Let me make it clear to start. I generally don’t pay much attention to breakfasts; in fact, I rarely eat them. Healthy breakfasts are borrrring. Even good jook or steel cut oats are just porridges, for heavinsake. Unhealthy breakfasts may taste good (umm bacon), but I can scramble eggs, and I have made Nueske’s bacon. Why pay good money for mediocre at a restaurant. So why did I insist that Steve and I grab a Sunday breakfast at Tico’s, a tiny place with 8 inside tables in a strip mall at 330 Reservation road?
The answer is the grilled chicken breast sandwich I’d had there earlier in the week. Steve had mentioned this good lunch place close to where he worked called Tico’s, and said the cook was Latin American. Picturing maybe Peruvian food or something, I instead found myself looking at a basic American lunch menu. While Steve ordered a wonderful salad with perfectly cooked spicy shrimp (an item he had previously enjoyed), I opted for the chicken breast sandwich. That seemed safe. When the plate showed up, I started with the salad I’d selected as a side. Perfectly dressed, incredibly fresh mesclun greens with sliced tomato. OK, good, but this is just a few miles from Salinas, so no big deal. Then I looked at the sandwich, presented open faced for my viewing. The bread consisted of two slices of real crusty sourdough sliced exactly right. Much thicker and the bread would have dominated. Thinner, the sandwich would have fallen apart. Half of the sandwich displayed two crispy bacon strips in addition to tomato slices & lettuce; on the other half, the chicken breast was dotted with fresh rosemary, smeared with ancho chile aioli, and covered with thinly sliced grilled onions. The complex play of flavor elements – sour dough tang, ancho & garlic, rosemary spice, chicken, and bacon added up to the best chicken breast sandwich I can recall eating. EVER.
As we sat down just after 10 on Sunday, the wait person brought over the menus, and much to our surprise and pleasure, tucked inside was a list of 11 special breakfasts – just for the weekend. Normally, I peruse a breakfast menu in a few seconds and opt for something I have eaten dozens, maybe hundreds, of times. This menu was different. I wanted everything. I cannot recall all the dishes – memory is one of the first things to go – but there were peach pancakes, pecan pancakes, smoked turkey hash and poached eggs etc. Steve went for a fresh salmon and egg scramble; I ordered eggs benedict with crab cakes and home fries, having no clear idea what I was going to get. When the food showed up, both Steve and I began by tasting the potatoes. Unlike so many mediocre home fries, we both agreed that these were as good as it gets. The potatoes were dusted with a complex spice blend and were cooked perfectly. The balance of crunchy exterior and moist soft interior was unbeatable. Tico should give lessons on how to cook potatoes.
My eggs benedict were a wonderful variation on the old standard. The Hollandaise was perfect, creamy and mildly flavored. The poached eggs’ yolks flowed down the sides as they were cut into. The thin and crispy crab cakes, with a nice sweet fresh crab flavor, replaced the standard Canadian bacon, and provided a tasty textural counterpoint to the eggs and Hollandaise. All through breakfast, I kept moaning in pleasure, closing my eyes to focus on the flavors, and muttering “Oh wow! Oh wow!” I was so loud that the nice lady at the next table chimed in about how she and her family ate here every week because the food was so good.
My two meals at Tico’s were nothing like I expected from a little hole in the wall called “Tico’s Breakfast & Lunch.” Nothing about the name or location of the place prepared me for the meals I was served. The food was resort quality at diner prices. As it turns out, Tico (Alberto Vasquez) has cooked at Bernardus Lodge in Carmel Valley, home to some of the finest restaurants in the area, but true to the American dream, he wanted his own restaurant. Based on the culinary skills he showed off on my two visits to his place, he will achieve his dreams. Folks, this place is a little treasure. Go there now and enjoy!
I should add that it is open 6:30 AM to 3 PM. Closed Mondays. Breakfast served all day, but the special breakfast menu is weekends only.