New Beatniks café—something to howl about
Chico, CA 95928
It was nearing closing time (2 p.m.) and the space was mostly empty at Beatniks Coffee House & Breakfast Joint when I cruised in for breakfast on a recent Saturday. Well, I had actually come for lunch, but found that the café—which is aptly named a “coffee house and breakfast joint”—doesn’t serve lunch on weekends.
I averted my eyes from the chalkboard lunch menu to the breakfast menu, and my disappointment dissipated instantly. I saw a well-thought-out list featuring flavor-packed omelets and breakfast classics, loaded with funky ingredients such as applewood-smoked bacon, sundried-tomato relish, squash and apple-chicken sausage.
My “lunch” date and I ordered the Dobie Gillis—a veggie benedict served on focaccia and loaded with tomato slices, zucchini, ’shrooms and spinach, and topped with Hollandaise for $8.50. We also ordered a Beatnik Burrito ($7.50), a hefty breakfast burrito that made claims of being “already legendary in Chico” —a big promise in a big-little city where a handful of breakfast joints are firmly planted and have loyal customers.
We took a seat on the paved outdoor patio and surveyed the café’s peculiar location, in a small shopping center wedged between Eighth and Ninth streets, just feet from the Highway 99 overpass. The spot has been home to a number of now-defunct businesses, including Market Café—a similar breakfast and coffee joint that seemed to come and go with the blink of an eye—and the once-popular music venue/coffee shop Bean Scene.
An amiable young man served us our food in about 15 minutes, and we were struck by the presentation and inventive use of ingredients. We positioned our square plates side by side and dove into the breakfast burrito to find a hearty mixture of seasoned eggs, sausage, bacon, corn, black beans and pepper-jack cheese. We smeared slices of fresh avocado and dumped the side of salsa across the top, and were impressed by the amount of flavor in the burrito.
The yolk from the poached eggs flowed across the eggs benedict and quickly seeped into the generous pieces of focaccia underneath. The sautéed mushrooms and Hollandaise were tangy and worked well with the mild taste of the tomatoes and spinach. We liked the home fries, which turned out to be thinly sliced pieces of seasoned potato with red bell pepper, onions and seasoning, instead of chunks that usually leave me feeling too full.
It took us a few bites to identify the mysterious, fluffy and triangle-shaped piece of bread that had been served alongside both our breakfasts (a nice change from dry or overly buttered toast), and decided it was apple cinnamon. The sweet and fruit-filled bread contrasted well with the salty dishes.
We washed it all down with Paradise iced tea, a naturally sweetened tea that was brewed to perfection.
I dropped in mid-week a few days later. It was much busier and I sat surrounded by several two-person breakfast and lunch parties inside the roomy café. To my right, two women discussed a business venture over Jack Kerouac Florentine omelets (eggs, spinach, sundried-tomato relish and feta), and to the left, an outdoorsy man hovered over his computer screen, mulling over one word on the page with coffee in hand. The café’s intellectual but comfortable atmosphere—with Beat Generation details such as Bob Kaufman quotes scribbled on a chalkboard on the wall, and a book of Jack Kerouac and Joyce Johnson love letters resting beneath the condiments on my table—makes it an ideal spot for spending the afternoon brainstorming.
Ten minutes after 11 a.m. (when lunch starts), a spunky blonde brought my turkey and provolone sandwich to my table. I was happy my cranberry horseradish spread was on the side. The creamy gorgonzola dressing was on the side of my salad, too, which I chose instead of fruit or that day’s soup (creamy garlic potato).
The sweet but spicy spread added flavor to the mild provolone and generous, not-too-thin slices of turkey breast. The creamy dressing was, well, very creamy and chunky, and turned my average pile of greens with onions, carrots and a side of sliced cucumber into an indulgent salad.
Oh yeah, coffee! I ordered “for here” ($2), took my mug to a bar in the middle of the joint, where I chose from a handful of local Cal Java Coffee Roasters blends including light and dark roasts, and a vanilla nut flavor. I chose the light blend and was pleased it tasted smooth and non-gritty.
Oh, there’s beer on tap, too. I may have to come back sometime soon when I’m needing a cure for a case of writer’s block.