Part of the joy derived from eating out are the conjured associations with comparable experiences indelibly cooked into one's memories. While sampling a bran muffin at Morning Call, a homey bakery/café in South Miami, I found myself drifting back to Odessa, a 24-hour Polish-American restaurant in New York's East Village. I can still taste that big, sweet Odessa bran muffin, usually consumed around three or four in the morning (when my critical faculties were admittedly not at their sharpest), cut in two vertically and toasted lightly, an overabundance of butter soaked into each half. Morning Call puts out a pretty good bran muffin too, though there's no toasting, soaking, or late night contemplations involved -- just a moist, flavorful muffin sweetened with plump raisins.
I could provide other anecdotal comparisons between Morning Call's baked goods and the finest products I've encountered elsewhere, and this humble little shop would probably pale every time. Morning Call's scones, for instance, are just as fresh and moist as their muffins -- and with raisins, cinnamon, and creamy taste, could almost be confused for bread pudding. A delicious scone, but Mangia in New York used to make a big, soft, buttermilk version without peer. Baguettes here are fresh and soft with golden brown crust, but those at Le Provence on South Beach are crunchier and more authentically European in style and flavor. Croissants? Thin, pale, and passable, better than the glossy, pumped-up sort one finds just about everywhere, but not darkly carmelized like those at Jean Claude's Patisserie back in Greenwich Village -- or even La Brioche on 41st Street.
The thing is, Morning Call is a cozy place to sit, sip good coffee, and enjoy freshly baked goods, savory sandwiches, and other gratifying breakfast and lunch treats. It is more rustically relaxing than any diner or coffee shop, boasts better pastries than Starbucks up the block, and provides an undeniably more satisfying venue for snacking than donuts at Dunkin's or bagels at Einstein's or a danish-to-go at Publix. And there are indeed items here that come close to measuring up to the best -- the luscious lemon meringue tart is splendid, as is a sticky bun sweet and nutty enough to earn a sticky bun fan's respect, but never lapsing into an oversized caricature of gooeyness.
Morning Call used to be Biga Bakery, but switched names two years ago when that popular chain folded. They've kept the same décor and, more importantly, same baker, which means they still produce excellent artisan breads, like the chewy raisin nut loaf and hearty multigrain flecked with sesame and flax seeds. There is also a display cooler filled with cheeses from Holland that are very gouda.
So are lunches, on one visit quiche of the day yielding a vegetable version with tomato, zucchini, and mushrooms suspended in a delicate custard delightfully spiked with fresh nutmeg. Sandwiches profit from an array of fresh breads, the short selection including fresh mozzarella with tomato and basil; turkey, which they get freshly roasted each day from Christy's restaurant (same landlord); and tuna or chicken salad, the latter of which, to put it kindly, was plumped with chicken in a most parsimonious manner.
An individual-size chocolate babka was a lesson in why you should always get to a bake shop early. We grabbed one as a late-afternoon munch, and the only positive thing to say about the nearly stale cake was to note its potential as a prototype for future experiments in sun-dried dessert snacks -- the babka did, after all, come back to life a bit when dunked into cappuccino. And speaking of cappuccino, there's a little trattoria on this cobblestoned street in Perugia ....
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