By Kelley CarlsonFrom sunrise until sundown, La Jolla’s Pannikin Coffee & Tea is constantly buzzing with customers. It’s a cozy setting, a haven for all ages. On the patio, birds serenade customers from the treetops all day long. Dogs curl up next to their owners, who sip on steaming cups of java while perusing a newspaper from the stands on the sidewalk. A chalkboard just outside the restaurant’s door highlights menu items and notes the hours with an artistic flair. And if it’s not a typically warm Southern California day, heat lamps keep the temperature comfortable.
Inside reveals old-school charm with modern-day touches, complete with eclectic knickknacks. Patrons travel a well-worn wood floor to the counter to place their orders for breakfast and lunch entrees, coffees and teas, or baked goods in the nearby glass case. They settle in seats next to windows with lace curtains, set up their laptops and take advantage of the free WiFi, gather around the chess table in the back, or kick back in the colorful seats and socialize with friends.
The walls display an ever-changing array of paintings, with a different local artist featured each month. There’s also a photo collection of past-and-present employees. One tongue-in-cheek sign reads, “Unattended children will be given espresso and a free puppy.”
Tunes from jazz musicians like Django Reinhardt and Ella Fitzgerald, to folk singer Iron & Wine, complete the coffeehouse setting.
The Pannikin fills up early and stays steady all day, and then begins to mellow around 4-4:30 p.m. To fully appreciate the experience, Amanda Morrow, who co-owns the establishment with Renee Moreno, suggests coming in around 9 a.m. on a sunny morning and sitting outside. If it’s raining, come extra early to reserve a seat by the fireplace, which has a red-and-white Harley hanging over it. (Original owner Robert “Bob” Sinclair collected motorbikes.)
Morrow said the baristas get to know the customers’ names and preferences, so they know what to prepare when patrons walk through the door. “I feel like we’re a real community,” she said. “We don’t treat people like they are a number.”
The La Jolla Pannikin also maintains a close connection with area businesses, including its sister locations in Del Mar and Leucadia, which have different owners. They share the same recipes and assorted pastries, and the coffee beans are roasted at the Leucadia site, guaranteeing that the java is never more than a week old. “We never have old coffee; it’s super-duper fresh,” said Morrow, who established the roastery for the company.
There are about 20 varieties of coffees (along with 40 types of teas) which can be purchased in store or online. In addition, Pannikin offers a full espresso bar, and the creative baristas — Morrow and Moreno included — often turn the foam into works of art. Among the specialty drinks are the Jimi Hendrix with four shots of espresso, steamed Mexican chocolate milk and hazelnut syrup; the Keith Richards, identical to the Jimi Hendrix except there’s no hazelnut syrup, but there is foam on top; and the Michael Jackson, consisting of three shots of espresso, half Mexican chocolate and half white chocolate.
Among the baked goods that are perfect to accompany the java are scones and muffins that are made from scratch daily, starting at 4 a.m. Additional morning fare includes granola and fresh bagels from Busy Bee’s in La Jolla. Heartier breakfast plates include quiche and Greek Eggs with feta cheese, basil and tomato. Morrow recommends adding avocado to the latter for enhancing the entree.
One type of dish that sets the La Jolla Pannikin apart from the other two sites is the fact that it offers burritos. The Breakfast Burrito Especial is stuffed with eggs, cheese, homemade beans, tomatoes and Eugenio’s salsa, named for the head chef. Morrow’s favorite is the Eugenio Burrito Especial, a tortilla that is filled with vegetables, eggs, cheese (including feta) and beans, topped with Swiss cheese and salsa, and then baked. “It’s the size of a small child,” Morrow said with a laugh. But beware: The men’s version includes jalapeños, while women will be “spared the spiciness.”
For lunch, there are sandwiches and salads, and soups that are prepared each day from Suzie’s Farm organic vegetables. But there’s more to the Pannikin than meets the eye: Morrow revealed there’s a secret menu. Not all of the items can be revealed here, but a few include the Vegan Quesadilla, Huevos a la Mexicana, and children’s drinks such as French Soda, Kids Chocolate Milk and Kids Hot Chocolate. Morrow also noted that the cooks — some who have been with the Pannikin for 25 years — can handle specialty orders.
Pannikin Coffee & TeaAddress: 7467 Girard Ave., La Jolla
pannikincoffeeandtea.comThe Vibe: Casual, relaxed
Signature Dishes: Greek Eggs, Breakfast Burrito Especial
Open Since: 1968
Patio Seating: Yes
Take Out: Yes
Happy Hour: No
Hours: 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday-Friday, 6:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday