I would argue that it is not the hamburger that most perfectly embodies all-American comfort food. It is the breakfast sandwich.
For pure protein-between-bread satisfaction, few portable meals are more pleasurable than handmade sausage, fluffy eggs and gooey American cheese inside a house-baked English muffin.
I'm talking specifically about The OG ($7), a.k.a. "the Original Gangsta," one of five breakfast sandwiches available at Kristi Marie's, a tiny cafe in downtown Redwood City. It is an easy place to overlook at the corner of Arguello and Broadway streets, especially given that the 3-year-old establishment does business beneath the vestiges of the sign for the space's former tenant, a hair salon.
With its well-curated menu of sandwiches, scrambles, smoothies, pastries and salads, the 750-square-foot cafe feels a little like a hipster food truck that set off from Berkeley or the Mission and ended up in Redwood City. Even if you decide to linger at one of Kristi Marie's three tiny tables, your meal will arrive in a to-go box. But the prevalence of packaging belies the high quality of the offerings here (notwithstanding the use of American cheese in the breakfast sandwiches – hipster irony or nod to nostalgia, you decide).
Kristi Borrone runs the place with her husband, Zu Tarazi. The former owners of Woodside's Station 1 focus on organic, homemade breakfast and lunch, serving mostly Caltrain-bound commuters and downtown regulars who pop in for a quick lunch or a cup of Equator Coffee (a Marin-based, woman-run, fair trade company). The focus on good quality, order-at-the-counter fare is not surprising, given that Borrone has a family name to live up to. She learned the business from her parents Roy and Rose Borrone of Cafe Borrone fame, where she started working at age 14. Tarazi also earned his restaurant bona fides -- and met his future wife -- while working at the iconic Menlo Park cafe.
Where Cafe Borrone evokes European cafe culture, Kristi Marie's moves to a funkier, but very friendly, beat.
"Our goal is to have people walk through the doors, hear and feel the music, be greeted with warmth and walk away with something carefully prepared with love," Borrone said.
I did indeed feel some love on my first visit. Arriving near closing time, I noticed one forlorn, partially-uncurled cinnamon roll in the pastry case. Figuring it was the lone survivor of the breakfast rush and that it might meet an unfortunate end in the compost bin, I asked if they might want to offload it for half price. The woman behind the counter -- the restaurant's namesake, it turned out -- smiled and said, "Oh, you can just have it." (Note: All reviews are conducted anonymously). The yeasty homemade roll ($4) was not overly sweet and drizzled with a zingy frosting.
A kale, avocado and almond milk smoothie ($7) was pre-made and sitting on ice in a plastic cup atop the counter, but the lack of presentation didn't impact my enjoyment of the frothy drink too much. It was a cleansing counterpoint to the fantastic breakfast torta ($7.50), stacked high with chorizo, spicy pasilla peppers, scrambled eggs, queso fresco, sour cream, cilantro and avocado.
The autumn salad ($8) was a large box of fresh, crunchy greens, tossed with a nice balsamic vinaigrette and studded with almonds, olives, feta and roasted red peppers. Halfway through, however, I realized the salad did not contain any seasonal fruit, as had been promised on the chalkboard menu. The subsequent explanation -- "we were out of berries" -- was off-putting, but the offer to belatedly add some avocado helped remedy the situation.
An egg salad sandwich ($7.25) came on house-baked whole wheat bread and frankly looked a little pedestrian, packaged in plastic in the display case. It turned out to be egg-salad perfection. The grainy bread was a toothsome counterpoint to the airy, unadulterated egg salad. A thin layer of avocado added to the experience. This was egg salad as God intended.
The hamburger ($8.50) is one of Kristi Marie's most popular menu items, for good reason. A hefty, grass-fed beef patty is slathered with a salty-sweet bacon marmalade and topped with an heirloom tomato, arugula, provolone cheese and a smear of mayo. Some crunchy dill pickles would be the only ingredient I would implore Borrone to consider adding.
While Borrone continues to serve her beloved "cast of characters" at the cafe, Tarazi will soon be embarking on another downtown Redwood City concept: a wine bar called Bottleshop. They expect their new venture to be open by July.
318 Arguello St., Redwood City
Hours: Tuesday-Friday, 7 a.m. to 2 p.m.; Saturday 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Closed Sunday and Monday.
Credit cards: Yes
Outdoor seating: Yes, limited