THERE are two Sabrina’s, but only one Sabrina’s Cafe and Spencer’s Too. The original Sabrina’s (at 9th and Christian) is famous for its challah french toast and legendary long lines. This second location (1802 Callowhill in what once was–and essentially still is–a diner) boasts of the same menu but a less frenetic interior. Fans of the original’s busy, elbow-crunching tight, blue-walled homey ambiance will miss that in the Callowhill location. This one, instead, is a strange marriage of Andalusia and 70’s diner chic: brown walls supported by arches and dark, intricate tiles; wicker-basket lampshades; a Daily Specials chalkboard lined with Christmas lights; and well-spaced tables that, although I appreciate the space to stretch my legs out, make the place seem sterile and somehow disinterested.
Sabrina’s Cafe #1 feels like a home. The cups and plates are mismatched; tables get rearranged and the wait-staff often look harried (just like my family at any family gathering); and the rooms wind around to open, gloriously, into additional eating space. And there’s a coat rack! I expect to see my Great Aunt Eleanor striding through the front hall with a small spade in one hand, getting ready to plant her petunias after a quick glass of orange juice. It’s noisy and you have to listen very carefully to follow conversations, but there’s a sense of walking into somebody’s home and being unconditionally welcomed.
But Sabrina’s Cafe and Spencer’s Too doesn’t have that homey feel. This, at its heart, is a diner. The music choice is great, skipping from Whitney Houston to Billie Myer’s ‘Kiss The Rain’; instead of harking back to the ’70s, the music is ’90s and so very, very missed. Serving La Colombe coffee and a variety of fresh juices–as well as RC Cola (how dinerly!)–Sabrina’s offers the comfort of the days when we were teenagers while reminding us that we are adult enough to miss them.
Unfortunately for me, though, I was not adult enough to finish my ginormous Stuffed Caremelized Challah French Toast. This is the stuff of which brunch dreams are made. With a creamy, delicious farmer’s-cheese-and-vanilla filling and topped with confectioner’s sugar and bananas, Sabrina’s french toast is something of a legend. Yes, eating it is like scaling Mt Everest. Yes, only the mighty are able to actually scale Everest. But at $9.95, it’s worth its weight in gold, and luckily you can also order the 1/2 portion. I ate what I could (I like to say that, in this particular metaphor, I conquered K-2), I downed my coffee and OJ, and I took that second mountain home. I will enjoy it later as dinner. It’s the meal that keeps on giving, Amen.
The fish of the day special ($12.95) was much more than simply a fish, as any good fish of the day special ought to be. The “Fried Cornbread Tilapia on Brioche with Mixed Greens & Tomato with Artichoke, Pepper & Olive Tapenade” is both a mouthful to say and a full day’s meal. Touted as a sandwich, you could try to eat it as one, but run the risk of dislocating your jaw; fellow bruncher Malik recommends you use your cutlery to eat this baby. Order the home fries instead of the french fries (our waitress, Emmy, was nicely into that), and douse in hot sauce and ketchup for an extra perky flavor. Plus, the coleslaw was a nice side surprise.
At the end of the meal, though, I have to admit to a certain…disquiet. Somehow, in coming to Sabrina’s Cafe and Spencer’s Too, I felt as though I had betrayed the original Sabrina’s Cafe. There’s no Aunt Eleanor hiding in the upstairs closet here, waiting to leap out at an opportune moment. There’s no upstairs closet, opportune moment or no. I heard every word of conversation, but I missed the rapt attention that the original encourages. The food was delicious, the portions mammoth, but I left feeling as though I had missed something vital.
Clutter. Maybe that’s it.
This one–this Sabrina’s–hasn’t been lived in yet. I’ll hold off a while yet, ’til it gets a bit more personality.
Note: The french toast was just as good a few hours later, at the promised dinner. Only problem? Now my sweet tooth’s in overload. But oh! so worth it.