Seeing the light

In case you missed it, here’s my review of Cafe Lumiere’s brunch service that appeared in Thursday’s Go! section of the Monterey Herald. I’ll be reposting my reviews and stories from my weekly column for the Herald here on my blog along with extra photos that didn’t appear in print.

So often, one thinks of coffee shops as merely places to grab that quick caffeine fix to power us through the day.

Over the years, the proliferation of corporate coffee chains meant shops that used to be places that fostered a lingering, local community were demoted to quick providers of America’s favorite drug.

Cafe Lumiere is a staple of our local coffee scene, but did you know they serve brunch on Sundays?

I’m happy to see so many local coffee shops are breaking those corporate chains and returning to their roots — good coffee, good food and a local community. Perhaps none better exemplifies this than Cafe Lumiere, tucked inside the Osio Cinemas.

The coffee — roasted right here in town by Acme in Seaside — is probably what gets the most buzz, literally, at Cafe Lumiere. (And rightly so — Cafe Lumiere’s expert baristas pull a mean espresso shot.)

But it’s Cafe Lumiere’s food offerings that have recently caught my attention. Chef Cirilo Aragon dishes up some delicious soups, salads and sandwiches for lunch, and on Sundays, he serves brunch.

The brunch menu includes about a half dozen items — mostly egg dishes, but also French toast and breakfast burritos. Most items can be ordered vegetarian and the breakfast burrito can even be ordered vegan.

Everything on the menu is the same price and served with a choice of roasted potatoes, toast, bacon or fruit — brunch is $8 with one side or $9.50 with two.

The omelet highlighted spicy, Spanish flavors.

I tried the Spanish omelet — ham, peppers and tomatoes, topped with pico de gallo, guacamole and sour cream — and the roasted potatoes and bacon.

The eggs were light and fluffy, packed with cubes of ham and diced peppers. The guacamole on top was flavorful and the perfect complement for the omelet. The heat was subtle, a tiny kick of spice to wake me up in the morning.

The potatoes were perfectly cooked. I don’t usually order roasted potatoes at breakfast joints since so many serve their potatoes undercooked, but these were perfectly tender.

The bacon was the one disappointment. It was too crispy and a little greasy for my tastes.

Cirilo's famous huevos rancheros were well received by my partner in crime.

My partner in crime ordered Cirilo’s famous huevos rancheros — made with corn tortillas, refried beans, cheese and two eggs over easy. While I didn’t sample them, she reports these were mighty tasty.

What better than some spicy hot chocolate for a brisk fall morning?

Feeling the Latin flair from my omelet, I decided to try Cirilo’s homemade Oaxacan hot chocolate (small for $3.50, large for $4). The hot chocolate is spiced with a hint of habañero pepper to cut the sweetness of the chocolate.

After a savory breakfast, I wanted something sweet to cleanse my palate. Logic would have dictated ordering a small pastry, but I decided to throw caution to the wind.

French toast sounded mighty tempting, so I twisted my friend’s arm to split an order with me. I ordered it with one of Cirilo’s signature twists — cream cheese.

Who says you can't have dessert with breakfast? Isn't that what French toast is for?

What arrived was really a breakfast grilled cheese sandwich — cream cheese between two slices of French toast. It was utterly decadent, and between the two of us, we still could only eat about three-quarters of it. (Of course all those eggs sitting in our belly might have handicapped us.)

Behold, a breakfast grilled cheese sandwich!

Brandi, a young and ambitious entrepreneur, leads a top-notch team at Cafe Lumiere. Under her watchful eye, Cafe Lumiere breaks the mold on what you might expect to find at a coffee shop — check out daily lunch specials, from panini to patty melts, and famous pho on Wednesdays.

The bustling atmosphere from the café and theater lobby leaves a little to be desired — especially when the aroma of burnt popcorn starts wafting into the café — but the food and drink more than make up for these shortcomings.

Whether you’re looking for a bite to eat before a movie, some beer or wine to fuel an afternoon typing away at your computer, or just a cup of coffee to perk you up, Cafe Lumiere has you covered.

Cafe Lumiere is at 365 Calle Principal in Monterey. 920-2451 or

This entry was posted in Breakfast, Herald, Off The Menu, Restaurants, Reviews, Special Dinners. Bookmark the permalink.

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