By Frank Sabatini Jr.
Count it among the few remaining holdouts in San Diego that doesn’t try wooing you with pretentious food and trendy design elements. Brother’s Family Restaurant, with its “Grandma Jennie” pancakes and unassuming atmosphere, is revered instead by many as a home away from home.
The restaurant, which serves breakfast and lunch from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily, was founded in 1989 by three brothers who ran it for several years. Its current owner, Kathy Coleman, says they sold it in 1994 to her late sister-in-law. Though after her passing some 13 years ago, Coleman took over and soon gave it a facelift while preserving the restaurant’s country-diner feel.
“I wanted to keep it in the family,” she said, noting that the core menu established by her sister-in-law was kept largely intact amid several items added later such as machaca and chorizo egg scrambles, various vegetarian options, daily specials, and the availability of gluten-free bread.
Coleman also introduced eggs Benedict in traditional and California styles. We opted for the latter and ended up with a picture-perfect construct of two delicately poached eggs set atop bacon, avocado, tomatoes and English muffins. The dish’s crowning element – Hollandaise sauce – was silkier than most, and draped judiciously over the eggs with just enough excess to drip down the sides, yet without engulfing the other ingredients.
My companion, a Midwestern transplant who gravitates to hearty breakfasts, gave rousing approval to the biscuits and gravy, which he ordered in combination with eggs, bacon, maple sausage and hash browns.
He was particularly wowed by the moistness of the biscuits and generous measure of black pepper in the sausage-based gravy, noting the only other place in San Diego that makes the dish to his liking is at Mystic Mocha in University Heights.
The recipe for Grandma Jennie’s buttermilk pancakes is top secret.
It hails from the grandmother of Coleman’s husband, Henry.
“She would make them for friends and family at her house every Saturday morning. People from all over the U.S. come here for them,” says Coleman, revealing only that “they’re made differently” compared to other standard recipes.
We ordered a short stack of two. I’d guess based on their light, springy texture that extra egg whites are folded into the batter. Whatever the grandmotherly technique, they disappeared from our plate in a jiff.
From the lunch menu (starting at 11 a.m.), an array of homey, American classics emerge: country fried steak, meatloaf with real mashed potatoes, triple-decker clubs, and charbroiled burgers.
Always on the lookout for a Reuben sandwich that meets my back-East standards, this one excelled with plenty of tender corned beef tucked into buttery grilled rye bread, and oozing with melty Swiss cheese, mild sauerkraut, and Thousand Island dressing.
Served with crispy, medium-cut french fries, we paired it also to a side of potato salad and navy bean soup, both of which offered fresh, clean flavors.
A dessert case stocked with pies and cakes made onsite daily winks devilishly from the front lunch counter of the spacious dining room.
I found it impossible to pass up the classic chocolate cake, which possessed the density and rich cocoa flavor I craved – a far cry from the extreme, sugary ilk sold at grocery store bakeries.
Brother’s is a hidden gem to those seeking the true definition of “comfort food” before other kitchens began resurrecting it as a faddish concept.
And in keeping with its reputation as a place where prime rib once ruled the dinner hour, prior to when Coleman began serving only breakfast and lunch, the beef is served from morning to afternoon on weekends.
—Frank Sabatini Jr. is the author of “Secret San Diego” (ECW Press), and began his local writing career more than two decades ago as a staffer for the former San Diego Tribune. Reach him at email@example.com.
Brother’s Family Restaurant
5150 Waring Road (Allied Gardens)
Prices: Egg dishes, pancakes and other breakfast fare, $5.99 to $13.99. Lunch: soups, salads, sandwiches, burgers and plates, $3.99 to $10.99