PICTURED: Avocado toast with watercress, pickled vegetables and a poached egg. Photo by N. Lackey Shaffer
by Nancy D. Lackey Shaffer
1070 E. Front Street, Ventura
Ventura’s Front Street has a casual-but-happening vibe. Not quite beachside, but close to it — you can take the “people bridge” from Ash over the 101 freeway to the Ventura Pier. But before you do, you should definitely check out the cafes and shops that dot this five-block neighborhood that has become a popular hangout for those needing a break from the hustle and bustle of downtown.
Among the eateries, stores and even a brewery (Transmission) is one excellent little gem that makes for a great start to the day: Frontside Cafe. Open for breakfast and lunch, it has plenty to recommend it: a great coffee bar, warm-from-the-oven goodies in the bakery case, a dog-friendly patio to enjoy the ocean breeze and ample indoor dining as well.
Arriving for breakfast one weekday, the first thing I noticed was how clean, bright and fresh everything felt. Admittedly, it is a fairly new restaurant — just opened at the end of 2020, in the space formerly occupied by Traveler Cafe. There’s aluminum siding on the outside (more modern and chic than industrial — much to my surprise), and indoors it’s all white walls, light wood and woven lampshades. Hints of bright blue and sand give it a distinctive “beachy” atmosphere — suitable for its surf-adjacent location.
The menu is a mix of California cuisine and Australian specialties (owing to the influence of owner Charne Huff, who hails from Down Under). Granola, acai bowls and avocado toast sit next to Aussie meat pies and “brekkie rolls” (eggs, bacon, tomato, arugula, gouda and a chili jam mayo). For lunch, there are hearty salads, a burger and a chicken katsu sandwich with Japanese curry. Yum!
For my breakfast, I selected the avocado toast with poached egg, a cup of lemon ginger tea and — because I couldn’t resist — a cheddar chive biscuit. After placing my order at the counter, I grabbed my number and found a seat in a quiet corner where I could enjoy the comings and goings of young people enjoying a leisurely morning, couples with pooches on leash, families getting ready for the beach, professionals grabbing caffeine and a pastry to go before work. What I didn’t see: tourists. By and large, this was a local crowd.
The food was as delightful as the easy, breezy atmosphere. The biscuit was perfectly prepared: light golden brown, neither dry nor doughy with a fluffy, buttery texture, beautifully seasoned with herbs and cheese. This with a cup of coffee would make a solid breakfast any day of the week.
I had, however, also ordered the avocado toast — and while it was probably more than I needed, it did not disappoint. Thick slices of hearty bread were toasted and smashed with fresh avocado, which was then topped with a market’s worth of produce: radishes, watercress, sprigs of dill, pickled vegetables, all as artfully composed as a still life painting. It was seasoned with dukkah, a Middle Eastern blend of nuts, herbs, seeds and spices. (The flavor put me in mind of an everything bagel.) Perched delicately on top of one slice was a flawless poached egg, which oozed delicious golden yolk at the touch of a fork. Wonderful to eat and healthy, too.
Frontside Cafe isn’t a stuff-yourself-silly kind of place — although you certainly won’t go hungry. The portions are generous without being insane, hearty but not heavy, savory but not party-in-your-mouth zesty. Pastry temptations notwithstanding (and that bakery case does beckon!), the fare is light, fresh, healthy (mostly) and ideal for breaking your fast with nourishment and flavor. Paired with the mellow morning ambience, a meal here will set a positive tone for the hours ahead. The very definition of a great start.