Sacramento, CA 95816
The key to appreciating Sacramento’s Orphan, a breakfast-brunch joint, is Isabel Cruz of Isabel’s Cantina in Pacific Beach fame. Her cookbook is prominently displayed throughout Orphan’s utilitarian dining room on 34th and C streets. Orphan’s owner once worked for Isabel and has created a menu whose majority is lifted from her. Breakfast burritos, quesadilla, tamales, avocado and artichoke scrambles, muesli, blackberry pancakes—with the addition of banana—cinnamon French toast, rosemary potatoes and the roast-beef hash come out of Isabel’s playbook. Having eaten at her place on Felspar Street in San Diego, with its Buddha statue and simple Asian décor, it seems like Orphan’s olive drab concrete and corrugated tin-roofed patio is also an homage to Isabel’s design sensibilities.
Katherine Irene Lucas and I are lucky No. 13 on the wait list this rainy Sunday morning. There’s a healthy East Sacramento cross-section of families with lil’ kiddos. Our jets cool about 20 minutes before we are seated in front of the three-panel glass garage doors that give onto an eight-car parking lot, catty-corner from the American Can Company.
“It reminds me of New York,” Katie says of the restaurant’s stark simplicity. “Except for the view.” Katie also notes that the “h” in Orphan on the menu is a grown-up holding a kid’s hand. We query the waiter as to why such a sad word—almost as depressing as “leftover”—is the name for an eatery. He’s shagged this ball before. The owner has a large table in the restaurant’s center that seats about 10. Disparate diners are dispatched to it. And, ergo, they enter as orphans and leave as family. Also, we’re told that, as an independent restaurant, Orphan is an orphan rather than part of a chain.
Service by the black-garbed waiters and waitresses is prompt. It takes even less time to consume than it does to wait. A principal reason the service is so fast is because most of the dishes are similar.
The linchpin for most of Orphan’s offerings is scrambled eggs. Three of them, we’re told. Tortillas, jack cheese, Roma tomatoes, salsa, sour cream and scallions show up quite frequently, usually together. Periodically, the menu deals in rosemary and a few cilantro sprigs. For example, the primary difference between the avocado scramble, other than its 55-cent-cheaper price, and the artichoke scramble is, not surprisingly, avocado instead of the artichoke hearts. Otherwise they both feature the ubiquitous three eggs, Jack cheese, Roma tomatoes, rosemary potatoes and rosemary bread. While similar ingredients abound, so do the portions.
Since most of the menu’s options are similarly comprised, they tend to taste eerily similar. The Papas Loco appeals—rosemary potatoes grilled with jalapeños and, who would have guessed, sour cream, avocado, Roma tomatoes, jack cheese, scallions, salsa and some black beans. The waiter notes this is one of the menu’s few selections without eggs.
Two bits more at $8.50 is the soy chorizo, an Isabel creation, which substitutes the potatoes with three eggs and the item’s namesake. Our waiter is happy to toss in some jalapeños to increase the temperature. Every definition of chorizo says it is a spicy sausage. Not in this dish. It may not even be in this dish; it’s hard to tell once the ingredients are swept together. And it’s damnably difficult to come across a tiny-diced bit of jalapeño.
Toying briefly with yet another Isabel riff, the raspberry pancake special, Katie instead opts for the vegetarian biscuits and gravy—words that go together about as well as “gourmet corn dog”—and finds the three scrambled eggs precariously clinging to the mass of lumpy, fist-sized biscuits and their patina of mushroom-heavy sauce to be more than plenty of breakfast.
The Honduras, Sumatra or Brazilian coffees are robust. Can-tea-na is both a clever play on words and a refreshing mix of ice tea and cranberry juice. Nice to have taste of Isabel in town, even if it’s only breakfast.