Brunch. It’s a meal that, due perhaps to its idiosyncratic timing, inspires hot takes and existential questions: Order coffee or move to alcohol; stick with savory or indulge in sweet; are variations on the egg-plus-carbohydrate formula even worth the price and, often, a wait? All these inquiries flitted through my mind while wandering through Temescal on a warm Sunday morning, when I spied lines protruding from Beauty’s Bagel Shop, Aunt Mary’s Café and Julie’s. But my destination, literary-inspired North Light, not only provided me a seat — immediately and on a shaded patio — but answers: Do get a drink (or two), order the French toast, and most importantly, yes, this brunch is certainly worth it.
Approaching a one-year anniversary, North Light has seen changes since it opened this past January. The all-day dining concept (slash book and vinyl shop) began with a Mediterranean-inspired cocktail and food menu by chef Ronnie New, formerly of San Francisco’s Alamo Drafthouse. But, as Nosh reported earlier this month, Leo Batoyon recently took over the kitchen, and introduced playful, accessible American options to North Light’s weekday and weekend menus. On weekdays, for instance, you will now find an entire section devoted to “thick ass toast” (carb-lovers can delight), and on the weekends, said toasts come in savory and sweet versions alongside other recognizable brunch fare: egg sandwiches, salads and a burger.
Do get a drink (or two), order the French toast, and most importantly, yes, this brunch is certainly worth it.
At least on weekend mornings (the menu discourages computers after dark), North Light offers something for everyone: whether that’s a boozy brunch with your crew, or a relatively quiet place to write and study. The latter presumes that you can produce with ambient noise, though; on our visit, the front-of-house staffer spun an exceedingly catchy Rosalía record. Once inside, you’ll primarily find solo diners and studiers seated at two-tops and along the bar, and outside on the back patio, larger groups begin to amass around noon. Despite that North Light is also, technically, a bookstore, there are laptops on many tables — perhaps a sign of the times — and within arm’s length, almost invariably, were drinks.
And for good reason. As someone who typically takes her liquor neat for fear of a too-sweet concoction, every cocktail struck me as balanced. The standout was the Bucks & Mules ($11), which features fresh, house-made ginger syrup, lime juice and soda water from Northern California-based Seltzer Sisters, plus a choice of bourbon, vodka or jalapeño-infused vodka. Our choice, jalapeño-infused vodka, was herbaceous and approachable, evoking a mild tingling sensation that still appealed to the spice averse in our party. The drink is so smooth, in fact, it’s easy to forget its potency. Similarly gulp-able is the Salers Delight ($12), a blend of the classic French aperitif, lemon, thyme and sparkling wine, described by one of my brunch companions as “chuggable adult lemonade.” The takeaway? It’s no surprise that Jenna Jones, North Light’s bar manager, took top prize at Oakland Cocktail Week’s Town Throwdown.
Another predictable outcome of a booze-forward meal at North Light is that you will, fairly quickly, be ready to eat. And while a sweet breakfast may not typically appeal, the French toast ($12) could cause you to reconsider that reticence. It is, indeed, “thick-ass brioche,” as the menu purports, and it is eggy and pliant and soft, served with whipped butter and maple syrup; both of which are delightful, but do get a side of jam, which bursts with strawberries. The French toast was also the largest of the dishes that we ordered, which otherwise landed on the smaller size of reasonable. North Light’s more petite portions matched its limited menu, which I found refreshing relative to brunch menus elsewhere that can trigger decision fatigue (not to mention actual fatigue after a meal that compels you to the couch for the rest of the afternoon).
On the savory side of things, the North Light burger ($11) nails a classic formula: thin patty, cheddar cheese, lettuce and tomato; each bite is balanced, so you get a just-right ratio that allows you to taste each component. The patty itself is flavorful, made from two relatively fatty cuts of beef, a blend of brisket and chuck. It’s a package nestled in a puffy, lightly toasted potato bun. If you are cutting down or staying away entirely from beef, the Caesar salad ($12) is a textural star, with crispy romaine and breadcrumbs lightly dressed in a creamy miso-Caesar concoction. If you add boquerones ($3), anchovies that Bayoton cures in salt and vinegar and drizzles in Arbequina olive oil, you won’t be missing out on any protein, either.
There was just one jejune dish on our visit: the sausage, egg and cheese sandwich ($11). Unlike the burger, the pork sausage overshadowed the sandwich’s other elements, the prettiest being the tangerine-hued yolk of a perfectly cooked fried egg. Still, the meat was fresh and well-seasoned, which is more that can be said of many a brunch plate. A middling mound of tater tots accompanied that sandwich and the burger; the tots are a nice digression from other staple sides: here, they are crunchy and salty with a hint of pepper. And though the fried potato bits would really hit home with an extra vat of “not-so-secret” sauce that is slathered on the sandwiches, our server immediately satisfied our requests for extra condiments, and yes, additional rounds of drinks, and even admittedly, a second order of that burger.
Particularly at brunch, when reservations aren’t typically offered and wait times can be long, suggesting a relatively subdued venue like North Light poses a dilemma. It’s a spot you prefer to whisper about, for fear that once the secret is out, you will find yourself at the back of the line. Still, this is an establishment decidedly worth recommending, even if it means braving a crowd.
North Light is open 11 a.m.-midnight, Tuesday through Friday; 9 a.m.-midnight, Saturday and Sunday. Brunch is served from 9 a.m.-3 p.m., weekends.