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There are few meals more satisfying than
a well-made breakfast. Sit before a steaming cup of coffee, a
nice stack of toast smeared with sweet butter and soft scrambled
eggs topped with crisp bacon, add a newspaper and - voila! -
you’ve created a near perfect way to begin a day.
Carleen Haughton, the owner of Bedford-Stuyvesant’s Bristens Cafe, agrees. Haughton opened her cafe in January to "Feed the neighborhood on this end of the block and to offer my favorite meal - breakfast - all day," she says. The block she refers to, where Bristens sits and Haughton makes her home, is on DeKalb Avenue at Bedford Avenue.
To offer a backdrop for the day’s least complicated meal, Haughton’s created a cafe (named for her sons Branden and Tristen) that is one part hip eatery with a floor-to-ceiling front window, tiled floors and small paintings of musical instruments, and one part laid-back diner with closely spaced wooden tables and a counter heaped with newspapers.
On most weekdays, jazz plays quietly in the background. But one Saturday each month, Haughton invites a reggae band to perform (call for details), and every Sunday, live music is played all day.
On the menu you’ll find the usual breakfast/brunch standards - omelets, French toast, pancakes and granola - and plenty of dishes like huevos rancheros (eggs, beans and ground beef, or some variation of eggs and beans, served on a tortilla), fried chicken, nicely dressed salads and pressed sandwiches (they call them panini, but they’re too generously overstuffed to be traditional) that make hearty lunches and dinners. They even pour a cup of strong, rich coffee that is superior to much of the sour swill brewed in so many neighborhood coffee shops.
You may recall glimpsing the mohawk of Bristens’ chef, Francisco Paez, during his stint in the kitchen of the late Alicia’s, a bistro formerly in Brooklyn Heights. One dish that Paez adopted from that lovely cafe is their grits with cheese. He serves the deep bowl of creamy grains with its top crisscrossed with melted cheddar cheese; it’s soul food at its best. The grits team up with two deliciously greasy little sausages splattered with a tangy/sweet barbecue sauce that taste much better than they sound.
We passed on the French toast after Paez warned us that its cherry and pear topping was canned.
"I used to serve it with fresh fruit, but around here they like it canned," he said.
A fluffy, soft omelet is, like that good cup of coffee, one of those deceptively simple items that few cafes get right. Here it’s about as good as this egg dish gets. The smoked salmon omelet was filled with a mound of buttery, sweet caramelized onions, aged chunks of goat cheese and a generous serving of the fish. It’s Sunday brunch with a pile of thick cut yam and potato fries filling in for the bagel and a side of perfectly fresh romaine with black olives, pimentos and red onions tossed with a too sweet dressing.
The dressing on Paez’s grilled shrimp Caesar salad is just creamy enough (without verging on the mayonnaise-like travesty I’ve been served elsewhere). It’s subtly flavored with anchovies - a plus or minus depending on the diner. If you prefer a pile of the fish on top of your dish, you’ve come to the wrong place. Instead, you’ll receive five plump, sweet shrimp that crown the greens; it’s not a bad replacement, and at $8, it’s a bargain, too.
Want a nice, crisp Pinot Grigio to accompany the salad? You’ll have to wait until mid-June, when Haughton expects her liquor license. Until then, it’s BYOB.
About those sandwiches. There’s 11 of them, named for nearby streets like the DeKalb, Bedford and Skillman. We tried the enjoyable "Taaffe" - moist grilled chicken, nicely melted Muenster cheese, white onions and pesto, served with salad and the mixed fries.
Desserts are limited to two supplied by a local baker - cheesecake, topped with fresh peaches (I guess the canned fruit stops at entrees), and a buttery pound cake that’s served a la mode.
Bristens Cafe isn’t glamorous. It isn’t even cool in the way some places, with their sleepy-eyed crowd nursing hangovers, are. It’s just an unassuming, comfortable spot for a good hearty breakfast anytime of day.
Bristens Cafe (525 DeKalb Ave. between Bedford Avenue and Skillman Street in Bedford-Stuyvesant) accepts MasterCard and Visa. Entrees: $5.25-$9. The restaurant serves breakfast from 8 am to 8 pm Tuesday-Sunday. Closed Mondays. For more information, call (718) 935-0218.
©2005 Community Newspaper Group
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