooking, Bangkok is also seeing a blossoming of brunch restaurants. The trend has been a bit longer in the making, but the rate of new openings seems to be increasing. We recently made two trips to Taper, one of the newest brunch restaurants in the Thong Lor neighborhood.

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Located on Soi Akkaphat, the awkward soi that runs parallel to Thong Lor from Soi 5, across Soi 13, and eventually turns into Soi 17, Taper is neighbors with Little Beast. Located on the bottom two floors of a shop house, Taper has a pleasing design with counter seating around an open kitchen on the ground floor, and a more formal dining areas on the mezzanine.

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The restaurant is a partnership between the two chefs from Le-Du restaurant and a third chef, who was a classmate at the Culinary Institute of America with one of the Le-Du partners. The interior is described as “modern Scandinavian” which would explain why when I first entered, I thought I had walked into a replica of the slightly more elegant Rocket Coffeebar on Sukhumvit Soi 49.

The most outstanding point of Taper is the friendly service. From the wait staff to the cooks to the partners, everyone was welcoming and checked in frequently during both our visits to see how we liked the food. Attentive, friendly service is a welcome thing and came across as most sincere.

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The menu is self-described as “Asian inspired brunch”. One example of this is their “world famous congee” – brown rice, mushroom, belly bacon, a soft boiled egg, and soy sauce reduction with ginger. What came out wasn’t really congee, but rather a thick blended soup, muddy in color, with a distinctly mushroom flavor. There was nothing particularly wrong with it, but at 330 baht, it wasn’t particularly outstanding, either.

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The Taper Benedict is a homemade buttermilk biscuit, so-called “63c” eggs, Hollandaise sauce, “thick cut bacon” (same as the “belly bacon” in the congee), and small rocket salad. The biscuits were nice enough, the sauce was very pleasant (but the surface congealed quickly because of the powerful air conditioner blowing above the kitchen-front counter), but on this visit the eggs had not been poached sufficiently.

Let’s not be nit-picky here, but the entire point of a 63-degree egg is that the proteins in the white are set but the yolk is still runny. (See the link above for more.) The whites in my eggs were still the consistency and color of cloudy mucus. I like soft eggs, but these were simply undercooked.

The thick cut bacon is such a tiny portion (and tough to cut) that it feels rather stingy. I would rather have two or three slices of regular bacon than to feel, at 290 baht a plate, that I’m getting short-changed.

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We tried another Asian-inspired dish, the “squid and salty egg”, which was fresh pasta with a sauce made of salted egg yolk served with grilled squid, chili, and coriander. This was a pretty interesting dish, the salted egg yolk giving a different taste than you might usually expect in a pasta sauce. The sauce was gloppy, though. The squid was tasty but being grilled ever so briefly, the texture offered no appealing counter-point to the pasta. Perhaps if it had been pan-fried and was slightly crispy, it would have contrasted better. At 290 baht, this was probably the best value of the four dishes.

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The fourth dish we tried was the duck and waffle, a crispy duck leg, tom yum mayo, buttermilk waffle, and honey butter. This is such a pretty dish and tasted fine, but bits and pieces were underwhelming. The duck didn’t seem to be a proper confit, so the meat was a bit dry and stringy. The waffle was nicely crisp but the tom yum mayo seemed quite thick, the sort of sauce I would turn out (as an amateur cook) from my kitchen. The flavor combination of the mayo mixed with the honey butter was enjoyable, but seemed a bit unsophisticated. The price for this dish was 390 baht, which was okay given what it was.

Concluding thoughts

So what to make of Taper? On our two visits we enjoyed the space and the pleasant service. It is clear that a lot of thought has gone into the food and when we spoke with the chef, he seemed genuinely interested in our feedback.

The ideas are interesting, but it seems that the execution is still not quite right. The “congee” either needs to be a soup or actually be congee, especially at that price. The sauces need to be a bit more refined. The bacon either needs to be otherworldly or else more generous, portion-wise. The 36-degree eggs need to actually stay in the water long enough to reach 36 degrees.

I like what they are doing and want them to succeed, so will probably make another trip or two in the coming month to see if these rough edges get smoothed off. If so, I think Taper will settle into the neighborhood and last.

 

 

Casa Lapin

Today is the start of a four-day weekend for the Songkhran holiday (aka Thai New Year). Tawn took me to a cute little place he had been wanting to try, the Sukhumvit Soi 49 branch of Casa Lapin.

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This chic coffee chain (some might say “hip”) is tucked away behind Paste, a currently trendy restaurant across from Samitivej Hospital.

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Owned by architect and coffee lover Surapan Tanta, Casa Lapin (“rabbit house”) also has branches on Soi Thong Lor and Soi Ari. The fact that the place is owned by an architect isn’t surprising, as the interior is inviting and thoughtfully designed.

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The spacious setting makes effective use of the narrow footprint of the shophouse it occupies. It has a warm feeling that encourages you to hang out.

2014-04-11 02Coffee is offered in a variety of ways – drip, French press, espresso, siphon – and is tasty. A limited selection of foods is available – I had a container of cornflakes with dried fruits and cashew nuts added, kind of a cornflake muesli.

2014-04-11 03The selection of pastries was nice, too, and make for a tasty treat. The ham and cheese roll was flakey and delicate, a great pleasure to eat. The almond croissant was also nice.

2014-04-11 04While it would be nice if they added some more food selections – quiche and salads, maybe? – Casa Lapin x49 is a pleasant place to hang out. One more sophisticated but affordable brunch option in a city in which such places have long been a rarity.

 

Food in Bangkok: Karmakamet Diner

Hot new “must try” restaurants in Bangkok are like dandelions: they pop up frequently but don’t last long. One recent flowery addition to the local dining scene, Karmakamet Diner, stands a chance at staying around, at least if their brunch is any indication.

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Karmakamet is a local brand specializing in high-quality and beautifully packaged perfumes, aromatics, and candles. They started with a small shop at Chatuchak Market and grew slowly. Eventually, a small tea shop opened at Central World Plaza and then not that long ago a cafe opened in Silom.

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In the last few months, they have opened their first full-blown restaurant in a stylish converted warehouse tucked just behind Emporium’s second car park structure. The building resembles a greenhouse-cum-factory with views of the pretty garden through windows glazed to keep the sunlight from being unbearable.

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The interior space is richly designed with lots of vintage-looking details. Most of the dandelion restaurants in Bangkok also feature fetching interiors, but Karmakamet Diner seems to have been more thoughtfully designed than most. It really is a pleasant space with interesting things to notice whichever direction you look.

Of course, my primary concern in any restaurant is the food. While I haven’t been there for dinner yet, I have had weekend brunch there three times over the past six weeks. Each time the food quality was consistent, the presentation attractive, and while the dishes are relatively pricey, I find them a fair value given the quality, portion size, and beautiful setting. Let’s take a look at what I tried – rest assured I dined with other people and didn’t eat all of this food myself!

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Home made granola with fresh fruits and yogurt. Tasty, although it is granola so I’m not sure that I can expect anything amazing.

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The crab-avocado sandwich has a spicy truffle mayonnaise, rocket, hard boiled egg, and tomato confit. This was a tasty sandwich although the use of plain thick-cut white bread was a bit of a letdown. Something whole grain would have been nicer.

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Panini with roasted vegetables, melted cheese, pesto, and a ridiculously tasty portion of ratatouille. A pretty simple dish but well-executed. The choice of bread was very good.

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The croque madame was one of the highlights. Layered buttered toast with Gruyere cheese, ham, bacon, and sous-vide egg, topped with melted Mozzarella. It is every bit as rich and decadent as it sounds. Perhaps not for the high of cholesterol!

2014-02-10 05A pasta dish featuring capellini with cod roe and garlic. This was a nice dish, pleasantly salty from the roe. There was also a very spicy crab pasta (not pictured) that was enjoyable and, true to its promise, very spicy.

2014-03-01 5Penne with N’Duja, an Italian spicy sausage that seems to be quite the favored ingredient here in Bangkok these days, along with Burrata cheese. The sauce was really tasty, though, and the pasta was properly cooked.

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Eggs Benedict – available with either ham or smoked salmon, or with salmon patties as a substitute for the English muffins. I tried the ham and the salmon patty versions and enjoyed both. The eggs were perfectly cooked with firm whites and liquid yolks. The Hollandaise sauce is smooth and velvety although just a bit more tart than I like. There is a careful balance to achieve with the acidity, maybe a matter of preference more than anything else.

2014-02-10 03The “full breakfast” features just about everything you would consider to be a breakfast food, plus a bit of mixed greens salad. It is a huge portion and makes you glad that food is generally served family style here in Thailand. As a side note, food at Karmakamet Diner did come out family style in a hodge-potch manner. Diners ordering individual plates be forewarned!

2014-03-01 2The so-called “can’t resist pancake” – the pancake is buried under duck confit, sautéed potatoes, crisp bacon, and sour cream served with a side of maple syrup. My first reaction (before taking a bite) was “what the heck is this mess?” After I tried it, all was forgiven. The pancake is really just there to absorb all the tasty flavors from the bacon, duck, and syrup.

2014-03-02 3For dessert, we shared a massive slice of French toast surrounded with fresh fruits and topped with an orange sauce and maple syrup. Shared among four or six people, it is just the right amount of sweet with which to conclude the meal.

Service was generally attentive and responsive. One thing that I greatly appreciate is that the kitchen properly warms the plates before putting food on them. Especially for dishes like Eggs Benedict, a cool or even room-temperature plate will cause the sauce to quickly form an unappealing skin. The plates were warm, almost hot, to the touch. Bonus points for attention to that detail.

Without having tried the dinner menu, I’m not yet sure if Karmakamet Diner is just another pretty dandelion restaurant, soon to fade with the changing trends. But if brunch is any indication, I think they may blossom into something much more lasting and substantial.

Weekend Lunch Now Served at Appia

One of my favorite new restaurants of the past year is Appia, the Roman trattoria on Sukhumvit Soi 31. Now that evening operations at the nearly always-packed restaurant are running smoothly, owner Jarrett Wrisley and owner/chef Paolo Vitaletti have introduced a lunch menu. Based on my first visit this afternoon, I think I now have twice as many reasons to make regular visits to Appia.

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The first thing I noticed upon arriving just before noon (the restaurant opens at 11:30 on Saturday and Sunday) is that the already welcoming dining room is even warmer and cozier with daylight streaming in the one wall of windows.  It would be very easy to just curl up in a banquette and spend the whole day there draining a few bottles from Appia’s thoughtful wine collection, grazing from lunch to afternoon snacks to dinner.

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The lunch menu is largely different from the dinner menu although you will recognize them as relatives. For example, the succulent porchetta appears not as a stand-alone dish but as a sandwich with roasted peppers and homemade pickles. There are a variety of salads, sandwiches, pasta and grain dishes (these, too, do not completely overlap the dinner menu) and a handful of egg dishes.

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With two of us dining, we had to restrain ourselves a bit while still trying a cross-section of the menu. We began with a roasted pumpkin salad, which is garnishes with rocket, pumpkin seeds, almond slivers, and pomegranate seeds, dressed with dijon mustard and honey. This salad was perfectly seasoned and the pumpkin was tender but not mushy, a texture that can be unappealing with a room-temperature salad.

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We also tried the crab sandwich served with spicy aioli and provolone cheese on whole grain bread, served with a side of the homemade pickles. While the sandwich may not have looked like much, its pedestrian exterior hid a generous portion of fresh, sweet, large-lump crab meat. This sandwich along with a salad would make for a very satisfying meal.

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The first of our two egg dishes was the uovo alla pizzaiola – two Parisi eggs (imported from Italy) baked in a vibrant tomato sauce topped with stringy fresh scamorza cheese. Served with some toast, this assertively seasoned dish verged on the hearty, even though it is vegetarian (albeit not vegan). Chef Paolo really coaxes a great deal of flavor out of just a handful of ingredients.

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The second of our egg dishes was Appia’s take on Eggs Benedict: poached eggs served on corned beef, chicory, n’dujia sabayon (think spicy spreadable pork sausage Hollandaise sauce), over sourdough bread. This dish packed a punch! The bitterness of the chicory was cut by the saltiness of the beef and all of it was tamed by the n’dujia sabayon. The dish brimmed with umami.

Prices are very reasonable for the quality of food, with sides and smaller dishes starting at around 140 baht and mains topping out at 380 with most in the 280-300 range. Since lunchtime dining has just been introduced, there isn’t yet a crowd, but I would imagine that before year’s end reservations will be advised.

 

Sunday Brunch

Last Sunday we had four couples over for brunch. It had been about two months since I last had guests over and was missing the sounds of a full house. Normally, because of our small dining table, we limit guests to four. However, you don’t get the opportunities to introduce groups of friends who have never met when you have so few guests, so I invited a larger crowd.

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In a moment of OCD, I actually printed the menu and tied it above the kitchen counter so guests could see what they were serving themselves. (Buffet style service today.) To save your eyesight, here’s the menu:

  • “Make Your Own” Parfait Bar – Fresh tropical fruits, homemade almond maple granola, local whole milk yoghurt, and Northern Thai honey.
  • Crostini – Made from Maison Jean Philippe baguettes drizzled with annatto seed and garlic infused extra virgin olive oil, served with fromage blanc from Yogi.
  • Salad – Imported black quinoa and chickpeas mixed with bell peppers, rocket, capers, raisins, and toasted almonds, dressed with black sesame tahini, lemon juice, and honey.
  • Main – Baked organic eggs Mediterranean style with spinach, Kalmatta olives, onions, feta and mozzarella cheese, and green onions. Drizzled with annatto seed and garlic infused extra virgin olive oil.
  • Bread – Whole wheat, toasted oat, walnut, and date muffins served with Swedish whipped honey.
  • Dessert – Choice of American cherry tart or American blackberry tart, served with Disaronno infused whipped cream and nutmeg garnish.

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Main counter with the parfait bar, crostini, muffins, and tarts from left to right.

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Second counter with the quinoa and chickpea salad and baked egg dishes. I had originally bought aluminum tins (tacky, I know, but easy clean-up) but didn’t look at the package count so had to cave in and use ramekins anyhow.

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The quinoa and chickpea salad. The market was out of regular tahini so I had to use an organic black sesame spread (think peanut butter made from sesame seeds) which required a lot of lemon juice to overcome the sweetness of the honey in the spread. The result was tasty, though, and very healthful.

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The muffins, although a little stunted, were tasty. With mostly whole wheat flour and lots of toasted oats, they were fairly healthful. Plenty of chopped dates added minerals, nutrients, and fiber. Oh, and a little sprinkle of sugar on top? Well, who can resist?

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One of the two tarts. One of my guests had not so subtly suggested I bake a cherry pie for dessert so I took him up on it. Decided to do a tart, though, so I could use puff pastry from the store. Unfortunately, while it looks impressive, the brand of pastry uses shortening instead of butter so I found it a bit tough. Looks nice, though!

The conversation was wonderful and some friends who had never met each other before finally had a chance to connect. Of course, some who did not know each other, knew of each other. It is a small world here, even smaller when you are in my condo!

Chloe, Ella, and Savor – A Trio of San Francisco Breakfasts

During our final pass through San Francisco, we set out on a small project to revisit a trio of our favorite breakfast restaurants from when we lived there. San Francisco is a great city for breakfasts – the same cannot be said for Bangkok, at least for Western style breakfasts – and we were excited to indulge in some early morning reminiscing with a few cups of coffee and plates of eggs, pastries, and meat products.

Savor

Our first breakfast was at Savor, a southwestern themed restaurant located on 24th Street in Noe Valley. In addition to Miss Millie’s, a now-defunct restaurant that was located on 24th at Castro Street, Savor was a frequent stop for breakfast when I first moved to San Francsico in the late 1990s.

The interior space is pleasant. You walk past the kitchen at the front of the restaurant and find a large dining room and a bright but shaded patio behind the restaurant. The interior is, as mentioned, southwestern and a fireplace lends a cozy atmosphere to the high-ceilinged space. We visited on a weekday morning and the restaurant wasn’t crowded. A friendly bear was our server and he had an amiable, almost maternal manner.

Tawn ordered the Coronado frittata. Years ago, frittatas were on the menu but have been removed and only omelettes remain. Tawn enquired with the waiter, though, and he said they’d be happy to make any of the omelettes as a frittata. This was a nice touch. The Coronado has avocado, sharp cheddar cheese, and onions and is topped with black bean chili, salsa fresca, and sour cream. 

I ordered the Santa Fe, one of Savor’s many crepe selections. The Santa Fe has grilled chicken apple sausage with scrambled eggs, green onions, provolone cheese, and salsa fresca. The side of home fried potatoes was disappointing as they are under seasoned and would benefit from the use of some herbs.

One treat at Savor is their spicy cornbread, which is toasted and served with jalapeno jelly. This is what I remembered about the restaurant and was eager to try it again. Like the potatoes, I found the cornbread underseasoned, begging for a little more salt.

Overall conclusion was that Savor remains a comfortable place with friendly service and decent food, but the food seems more about quantity than quality. The quality isn’t bad, mind you, but it doesn’t stand out from the crowd. If they could reduce portion sizes slightly and improve the flavors, then they would have something really special.

 

Ella’s

The second of the trio is Ella’s, a self-described “neo-classical American” restaurant located on Presidio Avenue where Laurel Heights meets Lower Pacific Heights. More upscale, Ella’s has a sophisticated but inviting look. Waits can be long on weekends but on a weekday morning, we were seated immediately.

One of the two dining areas. Banquettes line the windows and tables are tightly spaced. On a busy morning, there is an energetic vibe and service is very prompt, encouraging a quick turnover. Service was detached and while employees were not outwardly rude, they also weren’t very friendly.

We started by sharing one of Ella’s famous cinnamon pecan rolls. These gooey delights are generous enough for a quartet to share but not as overwhelmingly sweet as, say, the rolls from Cinnabon.

Perhaps the most famous item on the menu is the chicken hash. (Which, unfortunately, is hidden under the eggs so you can’t see it!) Made with a combination of Russet and Yukon Gold potatoes, their hash is an immensely satisfying breakfast. The lumpy mashed potatoes are combined with sage, thyme, parsley, sauteed onions, and mustard, then formed into a patty and fried. My only complaint with this dish is that they garnish it with a heap of raw green onions, which give it a “grassy” feel. I just brush them to the side and enjoy the hash ungarnished. 

Tawn tried some French Toast, which was nicely battered and cooked to that perfect point where the bread is rich with the eggy custard but not soggy. Portion sizes are more moderate than at Savor, leaving you feeling satisfied but not stuffed.

One of Ella’s charms is that they bake their own, very good bread. The entry area shows off their baked goods, which are available for takeaway purchase. Overall, Ella’s hasn’t changed in the years since I left and remains a nice place for a special breakfast.

 

Chloe’s

My final morning in San Francisco, I headed down Church Street to Chloe’s while Tawn slept in. Arriving a few minutes before the restaurant opened, I browsed the newspaper and waited on the seats outside. A long-time neighborhood attraction that occupies a small space, Chloe’s quickly has a queue and waits can be long on weekends.

Not fifteen minutes after they opened, most of the inside tables were full. The space is cozy and the staff is buzzing about, refilling coffee, taking orders, and keeping things moving without ever making you feel rushed. Only open for breakfast and lunch, the restaurant’s daily specials are written on the chalkboard and always include a scramble of some kind as well as a soup of the day.

I decided on buttermilk blueberry pancakes with scrambled eggs. Most breakfasts come with the option of toast, a pastry, or a bowl of fresh fruit. Obviously, I took the healthier option. While simple, the food is made with top-notch ingredients and is well-prepared. Your cup of coffee never gets cold thanks to the attentive employees who keep filling it up.

An F-Market car passes Chloe’s, heading up Church Street to start its day. There’s enough housing the in neighborhood to support a restaurant twice Chloe’s size, but they keep it small and are able to stay on top of the details. Chloe’s really has a neighborhood charm to it.

 

Conclusions:

Of the three restaurants, Chloe’s remains my favorite. While the food at Ella’s is a little fancier, Chloe’s has the scale and charm of a true neighborhood restaurant. Ella’s, located on a busy corner, seems more isolated. Although not a bad choice, Savor is a distant third when compared with the other two restaurants. Its service is friendly but its food isn’t as good as at the other two restaurants.