Breakfast at the North End Café.

I was so excited that my friend Ben was free to meet up for an impromptu breakfast this past Saturday. The only thing hampering our plans was the fact that none of us were remotely familiar with Manhattan Beach. Keith and I hadn’t the time to explore; all we had seen was a very unscenic stretch of Sepulveda dotted with P.F. Chang’s, California Pizza Kitchen, IHOP and Jack in the Box. Determined not to end up at Starbucks, we settled on North End Café on Highland, which we discovered simply by Googling.

The café is quite easy to find; there’s not way anyone could possibly miss its chartreuse-colored building, let alone the line wrapped around the front. The key is most certainly in arriving early, something Ben, Keith and I lucked upon.

Aesthetically, North End Café leans toward industrial chic, with concrete slab floors, stainless counters on casters and fans from the Modern Fan Company. The clear showpiece of the space, though, is the wall of floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking 35th Street. Not only do they let in massive amounts of light, but they also open up the café, which is actually very small.

The menu is completely egg-centric; I think there are only a few choices that don’t rely on eggs at all, but avoiding North End’s eggs is just plain silly. Even Keith, who’s not a huge egg-eater, cleared his plate.

I chose the Neapolitan Toast — grilled bread filled with fresh aged mozzarella and checca, with a side of Italian eggs ($8.75). As far as coffee went, I had been engaged in my regular hemming and hawing (Did I want a latte? A cappuccino? An Americano?) when Ben pointed at what is destined to become my caffeinated version of a soulmate: the Medici — a mix of espresso, chocolate, orange zest and milk ($4.75 for a generous medium). Trust me when I say it tasted as amazing as it sounds.

You may not be able to tell from the photograph, but it’s not one, but two sandwiches stacked next to the pile of cheesy, herby, tomato-y eggs. While the flavors were all bright and fresh, I had the following three small issues:

  1. the eggs, though delicious, left vaguely unsavory tracings of oil all over my plate;
  2. the sandwiches would have been leagues more enjoyable had they been toasted just a smidge longer, fully melting the cheese within; and
  3. I wish the bread used had been something heartier, something with greater depth, for these slices made me think a little bit of Wonder Bread.

You know what though? None of that matters; I’m being needlessly nit-picky because, truly, I had a really great time at the café. It was a sunny morning, one of the firsts I had been able to appreciate for a while, and I was eating a tasty breakfast with two people whose company I love. What could possibly make a meal better than that?

North End Café
3421 Highland Avenue
Manhattan Beach, California 90266
310.546.4782

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Messenger by Lois Lowry.

At this point, I think it’s kind of silly to mention my fondness for Lois Lowry, but c’est la vie, no? In spite of that affection, I had never, for some odd reason, read Messenger, the third and final installment to the The Giver/Gathering Blue/Messenger trilogy. It’s going to be tricky, determining how to provide a synopsis for Messenger without giving away anything related to The Giver and Gathering Blue, but here we go…

While the books all take place in the same unspecific future, each of the three is set in a different village. With The Giver, Lowry introduces us to twelve-year-old Jonas and his perfect, Utopian society; Gathering Blue is centered on handicapped Kira, who is living the exact opposite conditions. Though both Jonas and Kira make appearances in Messenger, the story’s focus is young Matty, a brash boy eager to learn his place in the world. For the moment, his role is that of a message-bearer — hence the novel’s title — ferrying communiqués to nearby communities.

Lowry writes with typical economy of language, covering themes ranging from the desire of material possessions, xenophobia and selflessness. She also refuses to shy away from difficult topics such as pain and death, which is a huge reason why The Giver is on so many banned book lists. In Messenger, Lowry also does something incredibly rare in young adult fiction… and I’m sorry, but I simply can’t say what it is. You’ll just have to read the book, though I suggest starting with The Giver. Though slim, it and its companion novels are wonderful reads.