I had some trepidation when I learned that Village Grill had been sold. But based on our visits so far, the Westchester area restaurant is still one of those hidden gems of downtown, an ideal place for a weekend breakfast on the patio, especially on the gorgeous fall mornings we enjoy in Bakersfield. The smooth transition made sense when I learned the new owners were the same folks who own J&M's Cafe, the great breakfast spot in Rosedale.
We visited on a recent Saturday morning, with temperatures nearing Santa Barbara perfect, and just managed to snag the last open table on the patio. Admittedly, the sun was glaring in my face through one of the few gaps in the greenery around us, but that was a small price to pay. There was a spectacular quintet playing, a group called Wrenwood that covered a range of material from classical selections to an instrumental version of the Beatles' "Norwegian Wood." Also in the background is the light noise of a waterfall. Even the tables contributed to the mellow, artistic vibe, made out of a stone mosaic enclosed in a metal frame. If the budget doesn't allow for a trip out of town, this is the closest thing to get the weekend off to a great start.
Always loved the breakfast menu here, and there are so many favorites I've raved about in the past, such as the shrimp and avocado omelet ($9.49), made with jack cheese, caramelized onions and roasted red peppers. Also good is the Jacks of heart omelet ($9.59) made with bacon, tomato, green onions mozzarella cheese and artichoke hearts, or the tri-tip omelet made with diced tomatoes and tomatillo sauce. There are a full two pages of breakfast items, and plenty of sandwiches, salads and burgers if you're in a lunch mood.
On this day, we ventured into the land of the new, choosing the French cut pork chops and eggs ($10.19) and the huevos rancheros ($8.99). Both were solid choices.
The pork was the kind of lean white pork with a simple pepper seasoning that you can eat without guilt, and the two thick pork chops were a more than adequate portion.
My companion's huevos were distinctive for the tomato avocado salsa, the two slices of fresh avocado on top with cotija cheese and whole black beans. Our only complaint was that the tortilla was a little limp. The presentation of the home fries was interesting. The spuds were placed on a bed of lightly fried white onions and green peppers with one lonely morsel of red pepper in the mix. The hash browns had a nice buttery taste.
The lunch menu offers four seafood and four vegetarian choices, a lot of sandwiches, burgers and 14 big salads, including one my companion chose, the tri-tip salad ($10.89), while I sampled an old favorite, the Newport roast pork dip ($9.99). The salad was a massive creation that comes with ranch, but they'll substitute any dressing you want. (What I like about the salads is that they are made with a wide variety of greens -- the menu lists green leaf, red leaf, arugula, cabbage, romaine and spinach.) The beef was not warm, and that led to a discussion of the best way to present such a salad. Count my companion in the cold beef department, as she felt the hot tri-tip can wilt the vegetables. And what a vegetable mix it was, with cabbage, tomato, corn, fresh avocado slices, leaf lettuce, a few carrot strands, black beans and the most finely ground jack cheese imaginable. My companion's biggest complaint was the avocado had a slightly old flavor, unlike what we sampled at breakfast. As someone who has struggled with the timing on avocados myself (too soon? Too late?) I could only shake my head.
The pork dip sandwich features thinly sliced pork that has been grilled on ciabatta bread with lettuce, tomato, jack cheese and a garlic Dijon aioli. It's a sandwich I haven't found anywhere else, though on this visit the pork had been grilled too long and was a tad dry.
On the alcohol front, they do offer Bloody Marys, screwdrivers and a long list of Kern River Brewing Company beers, though since they close at 2, that would mean an exceptionally early happy hour for you. Service was pleasant but there was a long wait for our breakfast entrees and absolutely no explanation along the way. Based on our experiences here, that happens.
Patio seating is first come, first served, but you can get on a list for the indoor dining room.