Nona's Kitchen: How About Some Biscuits With Those Biscuits?

Fold equal parts unpretentious, affordable and fresh into a humble farmhouse-style setting. The result: Pacifica's go-to diner for weekend brunch.

The meal:

  • Smoked Salmon Eggs Benedict
  • German Pancakes
  • Reuben
  • Butternut Squash Soup
  • Fresh Squeezed Orange Juice

The tab:

  • $32.78 (plus gratuity)
  • Very inexpensive for the quality of ingredients

The verdict:

  • A place to revisit for brunch or a quick lunch stop for the soup of the day.

has been serving brunch classics, alongside playful originals like green eggs and ham, for 10 years at Cabrillo Highway in Pacifica.

This diner doesn't try to sell would-be patrons on the promise of hyper-locally sourced foods. Yet, that is exactly what it delivers on its seasonally changing lunch, brunch and dinner menus.  

Nona's, as locals call it for short, is the brainchild of Joreth Toropov, who still greets patrons at the door, buses tables and works in the kitchen.  

Chef-owner Toropov worked in a number of well-known kitchens before opening this unassuming diner. His culinary pursuits include having worked at One Market, The Lark Creek Inn (now, the Tavern at Lark Creek) and the now closed Palo Alto-based Spago, owned by celebrity chef turned restaurateur Wolfgang Puck. 

On my visit to Nona's, Toropov said despite his culinary background and friendships with professionally trained chefs he wanted to open a "comfortable, not so high-end" restaurant.

Growing up in Marin County, Bubba's Diner was the budding chef's favorite place to eat. Toropov wanted his own version of Bubbas, a word he connects to the Yiddish word for grandmother (bubka), hence Nona's, Italian for grandmother and his mother-in-law's namesake. 

The name is fitting too, since the food at Nona's is just good enough to compete with your nona's. 

The dining space at Nona's is small with only about a dozen tables. There's seating at the bar which will give you a view into the open kitchen (and of the beers on tap, including a California-local brew Lagunitas IPA). Seating in the green and white checkered-tile dining area is provided by mixed-and-matched sets of wooden tables and Windsor-like chairs, as well as one bench of diner-style booth seating. Stainless steel lighting fixtures, reminiscent of a 1950s era meat market, are suspended from the high ceiling over each table. 

A chalkboard lists the day's brunch menu. Otherwise, servers recite the menu to your table, in its entirety, then describe any item at-length so long as you ask. If you have a question they can't answer (like, is your smoked salmon wild caught?) and Toropov will make a visit your table (answer: yes, it is sourced from Alaska). 

Not too long after you are seated, a plate of warm house-made biscuits are brought to the table--something to nosh on while you deliberate over your order. A curbside chalkboard sign just in front of the restaurant entrance alerted me to a smoked salmon eggs benedict special of the day. So, on this occasion my order did not require much deliberating, but don't think that stopped me from noshing.

These house biscuits were fluffy, flaky and no larger in width than a saltine cracker. Eaten alone, they are buttery and almost croissant-like. So, you can imagine that when I finished the half-dozen plated in front of me with the accompanying jam, marmalade and butter left to spare, I just had to order more. (Foodie 'fession: I even ordered a box to go. My server boxed a batch of biscuits that had already cooled out of the oven so "they don't get soggy to reheat," she said.) 

As if I had not eaten enough, the smoked salmon eggs benedict arrived at my table not on an english muffin but on, you guessed it, a bed of biscuits. The smoked salmon was cooked, not like a lox variety, but it still kept its smoky flavor. Being cooked, the salmon was tender and broke apart easily with a fork. According to Toropov, Nona's sources its smoked salmon from Alaska this time of year because the California salmon fishing season is closed.

Now, something must be said about the hollandaise sauce covering the perfectly poached eggs (and I say perfectly because I generally like my eggs overeasy - just enough yolk to dip into, but not a soupy mess). This hollandaise had a lemon-butter taste to it, and this was perfect to contrast the saltiness of the salmon which might have otherwise overpowered the dish.

The house potatoes served with this dish were perfectly crisped on the outside while soft and moist inside, like a french fry. Believe me, I was tempted to pick them up like fries too. (foodie 'fession: I did!)

I washed this dish down with a fresh squeezed orange juice which was surprisingly thick and sweet. Most fresh squeezed juices have a watery consistency, but not here. I knew I could not have been fooled into sipping a boxed variety because the notes of bitter tartness, as if bits of orange zest found their way into the concoction, were just enough to prove this juice was the real deal. 

Next up, German pancakes, a brunch menu regular. I was a bit reluctant to dig into the large plate of crepe-like German pancakes because of what looked like a thick layer of oil sitting on top of them. With one bite I realized what I thought was oil was actually lemon juice. The confectioners sugar sifted onto the plate, coupled with the sweet lemon juice (probably cooked down with more sugar) gave these pancakes the taste of Pates de Fruit, or candied fruits.

If you like sugary sweets, this is a dish for you--just be sure to have a tall glass of water with it. If you do not like mouth puckering sweetness, however, I suggest you pass.

The full lunch menu is also available during brunch. I went ahead and ordered a reuben because, according to my server, this is one of the most ordered items on the menu. Nona's reuben is not served on rye, but well-buttered (read: very generous amount of oil) slices of sourdough. The pastrami within is not peppered, like most, but the it's very savory and the sandwich is packed with about a quarter pound. The sauerkraut is a translucent white, which leads me to believe carrots are absent, and has a vinegary punch to it. Pickles add a mouth-puckering crunch to this sandwich.

The reuben is also served with a side of coleslaw which is crunchy, not soggy, and tossed in mayonnaise, not drenched. 

If you are a light eater, this serving is generous enough to be shared between two people. But, if you are having a ravenous craving for carved meat then you will have met your match.

Though I thought this meal was over, Toropov suggested the soup du jour: Butternut Squash. You see, Nona's chef-owner is personally acquainted with the farmer who harvests the crop. This isn't surprising since Toropov combs through many local farmers' markets (including the  and Serramonte Farmers' Market) to look for the freshest product for Nona's.

I took him up on the suggestion, and I was glad I did. The freshness of the crop showed, and the warm, savoriness of the soup was perfect for such gloomy weather. I had the soup packed up to-go and warmed it on the stovetop for lunch the next day. Delicious.

As Toropov so adequately put it, "We are very few and far between. Its hard to find a good diner."

Cnith January 03, 2011 at 10:36 PM
I have eaten at Nona's and was left thinking people are nuts. I heard a LOT of raves about the food and the restaurant itself. The owner has a bad rep as an ornery something or other but I witnessed none of those things. The food? I had a better, cheaper (!!) salad at safeway...as my 'garden' salad for 10 bucks was nothing more than a bunch of lettuce and leftover salsa pickings. I was like oh hell no... and they didn't even give me dressing! Maybe becuase it was 'to go' they thought who cares, she won't notice til she gets home anyway. The owner was either not there or in a good mood because I didn't hear any screaming or cussing. However, on a second and third occasion I was babysitting and the owner (?) was upset with me for having the kid in there while I was waiting for a lemonade, which btw was OK, but not much better than minute maid which I HATE with a passion. Maybe it wasn't lemon season... or they got a bad batch. Anyway third time was the charm for me... two bad yet way too expensive lemonades, NOT kid friendly, horrible salad and I was done with this place. I still think people are nuts... but whatever, maybe I'm too much of a cheapskate or I just have different tastes... I don't know... but never going there again. I rather buy salads and lemonade from safeway, thanks.
Scotty January 04, 2011 at 03:20 AM
I've had the opposite experience. I've always thought that the food was pretty good and not overly expensive, and that the menu is really interesting. Plus, I love those biscuits. I've seen Joreth treat his wait staff like dirt a few times, which was upsetting, but I always tolerated it. However, when he was rude to me and my dining companions a few years back, I swore off giving him any more of my money and haven't been back (which is a shame, since there are so few good dining options in Pacifica).
Denise Kendal January 04, 2011 at 04:41 PM
I appreciate the honesty of these comments but the phrase "biting the hand that feeds you" does come to mind. Yes, money will be saved if you go to Safeway. But staying in town for a better culinary experience than most is "satisfying food" when you don't want to either look for parking in SF or drive The Slide. Btw if you don't like the service, don't leave a tip....that's the best "comment" you can leave.
Scotty January 04, 2011 at 06:23 PM
I'm not sure that blaming the victim solves anything, Denise. Also, why should someone dock the server's tip and take their frustrations with the owner out on some poor server who already gets regularly berated in public? You should direct your "biting the hand that feeds you" comments to the merchant instead. I spend plenty of money at other local restaurants (including La Playa, High Tide, and Extreme Pizza in the same shopping center), but I choose not to patronize someone who mistreats both their customers and staff.
Bhatman January 04, 2011 at 07:00 PM
Every restaurant review should include a link to the local health sept. inspection, especially in the case of Non's Kitchen. Here is the link - do not enter unless you have a strong stomach. http://www.co.sanmateo.ca.us/portal/site/health
Chris Fogel January 04, 2011 at 08:40 PM
I've found the food at Nona's to be pretty good with nice presentation and a friendly, accomodating wait staff. I especially enjoy the small plate selections and though I've had one or two "misses" with them they're very reasonably priced and it's fun to choose from the wide variety. Plus, Nona's offers sarsaparilla! The owner's temper toward his staff is embarassing/uncomfortable to witness and is unfortunate as it overshadows the otherwise pleasant, homey feel of the site. Many Yelp reviews echo this sentiment so it has to be affecting the bottom line at this point.
Scotty January 04, 2011 at 09:04 PM
I never found them to be unsanitary, and the food was generally very good. My only complaint was with the owner's behavior. Regardless, here's a direct link to their inspection history: http://www.decadeonline.com/insp.phtml?agency=smc&record_id=PR0043009
Denise Kendal January 04, 2011 at 10:48 PM
Scotty - agree that a rude owner may deserve to be pinged (ie lose business). Re: the servers, I was told about a Nona waitress who murmured indiscreetly that she didn't want my friend (with kids in tow) to be seated in her section. Maybe that's why the owner berates the help? Okay, Nona's is sometimes "dysfunctional"....but I have enjoyed the food itself. So I'll probably go back...though I've never been a regular.
Rocky January 04, 2011 at 11:33 PM
I've heard many comments from friends about the owner being nasty to customers. I won't go there again.
Steve Sinai January 04, 2011 at 11:55 PM
"The owner's temper toward his staff is embarassing/uncomfortable to witness and is unfortunate..." Don't you watch Gordon Ramsay? Berating the staff demonstrates passion!! Fortunately, I've never seen the owner screaming at the staff, although I've definitely heard the stories. I've always found the food to be excellent. The only issue I have with the place is how incredibly loud it is.
Cnith January 05, 2011 at 05:36 AM
To say that there's not many options in Pacifica is awfully short sighted Denise. Maybe the owner is paying you to promote his business or at least be nice about it and change people's mind but I have heard enough horror stories about the owner to NOT patronise a place where the owner has no manners. That combined with my horrid experiences? NO THANK YOU. I'll buy my salads from safeway and eat my food at Luigi's, where the owner actually CARES about his staff and his customers. If I'm tired of Italian, I'll go eat at Grano de Oro where the owners are also nice and care about their staff/customers. And there's Raymonds, Sushi Koko, Ocean Fish... etc etc... TONS of places besides Nona's to eat. Believe me, I know this town, I'm not missing anything by not going to Nona's. I don't tend to miss bad attitudes and horrible food... But that's just me. I guess you must like it, Denise. That's your perogative. I hope he's paying you well for this because you sure got some conviction about a place you only ate once at...or so that's how the article reads.
Denise Kendal January 05, 2011 at 06:55 AM
Agree there are other really good options in Pacifica -- I eat in town at least twice a week. I'm not getting paid to write my comments about Nona's and have eaten there exactly four times in the past 20 years -- it's noisy and for the cost I prefer Barolo's. I like Nona's menu which is different than anything else in town. Just think some pleasantly constructive criticism would be more likely to make a positive difference. Or maybe people just really want to see Nona's lose business and fail....
Cnith January 05, 2011 at 07:44 AM
Lose business and fail? No... have a better attitude? ABSOLUTELY!! I mean come on... have a restaurant that doesn't like toddlers/children, doesn't like their staff, doesn't like their customers...?? Um... time for a change buddy. That's all I'm saying. If his boat sinks it's on him for not listening to his customers or not caring about them. Why go into a business that involves the public if he doesn't LIKE people?! Makes no sense...
Denise Kendal January 05, 2011 at 04:18 PM
I don't want to "stir" this pot too much -but wondering: apart from taking business elsewhere, or writing comments online, does anyone think it's appropriate to directly speak to an owner and give them the chance to "listen" to their customers? And some "food for thought": maybe Nona's owner is not SO rude that he wouldn't change some...I still like the menu and the home cooking concept which Nona's brings.
Chris Fogel January 05, 2011 at 05:06 PM
Denise, The dozens of Yelp reviews that mention the owner's temper date back to 2007. He's likely aware of them and their content. Having been snapped at by the owner merely for asking about sizes of the clothing he sells (I wanted to buy a hoodie for a friend that enjoys the place) I have no desire to speak with him. I, too, like the menu and home-cooking approach, but the vibe coming out of the kitchen can be a downer and so I visit less than I otherwise would.
Rocky January 05, 2011 at 11:10 PM
Friends have said they spoke to the owner directly about their concerns but all they got back was more bad attitude.
Cnith January 06, 2011 at 11:12 PM
The owner would have to be blind and deaf to not know his attitude sucks. The customers keep coming back so he doesn't change. My guess is he thinks it's OK since people like you (Denise and Chris) keep coming back to patronise a place that has foul airs simply for a concept. Yáll act like it's the ONLY place in the world or even Pacifica that has that ''home cooked" flair. You guys must not get out much. There are other places to eat that have a better air and same concept. The owner of Nona's isn't going to change until people stop going to it. Unfortunately, I'm in the minority here. But that's OK, I'm used to it. I'm the one who votes Green because our politicians suck. I get told my vote is useless but if more people sent out the message that our politicians suck, we'd have some real change. Until then, we're stuck with lousy presidents, governors, etc etc. Same concept here. If MORE people stood up to this owner, he'd have to change or get out of business. My pennies are hard earned. I sure as heck won't be making sure he gets HIS pennies until he actually earns them.
Scotty January 06, 2011 at 11:44 PM
Thank you Pacifica Patch for allowing free discourse, as compared to other local blogs where paid advertisements also buy you the heavy hand of the editor's pen when any opposing viewpoints are presented.
Bhatman January 07, 2011 at 10:41 PM
Well your opinion is certainly good enough for me....oh wait, your not a trained health inspector....never mind!
Scotty January 07, 2011 at 11:30 PM
Agreed. Perhaps that means you'll stop sharing your uninformed opinions about snakes and frogs at the golf course since "your" [sic] not a trained herpetologist like Karen Swaim.
Bruce Hotchkiss January 08, 2011 at 12:29 AM
I haven't been to Nona's in some time but I have to say I've always been treated well and the food has been very good. I like it because it seems like comfort food only more flavorful. I've never seen the owner berate his employees but I'm not there every night. Some of the opinions expressed here seem a little extreme. The biggest knock I have on the place is the location. Maybe if Fresh and Easy does open up the shopping center will improve overall. If Nona's were in Burlingame, San Mateo, San Carlos, etc, there'd be raves and the prices would be much higher.
mike February 15, 2011 at 07:01 AM
I enjoyed my meal there about five years ago. The Owner was so rude to me that I don't care how good it was, I'll NEVER go back. And I tell this story to everyone who ever mentions wanting to go there.


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