San Chez Cafe

(Grand Rapids, MI) — After the previous Sunday’s successful outing to Wolfgang’s, we decided to press our luck and try another breakfast review, this time at San Chez Cafe. Although we’ve been there many times in past, we wanted to be able to defend our position when Marty Primeau of Grand Rapids Magazine asked us again which restaurant had the best cinnamon roll. We got up early and drove downtown to see what was on the menu this morning...

He Fed:

It’s nice out, uncharacteristically so for an early March day in Michigan. We negotiate the construction on Fulton to find the lot out back of San Chez closed. Too early? Usually the lot is open. We find a spot on the street around the block, but don’t mind a short walk in the sunshine.

A sign at the front door bids us seat ourselves. I choose a booth near the windows so we can people watch and soak up some sun. Our server gets us water, enquiring if we’d like anything else to drink. “Coffee, black, cream on the side.” Then, on a whim, “It’s probably too early for a cocktail, right?” As it turns out, nope. We’re able to get a bottle of Cava and fresh orange juice, to keep us in mimosas throughout the meal. This ain’t your granddad’s Grand Rapids!

We also order, of course, the cinnamon roll. It arrives—“from Heaven”, as the food runner puts it—a lurking mound of lumpy, powder sugared, fresh-baked dough suffocated with thick glaze. I divvy it up into four manageable chunks and we dig in. Oh, man...that is so good! Warm, suffused with spicy cinnamon, covered in crunchy pecans, but the real standout is the orange cream cheese icing that oozes and drips. We use our forks to polish it all off, then scrape away any remaining bits of glaze. The pastry leaves a warm feeling in my stomach, a blossoming manifestation of the sunny sky outside our window. Still the best cinnamon roll I’ve had, probably ever. I'm not even sure how you could improve upon it.

The coffee is solid, freshly brewed and with just a teaspoon of cream becomes ethereal. It will bring back the dead and have them begging for more. Our Cava is not too sweet, which is nice, but the orange juice isn’t very sweet either so the mimosas end up middle of the road. On the plus side, they are they got that going for them.

Time for the main event! I usually go for the breakfast wrap or burrito, but I’m just not feeling it this morning. Bloody Mary Hash? I remember it being quite nice, but maybe a little more than I want today. Breakfast Nachos? Tempting, but a little heavy after the sugary cinnamon roll. I narrow it down to the Spanish Peppered Pork Hash, while Juliet chooses (after I point it out) the Chorizo Biscuits and Gravy special. “Those are my two favorite dishes,” our server points out.

At first, my dish seems to be pretty plain: rye toast, homemade strawberry jam, harissa sour cream, and a big floppy fried egg nearly covering everything else. Ah, but what’s underneath is what counts! I lift up the egg to see braised mojo pork, chunks of mojo onions, cubed potatoes, and lovely cheddar cheese covering everything. One fork into the egg spills yolk like a golden cloak, seeping richness into the potatoes. I attack the dish, barely coming up for air, enjoying every morsel until I can take no more. Don’t get me wrong, I definitely want more but the gas tank is full. (Perversely, I try a bite of Juliet’s food and instantly regret it. It’s way too good. I should have order that. Jalapeno jam? Come on!)

We slowly finish up our meal and drinks. Both of us are pleasantly stuffed. I know Juliet has been lukewarm on doing breakfast at San Chez Cafe for a while, but this great experience has certainly renewed her interest. I am happy. To me, there’s nothing better on a Sunday morning than well-prepared quality food and hot, strong coffee. Except maybe an ice cold mimosa.
She Fed:

After last weekend’s successful breakfast outing and in a continued search for the area’s best cinnamon roll, we venture out again for an early Sunday breakfast. Despite having lost an hour to Daylight Saving’s Time, there are plenty of tables available and we pick a booth by a sunny window.

San Chez has a small, unique breakfast menu. Because I’m such a fuss-budget when it comes to eating in the morning, I have trouble deciding what to order. Yes, I’m the person who will order an English muffin with peanut butter if nothing strikes my fancy. Jeremy spies the chorizo biscuits and gravy and points it out, though I think he immediately begins coveting it for himself.

We’re sure it’s too early for a bloody Mary or mimosa, but our waitress informs us otherwise. Jeremy orders the “Make Your Own Mimosas” featuring a bottle of cava and a carafe of orange juice. I know immediately my plans to reorganize a couple of closets later in the day will be derailed. The mimosa fixins arrive; our waitress pops the cork and pours the first round. Hooray!

Just as she’s finishing my glass, the cinnamon roll arrives. Whenever we have cinnamon rolls out (as opposed to the two times a year I get off my duff and make them from scratch) Jeremy continually compares them to San Chez’s. I’ve got to be honest, I don’t remember the cinnamon roll here. I do remember an almond pastry that’s no longer on the menu, but no cinnamon roll. Jeremy’s been hankering for this and his eyes light up when it arrives. It is quite large; I’m glad we’re splitting it. There’s a generous topping of orange cream cheese frosting (with orange zest flecks even), all gooey and melting down the sides. The dough is warm and moist and the icing and toasted pecans just put it over the top. I still don’t remember having this roll before, but I will remember it after today.

My biscuits and gravy appear just as we’re finishing the roll. Fried eggs are perched atop two square biscuits in a pool of pinky-brown chorizo gravy. The eggs have the tiniest slivers of fresh sage sprinkled on them. The perfume from the sage wafts up, reminding me spring is here. I’m a big believer that sage, lavender, and rosemary should be used sparingly. Less is more and in this case the kitchen knew exactly how much to use as a garnish.

The egg yolks are bright orange when I spear into them and they languidly ooze into the chorizo gravy. Much like us, they are in no rush on this sunny morning, The biscuits are some of the best I’ve had, with loads of manchego and thinly sliced pork belly baked right in the dough. If that weren’t enough, they’ve been drizzled with a little jalapeno honey. It might sound weird to have honey in this dish, but a bite of savory cheese-pork belly biscuit with sweet-spicy honey and fried egg daubed in the chorizo gravy with a few sage sprinkles is pretty much breakfast nirvana. I would say these are the best biscuits and gravy I’ve had since The Lamb’s Club in Manhattan.

The servers at San Chez are all incredibly friendly and our main server is especially personable. No early Sunday morning attitude visible anywhere here. My latte is spot-on and the food has blown me away. If they open their deck for breakfast, I predict some serious “crosswords with mimosas Sundays” in our future.

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