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Jun 5, 2006 12:17 AM

Berkeley - Tomate Café – The secret garden (very vegan and dog-friendly)

  • r

Located on 5th street, Tomate Café is a casual breakfast/lunch spot by the owners of Venus.

I’ve never been to Venus, but after checking the Venus website, the menu is different, more basic and less expensive. There is the same emphasis on using fresh and organic ingredients. Happy Belly Deli begat Venus and I’ve read that this has more of the feel of the deli. In fact there is a sign from Happy Belly Deli on one wall.

They have a great morning glory muffin – carrot, coconut, nuts and raisins with a touch of brown sugar … ok, that is on the Venus brunch menu, so there are a few items from the mother restaurant. I’m guessing the house-made jam is the same as at Venus.

The nice thing about Tomate is there is the option of half orders for many items. From what I read on the web, their smoked salmon scramble was mentioned often, so I had a half order ($4.50 ... although a full order isn't double the price, only a few bucks more).

It was a very nice and generous serving of tasty hot smoked salmon scrambled with green onions and mushrooms. The home fries are small cubes of skin-on potatoes with a touch of onion and bell pepper. Toast is by Semifreddi and the choice is whole wheat, sourdough levain, N.Y. Rye or challah. The toasted, buttered challah was very good especially with that home-made jam. I read the French toast is made with the challah.

I also had a half order of blueberry pancakes. These were whole grain pancakes with a generous amount of small tasty blueberries in the batter. I think the syrup was real maple syrup.

The restaurant doesn’t shout vegan or organic at you. However, under the counter were cans of Muir Glen organic tomatoes. They use good, healthy ingredients but don’t make an issue out of it.

The house made chai sweetened with honey and the tangy fresh lemonade are very good.

In addition to the breakfast regulars of eggs, omelets, and scrambles, some of the unusual items were

- Harvest breakfast – with “meat”, zucchini cheesecakes, fried apples, spinach & toast. Meat can be vegan or not. The meat and non-meats are: bacon, ham, veggie bacon, chicken sausages, & tofu steak. The zucchini cheesecakes can be ordered for lunch with a salad.

- Eggs Beatrice – tomato on toasted levain with zesty herb butter, greens, goat cheese

- Cuban breakfast – eggs, saffron-shrimp rice, fried plantains, spinach and toast

- House Huevos Rancheros

Other scrambles include tofu and a lox with onion.

The omelets are pesto, savory herb, ham, cheese & bell pepper

Lunch includes salads, house-made vegan soup, sandwiches and hot plates.

They have basic sandwiches (ham, turkey, and roast beef). The ‘basic grilled cheese sandwich is $3.50. All sandwiches and salads can be ordered as half portions.

There are a few vegetarian sandwiches. While they don’t get clever with the names for the sandwiches, they made one exception for a veggie sandwich … the Capricorn – goat cheese, portabella mushroom and arugula.

They have a hot chicken sandwich with cheese and garlic as well as a tuna melt. Hot plates include roasted chicken, fish of the day, steak, pork chops and smoked sausage plate.

There are burritos, tacos and quesadillas also. One review on the web said the tacos were good but the burritos were uninspiring.

There was an application for a liquor license in the window, but for now it is hand-squeezed juice, coffee drinks, tea and non-alcoholic beverages.

There is a pretty outdoor tree-shaded patio where people can eat with their puppies. The large restaurant is urban warehouse with exposed ceilings. Place your order at the counter and the food is brought to your table. I think on weekends they also take your order at the table.

Prices are reasonable (especially with that 1/2 order option) and it is a very relaxed and pretty place. Good classical music plays in the background. There are plenty of newspapers and magazines to read.

The ladies taking the orders are wonderful. I read a complaint about the manager, but, assuming it is the same person, he was very nice to me. He seems to have hippy sensibilities with a type A personality. I could see how some people could have a personality clash.

The comment about Tomate Café is that it is never very full while other week-end brunch spots have lines out the door. I think it has everything to do with the out of the way location. By noon on Sunday, all the tables outdoor were taken and about ¼ in the large restaurant were filled. Enough people know about it to keep it in business for a few years.

It is a wonderful, relaxing place to spread out the Sunday paper and leisurely read through it. As I drove home past the lines outside Betty’s and Sam’s Cabin and Sunnyside Café … well, all I can say … I pity the fools wasting their time standing in line when there is a lovely, leisurely breakfast hide-a-way just a little bit away … with tons of easy parking on a tree-lined street.

Tomate Cafe
2265 5th St (near Bancroft ... sort of mid-way between Shattuck & University)
Open seven days: 8:00 am- 3:00 pm

Here’s a web photo of the counter where the orders are placed.


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  1. thanks for the report! but i think you probably mean "sort of mid-way between Ashby and University"... right?

    i used to live in the area, and went here once or twice a while ago, but just for chai ... and i dimly remember a breakfast sandwich of some sort ... maybe i will give it another try if i'm in the area. the menu seems to have gotten more exciting.

    4 Replies
    1. re: varmicon

      I used to go there 15 years ago. They had a cool machine for impaling a roll so you could stuff a sausage inside. I wonder if it's still the same owners.

      1. re: Windy

        Thanks varmicon, I did mean "sort of mid-way between Ashby and University"

        I am guessing that it did change owners because I keep seeing references to it being open over ten years.

        Yet when I asked at the restaurant, I was told they were open four years. Also, it seems the history was the Full Belly Deli was the first restaurant. When that closed Venus opened around 2000. So it would seem that Tomate Cafe came after Venus.

        Does anyone know? Didn't see any sausage stuffing machines. Here's an easier way to look at that picture of Tomate's counter/kitchen.


        1. re: rworange

          It's the same name and location. Pre-vegan.

          1. re: Windy

            Interesting, because I have lived two blocks away for eight years, and I remember when Tomate opened. Maybe there was another cafe there before, but I don't recall it at all. One of the things I love about Tomate are the low low prices and basic fare--I used to get what I think is called the light-eater's plate, which was one egg (cooked how you like), one piece of toast, and a half order of hash browns.

            And FYI, it is on 5th, between Allston and Bancroft (closer to the Bancroft side).

    2. a

      Interesting. I've gone a handful of times, always anticipating a fresh and tasty meal. It's pleasant to sit on the patio. But I've always been disappointed in the service and the food. Service haphazard, sometimes good, sometimes spacy. And an overall blandness--a lack of punch--re flavor. Soups water-y and under-seasoned. Sandwiches and salads leave me unsatisfied. Maybe I just like my food less healthy.

      2 Replies
      1. re: anniebananie

        This place is great if you want to wait 30 minutes for a mediocre sandwich. Overpriced, bland, but I work nearby so I am forced to eat here. There are hundreds of coffee/sandwich places around Berkeley. I would try every single one of those before I try this one if I had the choice.

        1. re: SoylentG

          IIRC, there are a few other nearby places. Did you ever try the hot dog cart up the street.

          It seems like the beer and wine license went through since the original post.

          Tomate Cafe
          2265 5th St, Berkeley, CA 94710