Home Kitchen of Ojai
1103 Maricopa Hwy
As a general rule of thumb, I tend to steer clear of restaurants in shopping centers. I know, it’s an obscure idiosyncrasy, but we all have them. Yet, I put my neuroses aside when I discovered a change in the Ojai Valley Shopping Center. Home Kitchen of Ojai, the new incarnation of the spot formerly occupied by Eggs N Things — a name I unfortunately could not not let my imagination run wild with — is dishing out comfort food with aspirations of carving out its own niche.
Applying an upgrade to both the name well as the menu, Hector and Christina Orozco, owners of the Home Kitchen of Ojai, present a vast array of classic California bistro offerings, serving breakfast, lunch and even dinner Thursday through Saturday. So I decided to go in for lunch and a little small-town TLC.
Hoping for an upgrade to the previous interior design, I was only mildly satisfied. In its defense, there were a few positive alterations, but there is no doubt work yet to be done.
The service, however, was extremely hospitable, anchored by my server Elvia. Her demeanor provided a general loftiness to the room, which made for a pleasant atmosphere among the well-occupied dining room.
I had teased the menu previously online, so I was mostly decided on what I was going to order. With this in mind I started by satiating my sweet tooth with the Swedish style pancakes. Presented in a pattern similar to checkout line toy windmills, the pancakes were light, flavorful and similar to crepes, but unfortunately lacked in the temperature department. I measure the quality of a “hotcake” — a moniker used by my grandmother — by its ability to melt a slab of butter at a near instant rate, and this was not the case. A quick fix for this issue is to order a side of melted butter, a little trick I learned from my favorite breakfast restaurant of all time, my mom’s kitchen. The blackberry jelly that accompanied was excellent, and an ideal pairing with the texture of the pancakes. In addition, the pancakes came with a choice of two eggs any style and various standard breakfast meat options, and proved to be a much welcomed paring.
The second dish I ordered was the Ojai omelet, which included bacon, avocado, green chiles and what the menu called “Swiss” cheese. I say this because it had more of an American cheese characteristic, which is not my particular favorite. So I ordered a side of hollandaise to counter the odd texture, and the omelet was quite tasty. The potatoes O’Brien were cooked crispy, just as I had requested, and were full of flavor. I optioned for a biscuit rather than toast, though the one I received was more like a room temperature scone. Granted it was more toward the noon hour, I going to give them the benefit of the doubt. But just then Elvia proceeded to bring me a freshly baked one and it was fluffy and much better. In the end, however, I was left wondering what true alpine Swiss would have brought to the table.
Finally, my last selection was from the lunch menu, the chicken Florentine panini. Served with spinach, mushrooms, pepper aioli on a ciabatta roll, the sandwich has good intentions, but is unfortunately weighed down by the inclusion of the same faux-Swiss cheese. Had the real deal been involved, the plate would have been strong. Especially since the sweet potato fries I chose were cooked superbly.
As previously stated, the Home Kitchen also offers a dinner menu. It has a mix-and-match approach, pairing a variety of proteins with side dishes and a sauce. Some standouts include the filet mignon with beurre blanc sauce and garlic potatoes.
Overall, I sense the Home Kitchen is struggling a bit to settle into a comfort zone. It seems conflicted as to whether it wants to be a contender alongside the other downtown Ojai breakfast haunts, or an upgraded replacement for Carrow’s. Either is admirable and there for the taking. If the former is the objective, there is still a little work to be done.