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Monkey Business Café: “café with a cause”

 

Story and photos by Hannah Miller/CSUF Comm 334 --

Monkey Business Café is a nonprofit organization that trains emancipated youth in the restaurant business. The restaurant offers traditional breakfast and lunch entrees, as well as dessert waffles and pancakes. I visited with my parents and sister-in-law to taste a few breakfast and lunch items.

A loud hum echoes off the walls as I enter the café. I wonder if I have just walked into a beehive. 

    But I forget that sound as I suddenly smell the sweet, comforting smell of maple syrup and bacon. 

    Nothing in Monkey Business Café matches. Some chairs stand tall and rigid, and some are short and have arm rests and cushions. No two tables alike. Most are various shades of stained wood.

A separate room with a giftshop sits by the west entrance. A pamphlet informs customers that Monkey Business Café is a nonprofit organization that offers job training for youth emancipated from the foster care system. Proceeds from the giftshop help support the company’s initiative. We buy a purple monkey full of candy ($3). 

    Our server leads us to a table that stands directly in front of the cash register and hands us menus. We can see cooks busy in the kitchen. 

I try to find a comfortable position to sit as I wait for the final member of my party to arrive, but my butt has as much cushion as the wooden chair I’m sitting on: none. 

The variety of wood dining tables and chairs add warmth to the restaurant that balances with the bright green walls and offbeat artwork, one example of which is a deranged Alice from “Alice in Wonderland.” 

When the final member of our party arrives, he’s panting. The few parking spots behind the restaurant are full, and he had to park at the Lutheran church across the street. 

    We begin to dissect the menu. It’s full of unique pancakes and waffles (some of which include sliced bananas), egg dishes, burgers, tacos and more.  

    “You guys need a minute?” the waiter asks for the third time. 

    We sheepishly nod. None of us can decide if we want lunch or breakfast. He offers us some drinks in the meantime. I order an iced vanilla coffee and my mom orders an unsweetened iced tea. 

    The tea looks like it could be liquid ruby and smells like a sweet bouquet of wild flowers and herbs. Its strong, fresh flavor leaves only a hint of sweetness that teases the tongue.

The iced coffee, however, is a concerning pale brown color. As a coffee lover, I fear that I ordered an iced vanilla milk instead. 

But I’m pleasantly surprised. 

The coffee has a sharpness that cuts through the sweet vanilla. It’s still too milky for my taste, but it beats the burnt flavor of Starbucks coffee. According to a sign by the register, the coffee is organic and fair trade. 

I learn on a later visit that the iced hazelnut coffee has an even better blend of bitter coffee and sweet cream. 

We decide that half of the party will order breakfast, and the other half will order lunch. 

My mom orders the Huevos Rancheros ($11). The burgundy sauce that smothers the eggs (scrambled, by request) soaks into the homemade-looking tostada. 

The salsa has a slow burn that balances out the mildly greasy tortilla beneath. The beans lack flavor on their own, but provide a nice texture. 

My dad orders the next breakfast dish: the Pulled Pork Burrito ($10). The burrito is massive. I pick it up carefully and with both hands. It’s jam-packed with shredded pork, house fries and cheesy eggs. I try to squish it so I can take a bite. 

I won’t use a fork. 

I won’t let a burrito beat me.

I stretch my mouth extra wide and take a bite. 

My teeth feel little resistance as they slice through the soft tortilla. The house fries remind me of Saturday mornings and homecooked breakfasts. The pork melts in my mouth like butter on a hot pan. I pass it back regretfully, hoping he won’t be able to finish it. He does. 

My sister-in-law, Kira, orders the Portobello Mushroom Wrap ($10). It’s a little smaller than the burrito, but lacks nothing in flavor. 

The earthy, savory flavor of the mushrooms paired with the flavor of raw spinach and pesto make up for the slightly rubbery texture. 

When the waiter sets down my half Monterrey Chicken Sandwich and Chicken Tortilla soup ($8), I was underwhelmed. The previous dishes set my expectations higher than a chicken sandwich and cup of soup could fulfill.

 The sandwich, which has grilled chicken, pesto aioli, avocado and arugula, tastes like most other Monterey chicken sandwiches other than the arugula. Its bitter flavor adds a twist. 

The soup, while good, tastes nothing like chicken tortilla soup. Large chunks of celery, chicken and avocado bob around the broth, and homemade chips stick out of the sides. 

During my second visit, however, I order the 4 Cheese Grilled Cheese ($9), Chili Cheese Fries ($7), and Pulled Pork Fries ($8), all of which deserve a standing ovation. The 4 Cheese Grilled Cheese oozes cheese with every bite, and the bread is crusted with parmesan cheese. Tomatoes and bacon add freshness and crunch. The bacon is unlike most other restaurant bacons, which tend to be flimsy and thin. It is thick-cut and easy to bite through. 

The Chili Cheese Fries have dark, vegetarian chili drowning shoestring fries. It isn’t greasy or heavy, like many chili recipes tend to be. The consistency and flavor remind me of salty vegetable stew. I found myself scraping the plate for every last bite. 

When the waiter sets down a trough of Pulled Pork Fries, I don’t know where to start. Sliced pickles on top of onion rings on top of barbeque sauce on top of cheese on top of pulled pork on top of shoestring fries. The onion rings and fries, which aren’t greasy, are balanced by the vinegar tang of the pickles. 

If you’re looking for a healthy lunch or breakfast, look elsewhere. Monkey Business Café caters to those who love flavor.  

Monkey Business Café
301 E. Amerige Ave.
Fullerton, CA 92832

Open every day: 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Cafe and takeout: 714-526-2933

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