Artsy dining in Downtown Oxnard
Cafe and Gallery
By JR Grant 08/28/2014
Tomas Cafe and Gallery
622 S. A St.
A while back I went to a gallery opening at Tomas Cafe in Oxnard; it was a very pleasant and welcoming looking space, bright, airy and ideal for the California outdoorsy art being featured. I discovered that this terrific location has been open since 2010, and was disappointed in myself that it had taken me so long to discover such a vital and delicious location for breakfast and lunch dining options. The first quick breakfast-on-the-run nibble I selected was the cinnamon roll: doughy and comforting; alas, for me, with a little too much sticky white frosting, but delicious nonetheless. With a cup of fresh and robust coffee I was anxious for a proper return visit.
In speaking to some Oxnard natives, several mentioned the “amazing chilaquiles” for breakfast. They were tasty, I’ll admit, but I am accustomed to crispier tortillas and not quite as much crema and queso fresco. The slightly sweet flavor of the tomatillos and Anaheim chile is spot on, though, and worth a sample if this traditional dish appeals. Actually, I am very fond of Tomas’ classic American breakfast options. The chicken-fried steak is smallish, but exactly the right combination of tenderness and chewiness with a peppery cream gravy adding hearty flavor.
One afternoon at lunch I ordered the TC chopped salad and found it phenomenally refreshing on a very hot summer day: tomatoes, red onion, turkey, artichokes, romaine lettuce and shredded mozzarella cheese, topped with a sweetened mustard dressing. This very satisfying salad demonstrates the fresh and made-to-order nature of the Tomas Cafe food. I also asked for some chopped bacon on the side and the very generous serving perfectly complemented the salad’s combination of flavors.
A friend of mine who frequents Tomas Cafe for breakfast swears by the Nutella French toast; the egg-dipped brioche bread is drizzled with Nutella and sprinkled with a generous serving of golden walnuts. The dish looks incredibly hearty and filling, but one would have to be a Nutella fan to appreciate the creation. One morning I simply ordered a biscuit and sausage gravy; the creaminess of the gravy and generous chunks of slightly spicy sausage demonstrated the homemade care and flavor of so many of the cafe’s dishes. My Nutella friend also likes the red velvet pancakes topped with cream cheese icing; that much sweetness early in the morning is not something my palate generally craves, although it does look sensational.
Lunch also offers many creative options. The other day I ordered an heirloom tomato and mozzarella sandwich (on rye), which also had avocado, cucumber and cream cheese with an olive oil and balsamic drizzle. This time of year the juiciness and garden flavor of the heirloom tomatoes is terrific. Also a great vegetarian alternative is the veggie melt, which has marinated artichoke hearts, roasted peppers, provolone cheese, Roma tomatoes and basil pesto.
At the next table one of the diners ordered a club sandwich, and it arrived heavy on the meats, looking well-prepared and -presented. Judging by the big smiles after their first bites and the general sense of a satisfied dining experience, it seemed that from the kitchen’s point of view each dish is served with good individual attention. The staff seems family-centered (different generations serving/working), and by and large the service was adequate. If I slightly fault them for not paying as close attention to empty iced tea glasses needing refills, or prompt retrieval of the check with payment, they can be forgiven. It is so refreshing to find a restaurant that pays such close attention to food preparation and presentation that some relatively minor inconsistencies seem trivial.
The fact that the owners call themselves a gallery is apparently because of the art (for sale) adorning the walls, and a trompe l’oeil beach mural in one alcove. It appears to me that there is less attention to the changing art scene than to a more permanent installation, but so be it; the quality and creativity of the food more than makes up for constantly changing décor. It is also evident that Tomas Cafe has a fairly large catering business, with many non-menu items available for special catering events. All in all, Tomas Cafe is an excellent choice for breakfast and/or lunch in downtown Oxnard.