Following weeks of rain and cold weather (at least by Southern California’s standards) the past few weekends have made it an extremely welcome warm spring. And nothing quite says springtime like a big Sunday breakfast followed by a leisurely stroll around Old Pasadena.
While I’ve been to Russell’s Restaurant on Fair Oaks Avenue before, as many people have, I decided to revisit with an eye toward what I’ve liked the most: Breakfast.
We arrived around 9:45 a.m., at which point there was already a 40-minute wait, with a crowd both inside and right out front. It was a beautiful day, so we didn’t mind the wait, despite our hunger, and it was nice to watch the city waking up. Within 20 minutes of seeing cars go by, it started getting busier and busier, as employees made their way into neighboring stores to prepare for the day ahead, patrons showed up at surrounding restaurants, and more people continued to line up to snag a seat at beloved Russell’s.
The dining area inside Russell’s is quite small, with a counter sharing floor space with cozy red booths and a number of tables. We were seated at one of the largest booths, one in the south corner, although there were only three of us.
The interior largely emphasizes their menu, which consists of American classics, with Italian and French fare. For inspiration, Russell’s red walls are adorned with images of famous artworks, such as Van Gogh’s “Starry Night,” “Girl with a Pearl Earring,” and “The Kiss,” by Gustav Klimt, which was hung just behind us. Chandeliers are hung throughout the narrow restaurant, an exposed brick wall lines the bar area, and bottles of wine are on display in more than one nook.
While it took a few minutes for a server to acknowledge us, when we did finally order the food was ready to eat rather quickly. I went with the vegetarian breakfast burrito ($11.95) which surprisingly is a couple of dollars more than the regular breakfast burrito, which contains sausage and bacon. The vegetarian has three eggs scrambled with broccoli, zucchini, onions, mushrooms, bell peppers, spinach, tomato, avocado, sour cream and cheddar cheese, all wrapped in a flour tortilla and served with hash browns. Listing out its hefty list of ingredients makes the extra $2 seem reasonable, and despite a big mix of assorted vegetables, it was a great and extremely filling dish.
I typically order combination plates for breakfast in order to have a bit of everything — so having a side to an already large plate checked off everything I could want. On the other hand, my brother-in-law is known for his incredible appetite, so when he decided to order “The Big One” ($15.25) we weren’t surprised, that is until we saw just how much food this one meal contains.
The Big One serves up two pancakes, French toast or Belgian waffle, two eggs, bacon and sausage, hash browns, and a choice of toast, bagel, or English muffin. He was more than pleased with his breakfast, to say the least, and we were all pleased to know this exists because this can definitely be shared by two who don’t want a large meal of their own, or someone who is extremely indecisive.
Despite ordering a burrito for myself, there was no way I could go to Russell’s without having pancakes, so I ordered a stack of the chocolate chip variety ($7.25). They were fluffy without being overwhelming. Honestly, it felt like we were having breakfast dessert, which, lucky for us, tasted as great as it sounds.
To drink we had their freshly squeezed orange juice, which tasted so fresh that they might as well have brought over the orange and stuck a straw in it. I don’t detour much from coffee in the morning, but this made me want to be more adventurous with my drink choices on future breakfast outings.
But even more adventurous than mere juice are the mimosas, which Russell’s offers on their menu — Raspberry Royale, Kir Royale (blackcurrants) and Blood Orange — for $9. They don’t offer bottomless drinks as some local brunch hotspots do, but Russell’s isn’t really a place for a boozy brunch. Bloody Marys ($7.25) and bellinis ($8) are also on the menu.
Other breakfast options that are well worth trying included the Croque Monsieur ($13.25), a French ham and cheese sandwich with grilled sourdough and mornay sauce, topped with gouda cheese, and the Croque Madame ($14.25), which is the same as the Monsieur, only topped with an egg.
It’s no wonder Russell’s has won best breakfast more than once in Pasadena Weekly’s Best of Pasadena edition in years past, and was Reader Recommended just last year.
Russell’s is itself a Pasadena staple, one which brings together everything its patrons love — great traditional breakfasts, great drinks and great people in a historic part of the city.
30 N Fair Oaks Ave
Pasadena, CA 91103
Major cards accepted