Inspired choices



Two of the appealing things about the old Café Muse were its miniature cuteness and its location right on Royal Oak's railroad tracks. The corrugated-tin ceiling recalled the tropics. The best table in the house sat in a mini-niche looking out on the tracks just feet away.

But the place was too tiny for its flocks of fans, so, in mid-November, owners David Smith and Greg Reyner moved a block, still in prime Royal Oak real estate, and doubled their seating. In the new location, they're still a breakfast-and-lunch place, open seven days 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., but they're experimenting with many more specials, usually 10 to 15 that change every four or five days.

That would include, for example, a Humboldt Fog scramble, with a big slab of the creamy, tangy California goat cheese atop a generous mound of firmed-up scrambled eggs, mixed with pine nuts. Chef Reyner uses three eggs, or a 6-ounce ladleful — you didn't think each egg was cracked individually for each dish, did you? (In my initial review, close to three years ago, I wrote that some found the scrambles a bit loose. That's certainly not the case now.)

The cheeses are top quality, including Gruyère and a Campo de Montalban (similar to Manchego but made from mixing the milk of sheep, cow and goat). Prices feel high for breakfast — most egg dishes are more than $9 — but you get a lot of food: fruit, toast, French jam and potatoes, either sweet potatoes with garam masala or fingerlings sautéed with garlic.

Another special served during the holidays mixed Campo de Montalban with smoked chorizo, the sausage rich and juicy (forget the boot-sole-textured chorizo you may have encountered elsewhere). A frittata incorporated asparagus, pancetta, tomato salsa and, mainly, Parmesan. A recurring special, for the steak-and-eggs enthusiast, is grilled hanger steak with Cotswold cheese (similar to English cheddar, with chives and onions) in the eggs.

Reyner will incorporate the most popular specials into the new regular menu.

Breakfast sweets are also prominent. Whole-wheat pancakes with braised apples sounded good, but my companion and I found them pretty bland, the best part the nutty housemade granola that's sprinkled on top. Other choices are crumpets, ricotta and lemon pancakes, orange rum raisin pancakes, stuffed french toast with mascarpone and pears, or waffles with fresh fruit and whipped cream. Wish I'd been there for the specials on sweet potato pie and Malva Pudding, a South African cake made with apricot jam and whipping cream. Breads — sourdough, rye and multigrain — come from Strawberry Moon bakery in Ferndale, which uses organic flour.

An unusual item made in-house is pea-meal bacon, which is not much like bacon, even Canadian bacon. Reyner makes a simple brine of kosher salt, water, sugar and maple syrup and lets pieces of pork loin sit in it for a few days. Once cured, the meat is dredged in cornmeal before sautéing. The other breakfast meat is chicken sausage, less spicy than most pork varieties, but somehow the blandness makes it seem richer. No hotness masking the fat, I suppose.

Coffee is fair trade, organic and Brazilian, and espresso is Lavazza Gold from Italy. My breakfast buddy, visiting from Brooklyn, ordered an Americano in order to avoid what he assumed would be an inferior regular coffee. But he proclaimed his fill-up better than the espresso.

Perhaps my favorite items on recent visits to Café Muse were the soups. (For me, this happens often, which speaks well of the chefs. It means they're putting lots of loving attention into starters that often don't get no respect.) The tomato is a thick, incompletely puréed vegetarian creation that's simple but inspired, just a few strands of fresh basil to dress it up. And the caldo verde is a nontraditional version that uses white beans instead of potatoes, with kale, basil and smoked sea salt — also simple, also inspired.

You may already know that Esquire magazine called Reyner's grilled cheese one of the "best sandwiches in America," since this feat got him on Oprah. The secret is three cheeses, none of which are Swiss or cheddar, and honey. Reyner's also proud of his housemade cheddar bread.

The new Café Muse couldn't possibly be as cute as the old one, now that there's seating for 50. But the muse theme is alluded to subtly in the faux-incised Roman lettering on the wall and in the portrait of a young man gazing at the moon.

Jane Slaughter dines for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].

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