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Brick and Bell wows the crowds with fresh options

The quaint brick cottage on Silverado Street in La Jolla might not look like a gourmet shop, but wait till you taste the fresh-baked pastries (made daily on the premises), the outstanding salads (including a chicken Caesar served with fresh baked croutons, special house dressing, and fine parmesan cheese), and the sandwich selection (served on three different types of heavenly breads).

The Brick and Bell Cafe has been a local favorite ever since it opened its doors four years ago. About 175,000 customers have dined on its delightful sidewalk patio or in its tiny interior. Even on the sunniest days, the umbrellas keep the patio breezy and pleasant. Many local business people take advantage of Brick and Bell’s free express delivery service in the La Jolla Village area.

The restaurant opens for business at 5 a.m. every day of the week - and folks often show up even earlier to get one of the homemade muffins, scones, or the newest addition to the sweet section - Scottish shortbread (made with pure butter, of course). You might be surprised by the number of scones sold in The Brick and Bell. To date, there have been 23,000 scones purchased. That’s quite a feat.

The menu isn’t very large, but everything on it is exceptional - including the new items, such as traditional egg salad, all white meat chicken strips with dipping sauce, and solid white albacore tuna salad (made with cucumbers, corn, black olives, and onions).

The morning crowd loves Swiss Muesli ($3.95) - a nutritious meal-in-a-bowl made with oats, low-fat milk, raspberries, blueberries, raisins, strawberries and vanilla. Believe it or not, this breakfast dish usually sells out early.

The sunrise sandwich (featuring eggs, bacon, tomatoes, and cheddar cheese on your choice of bagel or croissant) is another good way to start the day, and the lox and bagel classic ($5.95 for smoked salmon, cream cheese, tomatoes, onions and capers on a fresh bagel) is hard to beat. So are the modest prices. It’s hard to find a better value for quality food anywhere else.

And there’s no need to go anywhere else for a great cup of coffee. Brick and Bell serves fresh-roasted elite-grade coffee, along with a variety of green, black, white, and herbal loose-leaf tea. What more could a breakfast lover want? By the way, the coffee is just as fresh later in the day, so enjoy a cup for lunch too.

The restaurant offers diners the option of ordering a full sandwich (for $6.95), a half sandwich (for $4.25), a half sandwich with a half order of soup (for $6.95), and a half sandwich with a half order of salad (for $6.95).

With so many options, the only problem is deciding what you feel like having on any given day. The salad selections are terrific, starting with the spinach and feta cheese salad (served with balsamic vinegar dressing on the side). This delightful salad is just $5.50. The chicken salad with grapes, walnuts, and celery is another favorite. For $6.50, you get this crunchy and delicious salad, served with a slice of multi-grain bread.

The most popular salad on the menu is the chicken Caesar ($6.50) - and you’ll see why, when you try it alone or with a half sandwich. The restaurant makes the special Caesar dressing, and uses toasted bagel chunks for the croutons. It’s a great idea that translates to a spectacular taste sensation.

Among the other salad offerings is spinach with feta cheese and chicken ($6.95) and sliced chicken with vegetables and your choice of dressings ($6.95).

The soup selection is impressive. The menu lists corn chowder, Italian wedding, chicken enchilada, mushroom brie, and clam chowder. You can get a cup or a bowl (served with ciabatta bread) for $3.50 and $4.50, respectively.

All the sandwiches are interesting, so take your pick. The biggest seller is the turkey and avocado. This beauty is served with mayo, lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, and provolone cheese. The Mediterranean is my personal favorite. This colorful vegetarian delight features hummus, feta cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, red onions, black olives, cucumbers, and sliced tomatoes - and it’s wonderful packed into some sourdough bread.

The classic BLT is another winner at The Brick and Bell. This is made with crisp lettuce, fresh tomato slices, mayo and plenty of crisp bacon - just the way it should be made!

Beef lovers will want to sink their teeth into the roast beef and cheddar sandwich. The sandwich gets its zest from a mild horseradish spread, and its color and texture from tomatoes and lettuce.

You don’t find traditional egg salad on many local menus, but The Brick and Bell has added a splendid version of this old-time favorite to the sandwich list -along with albacore tuna (which features cucumbers, corn, black olives, onions, lettuce, tomatoes and mayo).

This informal eatery has managed to keep the quality up and the prices down, and that fact has contributed to its phenomenal success. A friendly and efficient staff adds to the experience - and many of the servers have been around long enough to know their regulars on a first-ßname basis.

Give The Brick and Bell a try - but remember, it closes at 5:30 p.m. on weekdays, at 2 p.m. on Saturdays, and at noon on Sundays.

Brick and Bell Cafe is located at 928 Silverado St. in La Jolla. Call them at (858) 344-5928.