When you first arrive to 821 Café, you aren’t sure whether to seat yourself or wait for a waiter – or who even is the waiter among the waiting masses (okay, “masses” may be an exaggeration). 821 is a small joint that emphasizes the “Richmond hipster” vibe: Read exposed brick walls and strangers sitting side-by-side as they enjoy local beers (at least I think they’re local; I don’t know my beers).
I brought my out-of-town friend, Paige, here since I had eaten dinner here twice before and thought 821 appropriately showcases the more alternative side to Richmond. The menu offers multiple tofu options and the wait staff is often adorned in as many tattoos and piercings as the other customers.
So do you seat yourself? I’m not still not sure, because on previous occasions we did so, but on this occasion we were “shown” to a table – and thankfully didn’t have to wait. Those “masses” mentioned above were on their way out, phew.
The diner is small enough so that a flick of the wrist indicates pretty well which table you’re getting. In our case, we got the smack-dab of the café between a quartet of underclassmen girls (one of whom said her ex wouldn’t let her break up with him – sounds mildly abusive) and a couple of guys who may or may not have just met and will be roommates for the next year (cross your fingers for them). I only know their ages because a.) we went to 821 during move-in weekend to Virginia Commonwealth University and b.) I eavesdropped on their conversation, #sorrynotsorry.
But by smack-dab, the sides of your table are touching your neighbors’ table unless you’re in a booth. In fact, my Sriracha was on the guys’ table (“pardon me”). This isn’t bad, but if you’re the CIA, I wouldn’t brunch here.
The menu is reasonably priced. Signature omelets are $9, for example; pancakes are $6; and a breakfast sandwich is $4. Besides breakfast fare, their regular menu is available, which ranges from Greek salads to chili nachos and burritos to PB, banana, and bacon sandwiches (I didn’t experiment).
I chose the western omelet, featuring onions, tomatoes, green peppers, ham, and American cheese. For my sides, I chose rosemary potatoes (versus fruit or grits) and whole wheat toast (versus white, rye, or a buttermilk biscuit). My friend got the buttermilk pancakes (versus non-buttermilk? Just kidding. But she could have added toppings, which she did not). Our neighbor got a breakfast sandwich with bacon. One of the quartet girls got the dankest looking breakfast bowl, which I didn’t see on the menu, but in hindsight might have been the Big Fancy or Big Meaty (rosemary potatoes topped with various meats or vegetables and cheese, always cheese – add eggs for $2).
Before brunch, I had gone for a run. Therefore, when our food arrived, I totally forgot to take a picture of it. (This is why Sara normally does the brunch reviews.) But I did remember after I finished off the potatoes, which could easily compete in the Fried Potato Olympics. They had a crispy exterior and a soft, oiled center complimented well by Heinz 57 (or whatever tomato-based product was in the unmarked squirt bottle on the table).
However, in my hanger, I did put Sriracha across my omelet before even taking a bite (apologies to the chef for not tasting without hot sauce and to my GI doctor who told me to avoid spicy foods, whoops). So, the point is, if you order the western omelet, it doesn’t come with that awesome latticework atop:
Anyhow, the omelet was about as stupendous as the potatoes. I want to one day master making omelets that resemble burritos as opposed to the quesadilla-like things I concoct in my kitchen. The fillings were ample and *a-okay hand emoji*.
The bread…well, what can you say about wheat bread? It came out of a bag. I added jelly. Grape jelly is better if you’re going to follow my lead.
As for my friend’s pancakes, there’s not much to be said. It’s your standard fare, but they’re fluffy and spongy – but a different sort of sponge than the one found by your kitchen sink. I did steal a bite at the end, and they have the most decadent pecan aftertaste, but that’s probably the syrup, which I don’t think the chef has much control over.
“They came topped with some sort of sugar stuff, which was nice,” my friend adds. “They were really big, too, so it was a hefty portion. They’d be really easy to split with someone and maybe get eggs a la carte.”
My only complaint would be that I ran out of water pretty fast and my cup never got refilled. I did ask my neighbor’s food runner for a water refill, and she replied she’d tell my server, but no savior descended upon my table. I probably wouldn’t have needed a refill if I hadn’t put so much Sriracha on my eggs, but no one is looking to point fingers here.
Except the waiter did refill my neighbors’ water. And not mine.
And not mine.
And not mine.
Okay, I don’t have a grudge. My friend let me have her water.
I’ll definitely be back, either for brunch or for their breakfast on Tuesdays where they have $4 mimosas. Or for this bathroom.