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Brunch for Brunch Lovers at Winston’s

Winston’s occupies the building where Holly’s Lighthouse Cafe used to be (Photo: Mark C. Anderson)

At least a half dozen good omens arrived before the lemon ricotta pancakes hit my lips.

Here they are, in chronological order:

1. An exuberant emailer who happens to be an award-winning author wrote “Smashing new brunch place opened on Lighthouse a few weeks ago. Not sure you’ve covered it, haven’t noticed it, but ate there yesterday and it’s a keeper, worth noting!”

2. The spot has “brunch” in its name, so the priorities are clearly in order. In fact, as I learned later its draft name was simply “Brunch,” but the owner’s daughter convinced him to name it after the original name of the historic building, which once was Winston Hotel.

3. The corner joint also enjoys the same name as one of the coolest and weirdest dogs I’ve ever made pals with.

4. Its team has given one of the most-beloved-but-dated properties in town new life. The 602 Lighthouse space was Holly’s Lighthouse Cafe, which closed in June 2020 in the face of COVID, rocking its tight-knit staff and community of regulars. Now an overhaul that took a full year provides a fresh, clean and comely new feel.

Already a popular spot (Photo: Mark C. Anderson)

5. There’s a menu in place that arrests foodie imagination at first glance. French toast can spin challah or banana-hazelnut, pancake options include blueberry and chocolate chip, waffles take a traditional route or are a podium for buttermilk fried chicken. Guests can go light (stylish granola or equally thoughtful steel cut oats) or burly (American Wagyu double patty smash burger). They can do hipster (ahi burger with ginger wasabi mayo) or old school (egg salad on a baguette). There are key hardcore brunch staples like built-in-house biscuits, corned beef hash, Canadian bacon Benedicts and ham-and-cheese omelets, and homestyle curveballs like chicken pot pie too. Prices range from $12-$18, with most items $14-$16.

6. Perhaps most importantly, as I waited for a to-go order, I learned the man behind Winston’s is Chris D’Amelio, who with his Laura has run quite possibly the best brunch place in Monterey County for more than a quarter century, about a block away (The Red House Cafe). “I want to make it different than the Red House,” he said, “and for it to be bright and fresh—it’s in a happy little building.”

Sky high stack of lemon ricotta pancakes (Photo: Mark C. Anderson)

So I was feeling real good about Winston’s, pre-pancakes.

I collected our order at the small and tidy counter, which was half filled with eye-catching housemade pastries, and headed for the door.

As much as I love what they’ve done with the interior, the tight quarters between the two tops was a little too close for COVID comfort.

The good news there: A) We popped across the street for bottles of Pacific Grove’s own Sparky’s Root Beer. (Lopez Liquors & Fine Wines also stocks a ton of chilled white wines, Rosés and bubblies for the more ambitious brunch); B) We ended up at nearby Jewell Park across from the Pacific Grove Natural History Museum and its guardian angel Sandy the Gray Whale, not a bad place for a picnic. (Pro tip: To have a proper picnic table rather than a wall to sit on, head to similarly nearby Caledonia Park or not-so-far Lovers Point Park.)

Colorful chicken sandwich, no filter needed (Photo: Mark C. Anderson)

I’ve had a thing for fried chicken sandwiches way before they became a national obsession. A couple of weeks in Nashville and the right foodie friends in Oakland (who know Bakesale Betty) will do that to you.

And the buttermilk fried chicken sandwich is nothing to sneeze at, a crispy, juicy, secret-sauce drippy and delicious item that will get better as Ad Astra develops a sturdier-but-still-soft bun to stand up to it.

But it was still a supporting act to the star of this brunch in the park. That’s how good the pancakes were.

Blueberry compote covers some of the fluffiest pancakes I’ve encountered, but they still remain moist. Add whipped butter, lemon curd and maple syrup and you can make a formidable argument they’ll as good as any pancakes in the area.

Brunch is served.

Hours are 8am-2:30pm daily, closed Tuesdays. More at Winston’s Instagram page.

Mark C. Anderson is a writer, photographer, editor, and explorer based in Seaside, California. Reach @MontereyMCA by way of Instagram and Twitter.

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