Each week, we review a different breakfast spot in town, highlighting culinary offerings, brunchability, and the overall vibe as you sip your morning joe. Whether the restaurant in question is grab-and-go or stay-and-play, each offers a unique breakfast buzz that might be just what you need for the most important meal of the day.
The Spot: Essence Bakery Café
3850 East Indian School Road
The Scene: Essence is like the French pastries it serves: warm, authentic, and not overly sweet. Local artwork and a giant, lime-green mixing stand (nicknamed “Arnaud”) splash some color into the otherwise simple café. A glass display case houses pink, yellow, and green macarons. The neighboring counter is lined with flaky, melt-in-your-mouth croissants. Baby succulents dot each table. Natural light floods this underrated spot on Indian School Road in Arcadia, where the real joy may be the voices you hear around you. Essence has stayed resolutely “Wi-Fi free,” and the result is that staff and customers actually make eye contact, engage in conversation, and feel part of a common community. Plus, you know, free coffee refills.
The Goods: The aforementioned croissants are arguably the best in town. They sit comfortably (or tauntingly) next to creations like cinnamon rolls and fruit danishes. But if you can tear your eyes upward to the main menu and special of the day, you won’t be disappointed. Essence uses simple, high-quality ingredients, and you’ll find Dubliner cheddar and Shreiner’s sausage mixed with local produce into both classic and inventive dishes. Tea and coffee comes from just down the road: Espresso Italia in Tempe supplies the beans and blends that keep the cups full at Essence.
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The Bottom Line: If the busy menus or blasting EDM of other morning hotspots makes you reach for a Xanax, you may want to try Essence. Here, breakfast is a relaxed and pleasant affair. The people are warm, the food is great, and the place feels special without being fancy.
Tempe residents were surely heartbroken when Essence’s other (original) location closed this year after more than 20 years in the neighborhood. Thank goodness this local gem is still shining bright in Arcadia.
Special Something: In addition to the special of the day, Essence generally offers a few seasonal items, like the pumpkin spice croissant they had recently. Whether you’re here for breakfast, lunch, or just a coffee, don’t leave without something sweet.
Hours: 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily
Coffee Options: The bright green espresso machine makes for a full selection of coffee-based beverages. Try something from the surprisingly delightful selection of hot teas.
Fresh-squeezed juice: OJ and lemonade.
Wi-Fi? Nope. And weirdly, it’s awesome.
Drinking Before Noon: Sure. There’s a small selection of wine and beer; Cava and champagne ensure that a mimosa is just an order away.