The term “food hall” is so unbecoming. Hearing it conjures up images of a soup kitchen, or cafeteria, filled with sad looking people as they labor to lift spoonfuls of goulash towards their frowning mouths. That’s how I see it anyway.
Pan Bon (1450 Kettner Blvd., Little Italy) is more like a luxury food mall with its opulent displays of hard-to-resist edibles. The clever Italians who own the place - a sibling to their original in Verona, Italy - have made it so the first thing you lay eyes on is a glass case filled with row upon row of mini-confection gems, from rum-laden baba to key lime tartlets. Odds are, you’ll succumb right then and there like I did, and choose nine, two-bite sized “mignon” sweets ($13). They were handed my way right after I ordered breakfast - the reason I came here in the first place.
The restaurant is long, lean and tall with immaculate details, like how the pristine, bright white kitchen - which runs the perimeter of the seating area - glows like heaven against the darker-hued design that frames it. Picture-perfect produce, cured meats and more give off the only vibrant colors in the place, attracting eyeballs like bees to flowers. There’s also a second story for fine dining; the restaurant serves all three meals of the day from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday.
But the Pan Bon Breakfast ($13) is what I came for. Egg lovers will swoon over these three different preparations - scrambled, poached and sunny-side-up - served alongside two strips of bacon, sausage patty, potato cake, greens with balsamic and a thin, crisp piece of garlic toast. The speed with which it arrived, and the quality of everything on the plate, was impressive. “Finally!” I wanted to shout, all hopped up on mini-mousses: “Breakfast that’s different without trying too hard AND it’s delicious.” Bravo!
Another standout was the Croque Helen ($12) with thinly sliced ham and gruyere cheese in between three layers of cut-with-your-fork-soft, spongy bread, topped with an egg. It was savory, rich and simply wonderful going down.
I was initially drawn to Pan Bon’s hilarious website, in which all three chefs look like total goofballs posing with their various cooking utensils. In fact, I had to keep from giggling when the pastry chef walked by without his sunglasses and huge rolling pin. The image versus the experience is quite the contrast, but made me appreciate Pan Bon all the more: These guys not only know what they’re doing, but they like to have a good time, too.
Another new breakfast delight...
In downtown only, the fast-casual-slow-food haunt, Tender Greens (110 W. Broadway), recently debuted its breakfast menu (available from 7:30 to 11 a.m. Monday through Friday). Affordable options include everything from granola to sweet and savory scones, and standout breakfast sandwiches ($7 each). Super soft brioche rolls from Con Pane Rustic Breads (Point Loma) are the perfect carriers for the likes of house-cured ham with Gone Straw pastured, scrambled eggs, white cheddar and whole grain mustard-aioli; and braised short ribs with an over-medium egg, pickled japapenos, tomatillo salsa and aioli. There’s also an avocado centric brekkie sandwich, and one with salami, too.
Amy T. Granite is a dauntless eater who has written about food in San Diego since 2006. You can follow Granite and her tasty adventures on Twitter and Instagram @saysgranite. Send your mouth-watering ideas to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.