Breakfast at Dharma's

The Santa Cruz Sentinel,
Wednesday, January 12, 2000

You won't find fried eggs, but you'll find a tasty way to start your day.

Some people can't start the day without a big, hearty breakfast. Some of us are good-to-go with a breakfast bar and a commuter mug of coffee as we fly off into the face of morning traffic. If you're like me, the idea of a nice leisurely breakfast is tremendously appealing, but the heart sinks every time you open a breakfast menu to confront the same uninspired combination of eggs, pancakes, toast and potatoes - with bacon, ham or sausage. When a Denver Omelette seems like cutting-edge cuisine, you know you've hit breakfast blues bottom.

American's it seems cannot live without eggs for breakfast, which is why they will stand outside your average breakfast joint for hours, waiting to be seated. But for those who are seeking something more exciting than two eggs over easy, Dharma's in Capitola serves up an array of adventurous, completely vegetarian breakfasts and (as of this writing), there's no waiting at breakfast time.

The 20-year-old Dharma's is pretty much a fixture on the Santa Cruz restaurant scene with its share of local folklore (including being sued by McDonald's). Many vegetarians flock to Dharma's for their hearty vegetarian burgers, sandwiches, salads, burritos, pastas and international veggie /rice specialties. Portions are intentionally oversized and take-home containers readily available, "so you're getting your next meal from Dharma's too," explains owner Bernie Shapiro.

But their egg-free, completely vegetarian breakfast menu far exceeds this diner's standard expectation of "healthy" food: It's got to taste great, if it's good for you, then that's an added bonus. (Tasteless food in the name of health is no virtue.) Dharma's Tofu Scrambles come in a variety of styles. The basic scramble includes chopped green onions and chiles (tomatoes, mushrooms, salsa, olives, artichokes or soy strips can be added on request) and is served with home fries and toast.

The more adventurous breakfast buffs should put themselves in the hands of the chef to experience the international zest of the Thai Tofu Scramble or the Greek Tofu Scramble. The Thai Scramble, topped with fresh bean sprouts, ground peanuts and a lime wedge, is made bold and slightly spicy by the addition of Thai curry spice. The bright, spicy flavors are cooled by the crisp bean sprouts and chopped green onion.

To experience the Greek Tofu Scramble (recommended by owner Shapiro and loyal customers as well) is to plunge into the deep, rich, Mediterranean flavors of spicy calamata olives, spinach, feta cheese and sun-dried tomatoes. The deep green, brown and toasted auburn colors of this dish add tremendously to its appeal.

No less flavorful, but a bit less exotic, is the Breakfast Burrito: a whole wheat tortilla that's folded (not wrapped) around a hearty mound of home fries, scrambled tofu, black beans, green onions, cheese and sour cream. The brightly spicy home made salsa is served on the side, but is best slathered generously across the burrito. A crisp side of lettuce topped with house dressing makes this Breakfast Burrito a balanced meal in itself.

Dharma's pancakes (made of multi-grain or dairy-free corn meal) are healthy, hearty and served with real maple syrup. Don't expect the feather-weight flapjacks you'll find at IHOP or Denny's - these are much more flavorful and substantial. Breakfast beverages include a bold and spicy Bolo Chai, house blend or decaf organic coffee, many flavors of herb tea, organic apple and carrot juice and freshly squeezed organic orange juice.

Steve, a Dharma's regular who's lived in many countries including Asia and Germany, assured me that Dharma's is "the best vegetarian restaurant in the world." Although I don't have the personal scope of experience to confirm that statement, I can't remember the last time I had such a deliciously adventurous breakfast.