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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."

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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