Sidewalk on the Boulevard
Fremont Avenue Café offers good American food.
Thursday, September 2, 2004
A sign reading “Peace, love, and joy to all who enter here” at the front door of Sidewalk Café sets the stage for the warm welcome inside. During my first visit, the regulars kept walking by the kitchen and waving “hello” to chef and owner Brian Crnkovic.
Crnkovic, who hails from Pennsylvania, grew up in a steeltown working family. “My culinary heritage is meat and potatoes,” he said when I spoke with him after our meal. Classics like Philly Cheese Steak Sandwiches ($7.95) and pan-roasted chicken ($9.95) served with Yukon potatoes and sherry-scented vegetables hold their place on the menu along with lighter items like Spinach Salad ($7.50) with walnut vinaigrette. Standard breakfast fare, including frittatas and eggs benedict combos, round out the menu.
Laurent and I were finally happy to try this restaurant, whose umbrella-covered tables on the terrace had always seemed inviting. We ate inside on our first visit due to the overcast sky.
The yellow paint on the walls and the blue cushions on the light wood chairs reminded me of France, along with a yellow ceramic dish inscribed in French that Crnkovic received for a benefit meal he prepared for Meals on Wheels. Green ivy cascades down the wall from a shelf that is decorated with bottles of preserved peppers.
We shared an order of Buffalo Wings ($6.95 for ten) as our starter. (Four stories circulate about the origins of Buffalo wings, with three of them agreeing that Theresa Bellissimo of the Anchor Bar in Buffalo, New York, thriftily fried chicken wings and covered them in hot sauce as a late night snack in 1964.) Sidewalk Café’s wings tingled as we ate them with our hands. The blue cheese served as a great dunking sauce for the wings as well as the broccoli that came with the dish.
After wiping our hands, we started in on our main dishes: a grilled eggplant sandwich with homemade potato chips for me ($7.95) and a grilled chicken Caesar Salad ($8.50) for Laurent.
(Don’t be fooled by the Caesar Salad’s name—it is not a Roman invention. Dale Brown in Foods of the World: American Cooking writes that “no one really knows how Caesar Salad got its name, but it is believed to have origins in Southern California in the 1920s.” I have also read that Tijuana boasts authorship of this dish.)
Sidewalk Café uses freshly grated Parmesan on its salad. Char lines on the meat confirmed that Crnkovic uses a real grill for his dishes advertised as grilled. Laurent said that the chicken was moist, the romaine crisp, the croutons crunchy not soggy, and the cherry tomatoes sweet. Everything added up to one tasty salad.
The eggplant slice in my sandwich had char lines on it as well. The melted Monterey Jack was nice and gooey. The taste was so savory that I felt like I was eating some kind of light meat.
My side dish of homemade potato chips was good, too. They arrived warm. I ate most of them before I started on my sandwich. A banner outside on the terrace proclaims that the Sidewalk Café has the best homemade chips in town. I have not eaten them anywhere else, so Sidewalk wins hands-down.
The next day for brunch I was really tempted to try the chips and salsa ($5.95), but chose to try a breakfast item—a Fisherman Frittata ($8.25). This baked egg casserole came with shrimp, ripe but not squishy avocado, onions, tomato, and peppery cilantro. The shrimp retained their briny flavor and gave the avocado a shrimp taste as well. This dish was yummy and fancy.
Crnkovic no doubt learned to make elegant fare like this when he worked at Ventana, the Sardine Factory, and the Highlands Inn during his eighteen years on the Peninsula prior to opening his own restaurant.
The organic coffee ($1.75) that Sidewalk Café serves tasted just fine with my meal.
Laurent ordered French toast ($5.75). The squishy bread did not have too much cinnamon in the batter, letting the flavor of egg and sugar come through.
Jade plants decorate the terrace while cars on Fremont whiz
by. Some old, tattered Corona flags on the terrace could be
replaced, but other than that the Sidewalk Café offers diners
good food, friendly service, and lots of elbow room between
the tables inside and out.
2240 N. Fremont Blvd, Monterey
6:30am-4pm, 7 days a week.