If it were legal to wed breakfast foods, I might well get down on one knee before the French toast at Fàme Caffe, because I’d like to spend the rest of my life with it. This delightful breakfast item, and several others on Fàme’s chalkboard menu, are unique and simply delicious.
Fàme (in Italian, it means “hunger”) is located in the ill-fated former home of Java Café and a couple of other failed coffee houses, but if the crowds flocking to this smart New American breakfast-and-lunch spot are any indication, its uncomplicated and superior menu will be with us for some time. Owners Ivan and Maria O’Farrill come to us from Cabo San Lucas by way of Manhattan and are devoted to creating new taste combinations and re-creating old favorites with organic ingredients. Ivan studied with chef Daniel Boulud at New York’s Culinary Institute of America, and his approach to morning and midday fare is a refreshing change. Fàme’s from-scratch recipes are made with food from such local vendors as Crow’s Dairy, Passport Roastery, Maya’s Farm, and Schreiner’s Sausage. Its menu, which changes often, features Arizona’s own Noble bread in many different dishes. And while I’ve grown weary of the fresher-than-fresh shtick that has overtaken the national cafe scene, Fàme’s organic, farm-to-table routine is more than a marketing ploy. It certainly hasn’t spoiled the flavor of its sandwiches and salads.
Its striking, casual interior features some interesting touches: walls covered in palette-board paneling, egg cartons as ceiling sound bafflers, a chandelier made from a railroad trestle around which electric lights are draped. The layout also includes that most unfortunate and far-too-frequent feature in contemporary cafes: the counter-service line just inside the front door, which on busy mornings means an unnecessary bottleneck up front. Why?
Fàme’s food is served on white-enameled campware. And what food! A simple bowl of steel-cut oatmeal should not be so impressive. Creamy, nutty oats served with hunks of walnut and whole strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries make this excellent oatmeal a real contender. The modest breakfast sandwich wrapped fresh Noble bread around eggs scrambled with sharp cheddar and hunks of slightly sweet bacon, while the superb breakfast wrap swapped bread for a grilled flour tortilla, adding relatively mild chorizo and roasted potatoes to tightly scrambled eggs.
No one in town brews a cup of coffee strong enough for my taste, but Fàme’s barista came close each time I was there. The impossibly upbeat staff was courteous to a fault. When the cappuccino I ordered wasn’t delivered to our table along with our other drinks, I sidled up to the coffee bar, where I overheard one barista quizzing another. “Whose cappuccino is this?” she asked, pointing to my coffee drink. “It belongs to an older gentleman,” she replied nicely. When I pointed out that it was in fact mine, she offered to make me a fresher one.
The croque madame ordered by my fiancé (the real one, not the would-be French toast one) had a neatly crisp, almost-burnt nine-grain crust topped with a cooked-to-order runny egg and piled high with Gruyère and sliced ham — too much ham, as it turned out. After performing a ham-ectomy, we enjoyed this béchamel-rich sandwich very much.
And then there’s that French toast. Four thick slices of crunchy-crusted and moist bread, dusted with powdered sugar, flavored with vanilla and cinnamon and so delicious on its own, I barely touched the side of syrup it came with. A pair of Schreiner’s breakfast sausage provided a nice, mildly spicy contrast.
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Pastry chef Tomo Osawa, formerly of Scottsdale’s Echo Coffee and a onetime assistant to Spago’s Sherry Yard, has filled Fàme’s sweets case with unusual combinations and old favorites like cinnamon swirl bread and chocolate chip cookies. I took a chance on an espresso oatmeal cookie, a surprisingly satisfying blend of sweet and dark flavors. Melonpan, those Japanese sweet rolls covered in a thin layer of cookie dough, were best when dunked in hot coffee. Osawa’s eggy brioche was rich and crumbly and perfect even without butter or jam. A guava-cheese croissant was perfectly light and airy, its center sweet with fruit and cream cheese.
Lunch items offered more of a mixed bag. The chicken pesto sandwich was tasty, cheesy and rich with basil and garlic, although far too greasy with olive oil, which drenched its fresh bread. That same olive oil was drizzled over the superior caprese salad, studded with whole basil leaves and studded with roasted pine nuts. The Maya’s salad was even better, a mélange of kale, cucumber, and cranberries tossed in just enough lemon honey dressing. An order of chilled asparagus soup was dreadful, weedy and slightly bitter, but a side of French fries was crisp and hot and slightly nutty-tasting, perhaps because they were cooked in peanut oil. And while these lunch items were less stunning than anything I’d ordered for breakfast, I’ll return to Fàme for both mealtimes in the future. The older gentleman is pleased.
4700 North Central Avenue
7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Friday; 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
French toast $9.50
Croque madame $10
Chicken pesto sandwich $9
Steel-cut oatmeal $5