Number 31 on my journey lunching down Solano was Cafeina (1389 between Ramona and Carmel.)
It’s quirky. It’s homey. It’s not pretentious. It has a very Santa Cruz feel to it (or at least what Santa Cruz was like in the ’80s when I lived there). The atmosphere is quite relaxed. I had the feeling that a few of the customers were regulars, but the staff is friendly to everyone, and they seem like they’re happy to be there, which makes me want to be there too.
Open every day but Sunday 7am –4pm, Cafeina has a few outdoor tables for two, but today Dave and I opted to sit inside to better absorb the atmosphere. It serves breakfast, lunch, and every kind of non-alcoholic beverage you could desire, including organic hot chocolate, mango lassi, and house-made organic Italian soda. The common theme here is organic. And the coffee is all fair trade. Their takeout menu promises: “We source local organic growers and vendors who are committed to sustainably produce the food we eat.”
The décor is funky and shows character: colorful homemade signs grace the dessert display case, a faded surfer film poster hangs on the wall, little black plastic skeletons hang just beneath the doorway into the dining room area, and KALX is playing unapologetically over the sound system. I didn’t use the restroom, but Dave says there was nothing noteworthy except for a little sign on the toilet that read: “Slow flush. Hold handle. Signed, the next person using this bathroom.”
I started off with a latté, which was served in a tall, blue ceramic mug that felt nice in my hands. While we waited for our food, Dave pored over Dan Savage’s column in the East Bay Express, sharing fun bits with me. (I love Dan Savage!)
Dave described his lunch this way: “It’s what a BLT should be.” Even though it had mayo, I took a bite, and I have to admit it was great. The bacon seemed extra good to me. It came with chips and salsa on the side, and Dave commented that the salsa tasted as if it came from a jar. I completely agree, but it totally took me back to college, when we always had salsa from a jar. So it wasn’t the best salsa, but it tasted like familiarity and nostalgia.
I got the chicken/goat cheese wrap, which had black beans, avocado, caramelized onions, and lots of lettuce. Of course it was delicious—it had caramelized onions, so how could it not be?—but it wasn’t terribly filling, despite the $10.50 price, which should be enough to sate one’s appetite at lunch. But that just meant I had plenty of room for dessert!
The baked goods all looked delicious, and there was quite a variety, including a chocolate chip cookie that had bacon in it! I was torn between the salty caramel brownie with walnuts and the chocolate bread pudding, but in the end, I went for the latter. The woman behind the counter, who looked vaguely like Selma Hayek with a tattoo, warmed it up for me. It was heavenly. (Insert your choice of yummy noises here.)
At one point I heard what I thought were police sirens coming from Solano Avenue, and I wasn’t the only one who was alarmed. One of the women behind the counter was trying to see what was happening outside before someone figured out it was the radio. The loud beeping noises turned out to be something KALX’s had deemed as “music.” KALX was having an especially eclectic day, having earlier played some goth-rock followed by the ’83 top-40 hit “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” by Bonnie Tyler. (No, I did not remember the artist—I had to look it up.) But even though I could not say I enjoyed KALX’s musical selections, the unpredictability of UC Berkeley’s campus radio station seemed totally appropriate to Cafeina’s vibe.
I loved the Cafeina experience, and I shall go back soon. Maybe I can try that salted caramel brownie next time…