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NEXT BEST THING TO BEAN THERE

Vine & Bean brings Lucky Café's popular brunches to the East

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When Heather Haviland added weekend brunch service to Lucky’s Café repertoire, she immediately became the queen of the breakfast circuit. Already a popular midweek coffee-and-pastry stop, Lucky’s, in Tremont, soon found itself besieged by the ravenous bridge-and-tunnel set. Things went so well so fast that the chef finally was able to replace her closet-sized kitchen with one large enough to handle a crowd.

Oh, to have that roomy kitchen at Vine & Bean, her new East Side café. "I'm right back where I started," sighs Haviland.

Not quite. At least the original kitchen at Lucky's was on the main floor. These days, Haviland is squeezing herself into a tiny basement cook shop. Once again, she is busting out the portable gas burners, juggling pots and pans, and generally rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic just to keep up.

Not that you'd ever know it upstairs. Set in a picture-perfect Victorian century home, Vine & Bean couldn't be any cuter without breaking a law. Former home to Café Limbo, a well-received vegetarian eatery, the adorable café features a tiny counter and barista station, a fireplace, some couches and about 15 tables scattered across three small rooms. In cold weather, the place seats around 35. In warmer months, that number almost doubles, thanks to porch and patio seating.

As an East Sider, I have to admit that the idea of a Lucky's-style brunch just half a block from the North Union Farmers Market at Shaker Square more than piqued my interest. But would it be as good as the original, I wondered? It's better, considering that the drive is shorter and the wait (at least for now) brief. In order to pull off brunch on both sides of town simultaneously, Haviland hired chef Ky-Wai Wong to take her place at Lucky's while she runs the show at Vine & Bean.

Because they share a commissary — and a conscience — both restaurants utilize bushels of local ingredients. Haviland is a fanatic for quality, and she is willing to go out of her way for freshness. Eggs, cheese, milk and produce all come from Ohio farms, as do the beef and bacon. First and foremost a pastry chef, Haviland bakes all the breads, scones, muffins and cookies from scratch.

Swapping scones for biscuits might be considered treasonous down South, but Haviland does it to no ill effect in her deliciously homespun biscuits and gravy ($11.25). A split cheddar-scallion scone is topped with gently scrambled eggs, ladlefuls of creamy sausage gravy and a sprinkling of scallions. Hash browns here are chunky, well-browned and substantial.

Those great potatoes are at the heart of the now-famous Shipwreck ($11.25), a dish for diners who can't decide. Like a breakfast buffet in a bowl, this chestnut includes fried potatoes, scrambled eggs, bacon, white cheddar and a fistful of seasonal veggies. Two slices of the best buttered toast in town obviate the need for a fork. If you ask for Red Hot, like we did, you'll be rewarded with a cruet of smoky-sweet homemade hot sauce.

Tex-Mex in spirit, the killer breakfast-burrito plate ($11.25) features two plump, scrambled-egg-stuffed tortillas. The burritos are nestled into a casserole, topped with sauce and cheese, and served with fried potatoes. That sauce, a stormy brew made with guajillo and ancho chiles, is like the sinister twin to good-natured mole.

A word about the stiff tariffs: Granted, $12 sounds like a lot to spend on breakfast, especially when $3 bacon-and-egg deals are everywhere. But this isn't breakfast — it's brunch. Meals are not only delicious, they are substantial enough to tide you over until dinner — a late dinner, at that.

During the week, Vine & Bean is decidedly more low-key. Lunches consist of salads, sandwiches and paninis, all made from the same great local ingredients. Dinner, which is served Wednesday through Saturday nights, adds cheese plates and a handful of entrées. Recent options included meatloaf with mushroom gravy, and tofu and veggie curry on naan. The Bean stocks a nice little selection of craft brews and wines by the glass, and on weekends, there is live music. On the fourth Saturday of each month, Haviland and Wong present a multi-course food and wine feast.

Vine & Bean just launched the weekend brunch, and it seems word is beginning to spread. If demand exists, a weekday breakfast may be added to the mix. For Haviland, it's a bit like déjà vu all over again. If business continues to grow on the East Side like it did on the West, she may be compelled to expand yet another kitchen.

"But that's putting the cart before the horse," says the eternally modest Haviland.

dining@clevescene.com

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