A Loving Dose of Sweetness at the Cardamom Café & Bakery

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Assorted pastries (Photo by Maria Desiderata Montana)

Assorted pastries (Photo by Maria Desiderata Montana)

I stopped by a quaint and cozy bakery in North Park one Sunday morning and caught a strong whiff of the sweet spice known as cardamom floating through the air.  “I simply adore the cardamom spice and I use it in many of our baked items, especially my cinnamon rolls” said chef/owner Joanne Sherif.

It was years of cooking and baking at home that inspired Sherif to come up with a tasty food concept at this smartly designed, low-key neighborhood spot. “Owning my own bakery is a dream come true for me,” she said.  “I am one of those crazy people who loves to make others happy with good food and comfortable surroundings.”

Countryish wooden tables and chairs, walls painted in colors of lavender and green, and a crowd hovering for baked goods is a testament alone for why the place is so busy.  Since Sherif has five children, it is definitely a family affair as most of the staff is made up of family members.

Cappuccino (Photo by Maria Desiderata Montana)

Cappuccino (Photo by Maria Desiderata Montana)

My visit began with a warm cup of Ethiopian coffee from Bird Rock Coffee Roasters in La Jolla.  Apparently, it took a year for Sherif to decide which coffee would be best for her café.  I believe she made a very wise decision as the coffee alone is worth the trip. No need to flavor it with sugar or cream, the taste stands alone.

I’ve never been a big fan of pancakes, but I was hooked on the crepe-like hotcakes (Bliss Cakes). Enhanced with cardamom, they offered a fervent and intensely pungent, sweet flavor, served with honey mascarpone cheese, real maple syrup and seasonal fresh fruit.  I was also struck by the handmade brioche French toast dipped in creamy vanilla-cinnamon custard.

Breakfast is served all day, and egg dishes include roasted potatoes, toasted whole wheat, rosemary semolina or homemade English muffin. A great vegetarian option is the fresh herb and Asiago cheese omelet, and a popular best seller is the signature North Park omelet with grilled onions, mushrooms and bell peppers, with a choice of cheese and andouille sausage.

My Italian kudos to the sweet dough calzone with Asiago and mozzarella cheeses and black forest turkey, and the foccacia breads flavored with fresh herbs, tomatoes and cheese.  If you like chicken salad, Sherif puts her own special spin on it with tarragon, which boasts an aromatic property reminiscent of anise (my favorite in biscotti), with the tasty addition of toasted almonds and cranberries on whole wheat or rosemary semolina.

Bliss Cakes (Photo by Maria Desiderata Montana)

Bliss Cakes (Photo by Maria Desiderata Montana)

The impressive display of specialty breads and pastries reminded me of the boulangeries in France.  I especially loved the cream cheese croissant that melted like butter on the tongue.   My son’s chocolate muffin with little chips of chocolate popping out had a fantastic crumbly texture and a handcrafted feel.  “Mom, this muffin leaves kind of a chocolaty and velvety coating on my tongue, you’ve got to try a bite!” he said.  Wow, did my 15 year old just say that?  Guess what-he was right!

Maria Desiderata Montana is an award-winning food and wine journalist, editor, and published author based in San Diego. She gained an appreciation of European cuisine from her parents, who were born and raised in Calabria, Italy. Visit her website at www.sandiegofoodfinds.com.

*Look for original breads at the bakery around the holidays.

Cardamom Café & Bakery, located at 2977 Upas Street, San Diego, CA, is open Monday-Thursday  7:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m, Friday-Sunday 7:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.  For information please call (619) 546-5609.

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