Biting into OC Brunch - Old Vine Cafe

"You can never stop growing; it’s an ever-evolving industry with wine and food. I don’t think there’s a lifetime long enough to learn it all. So, I continue to learn as I go and broaden my horizon when it comes to wine and food and the restaurant business and the culinary arts. I like to travel because I learn something new. I try to bring that back and put my take on it."

If you can manage your temper long enough to find parking at The Camp in Costa Mesa, you can make the whole ordeal worth it with a meal at Old Vine Cafe. Our first exposure there was for dinner but the most hype that this restaurant gets is for their breakfast/brunch. Understandably so! Though they do not take reservations and getting a seat on a weekend morning is on a first-come, first-serve situation, Old Vine Cafe's outdoor environment makes for a comfortable waiting space with a woodsy feel, backyard-like seating, and chatter abound. We stopped in for a weekend breakfast on assignment for our piece in LOCALE and found ourselves learning quite a bit about everything.

Founded in 2007, the restaurant is helmed by Executive Chef Mark McDonald; he has been working in the restaurant industry since he was 14 (with the end goal of opening a restaurant) in positions ranging from busboy to waiter to host to bartender to manager and so on. This has given him the experience to know what it takes to run a smooth business, and when the time came to finally open his own place, he knew it had to provide good breakfast, a culinary area he felt was lacking in Costa Mesa. Trained at the Italian Culinary Institute under Chef John Nocita, in a culinary arts program in Laguna Beach, and through a combination of various other programs and in-house experience, McDonald is serious about his food. He's also serious about his wine, having learned under Master Sommelier Peter Neptune himself and only hiring front of house staff that is a level something sommelier ("I have two level 2s and a level 1 at least"). Duc has mentioned to me before how impressively curated the wine list is at Old Vine Cafe, and it all made more sense once McDonald shared those facts with us.

"There’s a lot of misconceptions on what brunch is. I assume a lot of people think brunch is a buffet with bottomless sparkling wine. The true definition of what we do here in the day is brunch. We do it 7 days a week for 6 hours a day. We offer breakfast and lunch at the same time; that’s technically defined as brunch."

Though the restaurant does not serve the typical brunch buffet that some may expect on the weekends, it does grant access to some more traditional brunch cocktails. We saw a Bloody Mary as well as a Mimosa (with a lovely sparkling wine we didn't want to taint with juice) but they also have other libation options that are sure to whet your whistle. In regards to popular menu items, McDonald noted for us that omelets are just about their most popular sell and that he loved them so much himself. Spawned from the nostalgia of Saturday morning breakfasts with his dad who always made omelets, the omelet menu reads like an upper-class approach to every type of flavor profile desired. If you're looking for one that is a tribute to one of his dad's repeated recipes, order the Pizza Omelet which comes with melted Mozzarella, housemade meatballs, and pomodoro sauce which surely creates a fancier version than his other father's packaged salami with canned tomato sauce but evokes the same warming emotions. We shot a picture of his Smoked Salmon Omelet ($14.50 - smoked salmon, dill havarti cheese, baby arugula, and pickled red onions), a colorful plate with tender smoked salmon cured with just the right amount of saltiness to pair well with the havarti. The dill helped the fish shine through along with the baby arugula, sharp and bitter but complementing. Chef's own approach to omelets is to let the ingredients speak for themselves and therefore be abundant but still, there are 2-3 eggs per dish used which leads to more than 1,000 eggs cracked per day. They must know their eggs!

"Just use quality ingredients and keep it consistent."

Though the omelets are popular, Old Vine Cafe's most popular section would have to be the comfort food area. He seemed quite proud to tell us about his biscuits and gravy which come with freshly baked housemade biscuits and a gravy not from breakfast sausage but from Italian sausage, pancetta, and heavy cream. The absolute bestseller on the menu is their Open Faced, a plate featuring sausage, eggs, biscuits, and chipotle gravy. We didn't try either of those though but were a little more adventurous, scoping out the Cheese Mouse Crepe ($10 - stuffed with sweet artisan ricotta cheese mousse and garnished with Mandarin orange coulis) and Rabbit Mole ($16.50 - braised rabbits, two eggs, pasilla and cashew mole, and fresh baked cornbread). The crepe was absolutely perfect and easily a sweet breakfast or dessert plate. Soft and supple, these halved crepe pieces melted in our mouths giving way from the delicate crepe shell to a smooth and light ricotta happily matched with the awakening citrus of the coulis. I needed nothing else after these bites but the mole called out as well. Reflective of McDonald's own penchant for the Mexican cuisine (one of his top five favorites in the world), this mole was rich in flavors and tenderly tore away under our fork's pressure. Though it is a game meat, Old Vine Cafe's customers don't seem to mind or shy away from what others may deem exotic. That's a good thing - it's worth having.

"I honestly did what I thought the area needed. I thought they needed creative breakfast and good breakfast."

It was obvious from our conversation with Chef Mark McDonald just how passionate and careful he is with his food. It is also no wonder why there are plenty of regulars and a long waiting list every weekend at Old Vine Cafe (2937 Bristol St, Ste A102, Costa Mesa, CA 92626); the food speaks for itself. We recommend getting there early to not only find yourself parking at The Camp but to get a table in before the mad rush of people. You should also pay attention to just how many worlds the menu gives insight into because McDonald really does showcase the loves he's found on his travels. Heck, there's even scrapple on the list (don't know what it is? look it up, hah)!

Photography by Duc Duong. More photos available on Facebook here.

NOTE: This brunch article is a part of a series that we will be running through to April, the month when the full editorial will appear with a multitude of more articles and informational pieces in the Orange County edition of LOCALE Magazine. Make sure to check stands when the issue drops so you can get the full scoop on brunch in OC!