You may have figured out by now that my favorite meals are breakfast and lunch, especially late lunch. Not that I don’t like dinner food, because I love it. But I would prefer it around 3:30 in the afternoon, and for two reasons: 1. that is when I get hungry; 2. there is still enough day light for me to take good photos without having to whip out my portable LED light.
I have used it, and will use it because it works beautifully, but… it attracts even more attention than a tripod. As it is, I already show up with my big baby (Nikon D2x), which busts my desire to be unobtrusive. Eventually, I will find just the right camera that is small enough for the job while providing image quality that satisfies my perfectionist bone.
In the meantime, let us enter and enjoy brunch at Woodlands Café in the little town of Kentfield, which is located in the middle of Marin County, right next to the College of Marin – California, of course. The café is part of the Woodlands Market complex, which also includes a grocery store and the lovely Woodlands Floral that you can glimpse in the image above.
This post is the result of two visits within this past week, both thoroughly enjoyed. I had high expectations of this place ever since I stopped by to take a peek about three years ago, and the expectations have been met so far.
Woodlands Café has a very neighborhood feel, with an industrial-chic ambiance that is very welcoming, both inside and out on the patio. A double-faced fireplace warms up an indoor lounge area by the main entrance, as well as another one on the patio.
I still have to stop and think before writing patio because my tendency is to call it lanai. It is so ingrained in me by now that I doubt it will ever change. I remember how, when I first moved to Hawai’i, I was learning all the new Hawaiian words and sounds. Now I find myself brushing up my Spanish wherever I go, including this morning, when I happened to cross the street with a friendly señorita who, after I responded in kind to her lively “Buenos Dias!”, launched herself into a flurry of Español, which is where she lost me. My Spanish pronunciation is obviously good, but the rest of it may need more work than just reading street names.
The images of the ambiance were taken on a weekday around 10:30 am. That was our second visit. Our first one was on a Sunday around 11:30 am, so full on lunch hour, and we sat out on the covered patio where, by the way, dogs are welcome. The café then was seriously busy, with a line of people waiting outside. Which is what the pretty benches by the main door are for.
Despite the busyness, service was attentive, gracious and svelte, and we only had to wait a little longer for the food on Sunday, but it came within a totally acceptable time frame. Most of all, it was fresh, hot and delicious.
The menu features breakfast and lunch dishes in contemporary American style with specific California flair. Both breakfast and lunch are served all day – or at least all the time the café is open, which is from 8:00 am to 3:00 pm every day.
Valerie’s husband Jack is partial to rich flavors, so Huevos Rancheros ($12.50) was his selection here as well, with a side of bacon ($3.50). More pleased sounds along the lines of ‘mmmm, this is good’ came from him at regular intervals, which means he was loving his food.
Since you will be meeting them often, you might as well know that my dear friends Valerie and Jack have been married forever. Forever means that they celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary last August (2014), with a big party – several, in fact. That clarified, Valerie opted for her favorite, Eggs Benedict, of which there were three options: Cumberland Benedict ($11.75), with sausage patties; Florentine Benedict ($10.75), with organic baby spinach and seasonal tomato; and Classic Benedict ($11.95), with Niman Ranch Ham. She opted for the Florentine Benedict, with a side of fruit instead of potatoes, and declared it delicious.
It looks good, doesn’t it?
The choices of sides are: country potatoes, french fries, seasonal fruit, or organic greens. You can also substitute with Yukon Gold Baked Hash Browns for $3. Gluten free options are also available for toast and French Toast.
Strangely enough, I was not in the mood for breakfast food and headed straight to the lunch area of the menu. I almost went for the BLTA (bacon, lettuce, tomato and avocado sandwich, for those unfamiliar with the term), but since I had been looking for a really good Reuben, I decided to try their Snake River Farm Reuben ($14), and I asked the server if I could have half fries and half greens as sides, instead of just one or the other. Realizing how busy they were, I added that, if the kitchen screamed, he could just ditch the fries and stick to the greens. He laughed. I got both.
The Reuben was excellent! Actually, it was one of the best I have ever had, with just the right flavors, and each ingredient in just the right amount. It was also the perfect size, and not huge as it is often the case. Besides, I love rye bread. All the same, I took half of it home for later because my vanilla latte – which was also one of the best I have ever had – was abundant, and I scarfed up both fries and salad, so at one point my stomach said: enough!
Little sidebar on the latte: Woodlands Cafe currently (May 2015) features an iced lavender-vanilla latte. I asked for it hot and it was divine. The lavender was just a delicate hint in the back of the mouth, and it became more evident as the latte cooled.
Most of the food above was on Sunday. On Thursday it was just Valerie and I and we ordered the Buttermilk Pancakes ($9) with added Raspberries ($2.75) pictured further up, and the Woodlands Breakfast ($11.75) which was Petaluma Farm cage-free eggs, rustic Acme bread, and a choice of Applewood smoked Bacon, house-made Chicken Apple Sausage, or Cumberland Pork Sausage patties.
Both options were fresh, hot and excellent. I just could have used a few more raspberries with the pancakes, which were my selection. Of course, now we will have to go back again and try more options, including one of their pizzas because the ones I saw coming out of the oven looked really good.
There were no desserts listed anywhere and we were not offered any. Since then, I have seen changes in the dessert sphere, but nothing that is clearly established at this time. Their in-house baked goods are currently down to just two: butter croissants and almond croissants. I remember seeing a wider selection of baked goods during my let-me-take-a-peek visit in 2012, and when I saw only these two types last Sunday, I assumed everything had been sold out. I then found out that the two croissants mentioned are all they are baking now. I did not ask why, but I am assuming that it is because of the grocery store next door which offers a wider selection of breakfast pastries, cookies et such.
Woodlands Café gets extra kudos for featuring seasonal menus, using organic produce grown in California, local dairy products, as well as meats and seafood that is sustainably raised and caught. The other thing I like is that nothing is processed, precooked or frozen at the café. I know this is the case in all the good restaurants and bakeries I have been, and I am happy this is one of them.
You might have noticed that 99% of my reviews are positive ones. That is because I research my places well, and only go to those that either come highly recommended by someone whose food-quality bar is similar to mine, or those that really appeal to me and that, upon said research, sound really good.
I know that, technically, I should be reviewing the good and the bad, but I have a resistance to wasting time and money on places that do not inspire me, and life is too short to eat bad food, hence the research. Occasionally I am disappointed by a place for which I had high hopes. In that case, if I did not have my camera with me – which still happens on occasion – I do not even bother going back for pics. If I did have my camera… well… I confess, it has happened only once so far, when I went to a bakery here in Marin with high expectations (and camera) just to have them completely dashed. I have the pics, but I am not even editing them. So no post about it will be forthcoming. I am realizing as I type that you will only find reviews of places I enjoy and recommend in my blog. So, there you have it.
Anyway, back to where the attention should be: the awesome Woodlands Café, where I know I will be going regularly and so should you, if you are in the neighborhood. I am actually thinking of driving over to grab that BLTA to go. Hey pups! Want to go for a ride?
If you have enjoyed this post, you might also like these other good bakeries, cafes and restaurants in Marin: