Dottie's True Blue Cafe: An SF Mainstay Lands in Scottsdale
Do a search for the best breakfast spots in San Francisco and Dottie's True Blue Café is most likely to be in the top 10. For nearly 20 years, the classic diner from chef-owner Kurt Abney has been hailed as much for its fresh-baked pastries and jalapeño corn bread as dreaded for its lines and hour-long wait times.
Now Scottsdale's got a Dottie's of its very own. Opened in February by Abney's brother, Brent, the second location of the San Francisco institution features the same breakfast and lunch menus as the famous original. But reputations don't always guarantee a restaurant's success, especially one more than 750 miles away. What matters most is the food, not the hype. Which is why Dottie's may not be your new favorite neighborhood hangout, but it just might have enough decent dishes that make it worth popping into on occasion — mostly for breakfast.
The first thing one may notice about Dottie's True Blue Café is that it's not very cafe-like at all. Its sleek wood floor, polished tables and chairs, and walls swathed in tan seem more reminiscent of the former Bada Boom Pasta Room than a cozy, coffee-mug-clanking establishment. There are a few hints of diner-esque décor — whimsical salt 'n' pepper shakers, chandeliers fashioned from tea pots and cups, and a few posters of '50s-era movie starlets — but Dottie's is a welcoming place nonetheless. The restaurant's many windows bathe it in natural light, a large blackboard lists the day's specials, there's a nice patio in front, and a separate area sits across a hallway, designed specifically for those interested in a small but satisfying a.m. meal of a cup of coffee and an icing-topped pastry or fist-size muffin packed with fresh fruit from Dottie's in-house bakery.
For more serious breakfast fans, Dottie's offers a classic selection of eggs, omelets, pancakes, and French toast along with several specialty scrambles, many of which are served up in portion sizes that won't leave you pining for an early lunch. Most dishes include a forgettable side of home fries that I found overcooked, far too heavy on the rosemary with few other seasonings. If Dottie's were to improve upon a single key element to its fare, the home fries would be the place to begin.
But there are several satisfying sweet selections to be had. For those who prefer their pancakes on the heartier side, Dottie's famous whole-wheat buttermilk pancakes, lightly spiced with ginger and cinnamon, may require a bit more real maple syrup to keep them on the moist side, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. For fruit fans, there are lovely (and lighter) cornmeal pancakes dappled with fresh blueberries. The thick-cut French toast, like Dottie's signature pancakes, packs a healthy dose of whole wheat and benefits from extra syrup, but six half-slice servings seems a bit much (four would have been adequate), even for the hungriest of breakfast patrons.
For a stellar match to the sweet offerings, order the must-try side of Dottie's killer strips of crispy, peppery, and salty bacon. Flavorful enough to stand out on its own, the bacon can also be had in hefty, three-egg omelets or as an option to several breakfast specials.
Often an "also ran" on many restaurant menus, Dottie's black bean cakes are surprisingly good. Wonderfully moist and generously covered with a fresh pico de gallo and a small dollop of sour cream, these two small but thick patties, served alongside eggs any style, make for a light yet satisfying meal.
And when it comes to the scrambles, skip the chorizo, onion, and cheddar, where the bits of Mexican sausage taste more like bland ground beef. Also pass on the prosciutto, basil, balsamic roasted tomato, and red pepper flake scramble. Despite sweet bites of tomato, the flavor and texture of the thin-sliced, dry-cured ham loses its luster from its heated mix with the scrambled eggs. Instead, head directly to the smoked whiskey-fennel sausage, mushroom, and spinach creation. A clear standout thanks to bits of smoky, salty sausage, fresh baby spinach leaves, and earthy mushrooms in every bite, this mix easily is the star of the show. And an accompanying thick slice of spicy, grilled chile-cheddar corn bread makes for a tasty bonus.
At Dottie's, breakfast is the most successful part of the day. Lunch, unfortunately, tips in the opposite direction. The dishes maintain the restaurant's concept of mostly classic American favorites but seem to have trouble in the areas of flavor and preparation. And, damn, if those unremarkable home fries don't come back for a second appearance. As a side to most of the lunch fare, they are disappointing at any time of day.
You may want to skip the starters altogether. The salads are lettuce-heavy and stingy with tasty ingredients like nuts and cheese; there is a curious pesto mozzarella with very little pesto mozzarella, but with an abundance of spinach and tomato; and a black bean chili with a consistency more akin to soup and surprisingly uncompelling in flavor.
In the burger and quesadilla categories, resist the logic that says the former will be a more successful selection. The half-pound Angus patty I ordered on one visit was decidedly average, underseasoned, and, prepared well done — after I'd asked for it medium rare. Moreover, add-ons like bacon and cheese, which cost an additional $2.95, turn this $9 burger into an almost $12 one with little to show for it.
A better who-knew choice would be Dottie's quesadillas. Served up as four large triangular pieces topped with a sprinkling of pico de gallo and sour cream, they're thick with a sound packing of stellar ingredients. With three to choose from, my server suggested the fresh spinach, roasted garlic, feta, and Gruyère creation with an off-menu addition of tender pieces of chicken. The result was heartier and fresher-tasting than most any lunch item on menu, and one that I would order again.
If you must have a sandwich, stick with the classic BLT featuring strips of Dottie's scrumptious bacon and a twist of toasted buttermilk dill bread; or, if the chunks of meat are not dry, as they were on one of my visits, a grilled chicken with a slathering of a flavorful and basil-heavy pesto on a toasted bun. There is a roasted Portobello mushroom and provolone cheese creation as well, but a too-strong taste of balsamic overpowers the sandwich's subtle flavors.
Service at Dottie's, although knowledgeable and friendly, is often inconsistent in the area of time management, ranging from quick and efficient to glacier-slow — even, as on one of my visits, when the restaurant was populated by only a handful of patrons.
The Scottsdale Dottie's appears to have some work ahead of it to become as famous as its San Francisco sister. And it until it does, the restaurant, with its merchandise section at the front entrance, may be getting ahead of itself.
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