Tuesday, September 9, 2008

26 Beach: Umbrellas, Crayons and French Toast, Oh My!

As a former OC princess, I quite often harbor pre-conceived notions about locales I am not familiar with. When I think "Palm Beach," I automatically think "Spring Break" and "STDs." When I think "Alabama," I think "fried food" and "poor grammar." And when I think "Venice (CA)," I think "trashy" and "touristy."

Despite my best efforts to eradicate all the stereotypical associations I accumulated during my ignorant youth, I can't help but conjure up visual images of tattooed and metallic-shirt sporting weirdos hobnobbing on the boardwalk by the germ-infested Venice beach waters. Yes, Abbott Kinney is cute, and I did find the most adorable teapot at a shop there one Saturday afternoon, but I wasn't so sure about the rest of the community...

When I first heard about 26 Beach, the popular Venice lunching and brunching eatery just west of Lincoln on Washington Blvd., I pictured a seaside restaurant overwhelmed with sandal-clad beachgoers. Of course, because I quite often put my stomach ahead of my neurotic phobias (sand near my food being one of them), I was willing to risk a potentially unsavory dining experience for a taste of their infamous French toast.

This past Sunday, with the help of my two girlfriends, I took a bite out of my comfort zone and made the long trek out to Venice. There are few things in life that excite me more than French toast, and with 13 varieties on the 26 Beach brunch menu, I was primed for carbohydrate overload -- regardless of the pains I might suffer to get there.

As it turns out, the OC princess need not fear the contamination of her food via sand granules. Nor need she fear close contact with a pesky sea breeze or suntan-lotioned tourists. 26 Beach is not a seaside dive. 26 Beach is a nice restaurant. With table linens and a valet station and umbrellas to shield waiting patrons from the penetrating UV rays! My heart skipped a beat at the novelty of the ladylike umbrellas. And it skipped another beat when I caught sight of the coffee canister and water jugs to make the 5-10 minute wait for a table even more pleasant. Toast on 3rd Street doesn't have free coffee. (Course they don't really have good food either...)

After my friends and I were seated at our cozy booth, we immediately zeroed in on the glass of crayons in the middle of the table. Giddy with excitement, I dove straight for the pink crayon and began writing my name in cursive letters on the paper sheet covering the table cloth. As we covered the paper with flowers and sunsets and bright colors, I found myself falling in love with 26 Beach. I scarcely cared whether my Very Berry French toast topped w/an assortment of fresh berries & pecan syrup ($13) would be as tasty as it sounded. For a moment, the environment and company was enough for me. I didn't even mind that my raspberry iced tea ($2.50) was exceedingly tart and unpleasant on my palate. (Though I did request to switch to the regular black iced tea when the server came by to refill my glass.)

When my much anticipated French toast did finally arrive at the table (thank goodness we had those crayons to distract us while we waited!), I knew my pursuit for French toast happiness would be rewarded. The three thick pieces of egg-battered brioche bread were exactly how I envisioned them in my head. The berries (and kiwi?) were fresh and sweet, and the pecan syrup only improved the already idyllic French toast situation. While I still maintain that the Griddle Cafe's Mom's French toast is the "toast of the town," 26 Beach's version is more than worth it's weight in gas. (And the neurotic musings I went through to get it.)

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