Healthful, hearty offerings at Emmett's Cafe can help kick off the new year right

G.A. Benton

Are you having a happy new year yet? 

If not, give it some time. Or maybe lower your expectations to a more easily attainable goal: Have a better year than 2020. 

One way to ensure that 2021 is treating you well is to eat at Emmett’s Cafe in the Brewery District. Because that affordable and hip new place, whose enticements include conscientious curbside service and a handsome patio, is among the most impressive restaurants to open lately.

Offering bowls, sandwiches, one soup and one salad, Emmett’s small menu might not seem especially compelling at first. Reading deeper, ingredients such as chia, kale and quinoa point to a healthful slant; tots and chorizo suggest a penchant for fun and indulgence.

But what to make of something titled “Meat + Tato” ($9)? Frankly, after a couple bites, that menu entry could’ve been called “edible matter” and I’d still proclaim one of the best breakfast sandwiches in town.

A toasted terrific roll (Emmett’s uses high-quality local products from Matija Breads) was smeared with house hot sauce and packed with neatly stacked crispy tots, spicy chorizo, a carefully fried egg, pickled onions, comforting melted Monterey Jack and arugula. Characteristically, Emmett’s integrated the varied components into something whose distinct and delicious whole was greater than the sum of its good parts.   

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The TK ($8) offered comparable charms in vegetarian form, featuring a good fried egg, plus melted cheddar, avocado and top-notch focaccia enlivened by wholegrain mustard, pickled zucchini and arugula. (Arugula is quite popular here; and with me.)

Prefer something simpler in the morning? The One-Handed, a bargain at $5.50, is essentially an Egg McMuffin reinvented with far better ingredients. It’s a fine match for another excellent deal — the flavor-bursting and wonderful Double Tomato Basil Soup ($4.50).

Emmett’s Breakfast Burrito ($10) was uncommonly stubby. It was uncommonly delicious, too, with creamy scrambled eggs, melted cheese, crunchy tots, crispy prosciutto and avocado playing off chipotle aioli and a side of good pico de gallo. 

Pair any of these with the Aussie Capp ($3.75) — a milky, chocolate-and-cinnamon-scented Australian-style cappuccino that’s more like a latte — and your day will be off to a great start. 

I also enjoyed both entrees I sampled listed under “BOWLS.” The Salmon Bowl ($13) conjured a riff on the classic lox-and-bagel combination with plenty of silky and salt-restrained smoked salmon, toasted focaccia, rich “juniper-dill” cream cheese, a perfectly poached egg, pickled beets and arugula.

The heartier Harvest Bowl ($12) was a lively jumble of flavors and textures supplied by chopped chicken with gentle curry notes, roasted mushrooms, roasted butternut squash, toasted pumpkin seeds, quinoa, greens, clustered little cubes of dried apple, plus a spirited “miso-maple-mustard” dressing served on the side.

Although not categorized as a bowl, the South High Salad ($13) was, well, the heartiest bowl I sampled. Four skillfully fried zesty house falafel balls lashed with herbed tahini sauce were partnered with roasted-to-sweet, turmeric-tinged cauliflower, white beans, pickled onions, toasted almond slivers, greens and tangy goat cheese. Another impressive emulsion, Emmett’s intense “whole lemon” dressing, came on the side.     

The Chia Rose Parfait ($7) isn’t called a bowl, either, even though it’s served in a compostable you-know-what. It’s grouped under “TREATS,” where it shares good company with more-modest items such as the Choco-Tahini Crispy ($3; think halva meets a chocolate Rice Krispies treat) and the Golden Bar ($3.50; think fruity, nice-looking coconut macaroon).

Back to that parfait. It’s a yogurt-based assembly with strong floral notes from rose jam and synergistic contributions from toasted pistachios, “coconut chia” (textured like tapioca pudding) and dried strawberries. The result was an attractive, creative and delightful dish with influences that stretch from the Middle East to India, but whose sensibility is wholly Emmett’s.

Emmett's Cafe

744 S. High St., Brewery District


The TK and tots from Emmett's Cafe


The  Chia Rose Parfait at Emmett's Cafe