Behind the counter at Sunburst Café a green and yellow bumper sticker is stuck to the wall amid chalkboard menus listing omelets, lattes and soups of the day.
“Friends don’t let friends go to Starbucks,” it reads, and after a mere moment in this welcoming and fiercely independent coffee shop, it’s tempting to forsake the caffeine behemoth’s frappucinos and grande mochas forever.
Sunburst Café is a different breed of café. Among a seemingly endless supply of corporate chain restaurants it is an oasis of individual taste, design and personality. Sunburst is a neighborhood joint without the neighborhood - decorated with work by local artists, it’s the kind of place where you can get real food made fresh and a damn good cup of joe to boot.
I first ventured into the restaurant, which serves breakfast and lunch seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. for a post-shopping lunch. Hidden in a pocket of the Target plaza on Pine Ridge Road in Naples, it’s quickly become one of my favorite local eateries and a regular stop on my hung over weekend brunch circuit.
“Going to Sunburst on a Sunday morning, or any day, is like eating with your family,” says this mornings’ breakfast buddy and Sunburst regular Tovin Lapan. “But without the bickering,” he adds.
Tovin and I peruse the familiar menu, which offers up well-made comfort food like hefty omelets, blueberry pancakes, BLT sandwiches and fresh tossed salads and arrive at a decision. Although it is already past noon, we are both having breakfast.
I order a healthy veggie omelet made with egg whites (at no extra charge) and served with wheat toast and a choice of fruit or home fries ($6.50). Tovin chooses one of the day’s specials, the Florentine eggs benedict made vegetarian style with spinach and tomato instead of ham. We select one of owner Jerome’s fat, fresh baked muffins ($2.25), which a server warms up gently, and a pair of the bite-sized raspberry rugelach ($.30 each) – the perfect ending to a satisfying meal.
While our eggs cook I can’t resist breaking into our enormous coffee cake – cheesecake muffin. It tears off in warm chunks and is sweet, soft and lushly moist. However, except for the coffee cake topping, its mild flavors don’t really echo the taste of cheesecake or coffee cake specifically.
A short time later a server drops off our breakfasts. Tovin takes a first bite then pokes at his eggs benedict cautiously – they have delivered the regular version rather than the Florentine special. He returns the mistaken order and in a moment the correct dish arrives laden with spinach, tomatoes and not a bit of meat.
My omelet is packed with sautéed mushrooms, peppers, onions and tomatoes, and alongside the buttered toast and cup of fresh fruit it nearly fills the oversized plate. It is hot, fresh and I finish every last bite even though half would have been more than enough.
The special eggs benedict also prove a good choice. Two halves of an English muffin are stacked with poached eggs, spinach, tomato and a thick swath of buttery hollandaise sauce. The pale yellow sauce is rich and creamy, the perfect complement to the egg’s runny texture, while the vegetables and English muffin add an element of structure to the dish. By the time we bite into the rugelach, a small flaky pastry folded around a fruit or chocolate filling, I am completely stuffed.
But it isn’t just the food that makes Sunburst such an incredible find. It’s a combination of flavor, atmosphere and value that have won this little restaurant a devoted local following. While it’s often a struggle to eat in Naples within the limits of our $15 and under budget, at Sunburst Cafe there simply isn’t anything that costs that much. For only $19.56 (before tip) Tovin and I leave Sunburst well fed and with the warm fuzzy feeling that can only come from dining somewhere that feels like home.