The family-friendly dining area at Mother’s Cafe is comfortable and has plenty of space between tables. Photos by Richard Foss

Mother’s Café offers wholesome versions of American favorites

Mother’s Market on Rosecrans is not the type of place my mother would have shopped. She was a dutiful cook who never went beyond the recipes she learned in the 1930s. Any vegetable more exotic than carrots, broccoli, potatoes, cabbage, or spinach was viewed with suspicion. Healthy eating meant two of those veggies on a plate with a large piece of meat, a roast if the budget was ample, hot dogs if times were lean.

The aforementioned market in East Manhattan Beach caters to those with more modern ideas about health, and if they work up an appetite while shopping, they don’t have to leave the store. Tucked into a corner is Mother’s Café, a counter-service style restaurant that serves breakfast and lunch. They have no exterior signage or even an arrow by the front door pointing the way. If you don’t notice the patio tables, you’d never suspect it exists. I stumbled on it while shopping.

The first experience was breakfast, which they serve daily. After ordering at the counter our trio dined indoors in the bright, open space with stylish furniture and plenty of room between tables. We decided on chilaquiles, an eggless “chickpea scramble,” and buttermilk pancakes. We paired these with coffee and juice blends called Cleansing Cocktail (carrot, apple, beet, and ginger) and Island Cooler (pineapple, cucumber, and apple). After a sip of the cleansing cocktail I needed a gulp of the cooler, because somebody at that juice bar really likes ginger. Once you get past that heat, other flavors emerge that balance it, but the first impression is quite a jolt.

Breakfast arrived after a short interval, and the portions were substantial. The chilaquiles were made with rough stoneground corn chips that retained texture even after being layered with green chile and tomatillo sauce and topped with an egg and feta cheese. I would have preferred cotija to feta, but otherwise everything was spot on. The sauce had a nice blend of citrus and tomatillo with a vegetarian stock, and a dash of cilantro added just the right touch of herbal sharpness.

The family-friendly dining area at Mother’s Cafe is comfortable and has plenty of space between tables.

The chickpea scramble fell short by comparison because it was under-seasoned. The mix of stir-fried garbanzos with roasted potatoes, bell peppers, tomato, onion, spinach, and mushrooms had an agreeable balance of flavors, but could have used some garlic and a dash of oregano and other herbs. It was improved by adding salt and pepper, and when I added a little of that tomatillo sauce from my dining companion’s bowl it was even better.

As for the pancakes, they were just as buttermilk pancakes are supposed to be, light and fluffy with just a little crispness. They arrived with berries and butter to complete the traditional American breakfast. I was a bit surprised that a café with a healthy theme doesn’t offer a whole grain option, though they do offer gluten-free and banana varieties.

We came back a few days later for lunch and dined on the patio with a view of the parking lot. I was amused that the dining area is next to the electric car chargers, so at least we wouldn’t have to smell exhaust along with our meals. We chose a tuna melt, a cup of green pozole soup, a wild salmon bowl, and something called an Inferno Wrap made with veggie cutlet, mixed greens, black beans, rice, and roasted peppers in a spinach tortilla. The latter item was misnamed, because despite the menu’s description of the sauce as a cilantro-jalapeno dressing, there was no heat to speak of. It was so mild I thought something had been left out, so I went to the counter to get some of the spicy dressing. They gave me more of the same rather bland sauce that was already there. The wrap wasn’t bad on its own merits, a nice mix of vegetables, but it didn’t live up to its name.

This was particularly odd because the pozole had a lively spiciness that made it something that any Mexican restaurant would be proud to serve. It was made with plant-based meat and a vegetable medley, with sunflower and pumpkin seeds, with just the right kiss of garlic. I’d order it again in a heartbeat, and typing this right now is making me want more.

Lunch on Mother’s Cafe’s patio, from top left: tuna melt with roasted sweet potatoes, Inferno wrap, pozole, and the wild and free salmon bowl.

The tuna melt was the American standard item very well made, though  once again I was surprised by the use of a white flour sourdough with no whole wheat option. We chose it with the roasted sweet potatoes on the side, and I’d recommend this option, because it’s a fine flavor combination.

The Wild & Free salmon bowl was not actually free – at 16 dollars, it’s the most expensive item on the menu, but worth it. A huge piece of roasted high quality fish was perched atop a mix of kale and miso rice with a dash of togarashi yoghurt, and topped with a modest portion of avocado. I’m going to have to remember how well togarashi and yoghurt complement fish, because the heat of the red pepper mix embedded with the cooling yoghurt is a winner. The portion was vast. We got two meals from it, and I highly recommend it.

For drinks we selected coffee, a “Brain Power” smoothie based on pomegranate and pineapple juice, and a “Liver Cleanse” juice mix with apple, beet, lemon, ginger, and parsley. The Brain Power was a hit, and the Liver Cleanse showed that the love of ginger that was displayed the previous visit was not a fluke. It was powerfully citrusy from the lemon and hot with the ginger. If you like a blast of flavor then you’ll love it. I don’t think I’d order it again because it was a bit overwhelming.

Health-conscious food is often more expensive because quality organic ingredients cost money, but a meal here doesn’t break the budget. That ample lunch with a cup of soup, three entrees, and drinks ran about $20 per person.. It’s mainly known to shoppers at the market now, but Mother’s Café serves better food than my mother cooked, and it’s a worthwhile destination.

Mother’s Café is located at 1700 Rosecrans Ave., Manhattan Beach. Open 8 a.m. – 3 p.m. daily. Parking lot, patio or indoor dining. No alcohol served, noise level low. (310) 844-6232. Mothersmarket.com. ER

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