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PETE TITTL: Tina Marie's thrives in new downtown spot

It is my belief after decades on this planet that sometimes what seems like a setback can, in the end, be a blessing.

Case in point: Tina Marie’s Downtown Cafe, a successful Chester Avenue breakfast-and-lunch spot thriving since 2004. Late last year, a devastating fire destroyed the building it was located in, causing it to be closed for five months. But then Chef’s Choice Noodle Bar vacated its location at 19th and Eye streets to move to The Marketplace, and Tina Marie’s moved into that bigger space. Though the rent might be more, the restaurant could use the space and so, in the long run, the tragedy might pay off in a positive way.

We visited on a Monday morning in July and there was a wait, even though the dining room is bigger. We got on the list, then hung around on the bench inside or in the shade outside. People kept their sense of humor. A party of eight standing near us had a member come outside after 20 minutes and inform his friends, “They said it’ll be another hour.” After the shocked looks were evident all around, he said, “Just kidding. The table’s ready.” That’s quality humor.

Inside the place looks great, with rows of comfortable booths, a red-gray color scheme, a very bright lighting configuration combining fluorescent tubes high up and red-cloth covered pendant lights closer to the tables. Noise level was moderate when the place was full during our visit.

I ordered the ultimate omelet ($13) with country potatoes while my companion selected the breakfast burrito ($10).

I have to say of the two I definitely preferred my plate, as the omelet had bacon, mushrooms, onions, green pepper, and chunks of ham. Though the menu said sausage and tomatoes were to be included, those were hard to find, but it had a nice sheet of melted jack and cheddar cheese on top and looked to have been made with four eggs.

The country potatoes, made with more chopped onions and green pepper chunks, were so amazing because the onion bits were fried brown and crispy.

My companion’s burrito had a similar mix of ingredients, but we wished pinto beans or refried beans had been included. Inside were some of the same potatoes that were on the side on my platter, and a similar mix of meats.

Based on previous visits, there are other menu choices I can recommend. The chicken-fried steak breakfast ($15) is one of those platter-covering creations that I love because of the crazy crispiness of the crust on the outside. It’s something else and I think you could rank it as one of the best in town.

Another great choice is a sandwich called The Bubba ($13) that is among my favorites in town: tri-tip, bacon, pastrami and cheddar cheese on a garlic butter grilled Pyrenees sourdough roll. Sounds like it’s too much, but it’s quite delightful. My favorite from the list of burgers is the shepherd special ($14), a double bacon cheeseburger.

In addition, an interesting new breakfast option is the mac and cheese breakfast bowl with two eggs and bacon bits ($11.50) if you really need to carb up for the day. I also like that they use tri-tip for the steak and eggs ($14.50) breakfast platter.

Service was personable but there was a half-hour wait for our food and combined with the wait for the table it made for a long breakfast experience. But I think the place is gonna thrive at the new location. When we asked an employee about the old location, they said it’d be a couple of years at best before that spot is ready, and by then the regulars will have probably settled in here nicely.

Pete Tittl’s Dining Out column appears in The Californian on Sundays. Email him at pftittl@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter: @pftittl.