Mediterranean Morning

dining_ristoranteRistorante Italiano jumps into brunch, melding Italian flavors and American favorites

Out on the deck, the fog had just cleared, leaving us basking in the summer sun deciding on what to eat for brunch. The mural on the exterior wall at Ristorante Italiano comes to life in the early light, featuring faces of employees past and present in an animated Italian street scene.

Unfortunately, bottomless mimosas ($10) would hinder the day’s remaining commitments, but other single-serving champagne specialties were delicious. The Bellini ($4.50) combined the sweet tartness of puréed canned peaches with a bit of the bubbly, while the Hibiscus, in which floated a plump raspberry, was red with cranberry juice. We sipped from our sparking flutes while Petula Clark, Dusty Springfield, Neil Diamond, and other light rock from the ’70s wafted softly through the air.

The servers were attentive and jovial, adding much to the pleasant ambiance. Even Chef Ernie visited from the kitchen to check on our well-being.

Three-egg Omelets or Scrambles ($9.99 to $11.99) include the Tuto Buono with Italian sausage, prosciutto cotto, shrimp and fontina cheese with a side of Italian salsa. Diners can also build their own from three of the available ingredients, and all are served with roasted red potatoes, hash browns or fruit. The nice choice of cheeses includes feta, fontina, provolone and cheddar.

Homemade Pancakes ($5.99/$6.99) can be topped with berries or chocolate chips (add $1). For lighter appetites, seasonal fruit is layered into the Yogurt Parfait ($5.99) and topped with house-made granola.

The House Specialties incorporate more Italian ingredients. Rib Eye Steak and Eggs ($13.99) includes Italian Salsa, Eggs are served with large homemade meatballs ($9.99), eggs and sausage are plated with polenta ($8.99) and covered with marinara. You will also find breakfast pizza with prosciutto, mushrooms, bell peppers, onion and olives with two sunny-side-up eggs.

A brunch menu would be incomplete without Eggs Florentine topped with Quattro Formagio and a selection of Benedicts ($9.99 to $10.99) atop English muffin halves. Instead of the classic Canadian bacon, choose from crab, cotto prosciutto (thinly sliced cooked ham), and a vegetarian version with avocado, spinach, artichoke hearts and tomato. Mine was built with thin slices of salty, pink, house-cured salmon, perfect mounds of poached eggs, and a delicate bright yellow sauce on extremely fresh muffins. The hash browns were soft with crispy bits. A side of bacon was crispier than I like, but the quartered, roasted red potatoes were nicely seasoned.

Oven-Baked French Toast ($6.99) was served with a bright cup of sliced strawberries and grapes. Two inch-thick oval slices of Italian bread, seasoned with cinnamon, were topped with praline-like candied butter pecans. Sprinkled with powdered sugar, the soft, spiced and egged bread contrasted nicely with crunchy, sweet nuts.

The restaurant also has an amazing selection of house-made desserts including strawberry shortcake. And if you’re with a group, the frozen baked potato (think ice cream and hot fudge), which is big enough to share six ways, will knock your socks off.

Ristorante Italiano, 555 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz, 458-2321. Full bar. Serving lunch Tuesday through Friday 11:30 a.m. until 2 p.m., bar menu from 2 p.m., serving dinner from 5 p.m. daily, and Sunday brunch 9 a.m. until 3 p.m. Visit ristoranteitaliano.biz.

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