Few frills, good food and gallons of coffee. That just about sums up Renee’s Cafe. Right outside the center of Teele Square at 198 Holland St., Renee’s has an unassuming vibe with a touch of homeyness, with its eclectic paintings and other decorations that adorn the walls. The highlight of the two-room restaurant is a large chalkboard that features interesting chalk designs and lists the brunch specials of the day. A casual and bustling hotspot for Tufts students and locals alike, Renee’s is a great low-key breakfast or brunch option that doesn’t bring too much innovation to the table (aside from some more creative specials) but manages to deliver on classic dishes for the most part. And it doesn’t break the bank either.
There’s no place quite like Renee’s. The second you sit down, a waiter is at your table offering piping hot coffee. The moment after you say yes will most likely be the last time your mug will be empty. The wait staff will continuously circulate with fresh pots, pouring more for anyone who wants it. By the end of the meal, it’s not uncommon to feel a bit jittery from all that caffeine.
The number one reason to go to Renee’s is the pancakes. While rival local brunch hotspot Sound Bites’ pancakes are thicker, denser and not very sweet, Renee’s pancakes are like giant clouds. (Seriously, they are massive.) Perfectly fluffy and sweet, and dusted with powdered sugar, they are equally enjoyable with or without syrup. Throwing in blueberries or chocolate chips (come on, you know you deserve it) only adds to the already-excellent traditional pancakes. One pancake is plenty filling; three are necessary. Okay, maybe only two are necessary. It might be embarrassing to have to be rolled out of the restaurant, even in the name of pancakes.
Other options are satisfying as well. If you’re looking for something on the savory side, the omelettes are a good choice, stuffed to the brim with fillings. On one visit, however, the outside of an omelette was slightly over-browned. The corned beef hash is praiseworthy as well, though it is on the greasy side, so it is not for the faint of heart. The breakfast sandwiches are a great financial choice, starting at just $3, and they’re tasty as well. For the indecisive, there is the Lumberjack special — three eggs your way, your choice of breakfast meat, home fries, two pancakes and coffee on the house. Talk about having to be rolled out of the restaurant.
Not everything was perfectly executed, however. The eggs Benedict were surprisingly unsatisfactory. The eggs on both plates were over-poached, and the hollandaise sauce was overly sweet with an odd blend of spices. This could have just been one off-day, but the overcooked eggs seemed inexcusable, robbing the consumer of the satisfying feeling of breaking into a yolk and having it run all over the plate, mixing with the hollandaise and creating an even more decadent eating experience. On one visit, Renee’s definitely skimped on the sides of home fries that came with the egg dishes. Not the end of the world, but still disappointing, particularly because the home fries are on point. Unlike Sound Bites’ bizarre potato dish that seems to just be mashed potatoes that were run over by a truck with scorching hot tires, Renee’s home fries are wedge-cut little potatoes that appear to have been roasted with spices. In other words, they look like real potatoes, and they taste like them too.
Another annoyance at Renee’s is that it has self-serve water. This wouldn’t be that huge of a deal, except that the cups provided with the water are tiny. The restaurant is jam-packed with tables, so attempting to weave through the restaurant to the water cooler is just an accident waiting to happen.
Something else to note about Renee’s is that it is cash-only. It’s not that big of a deal, but it’s something to keep in mind, so you don’t end up unable to pay for your meal and washing dishes in the kitchen. (Does that ever happen in real life?) A nice thing about Renee’s, though, is that if everyone at the table does have their cash, Renee’s will divvy up the check for you if you ask, reducing the amount of math you have to do. No one should have to do math early on a Sunday morning.
Despite some flaws, Renee’s is a worthy breakfast and brunch location. Remember, it’s only open Wednesday through Sunday, and only until 1:30 p.m. in the afternoon, so you’ll have to roll out of bed before 2 p.m. unfortunately. But at least once in a while, it’s worth it. Even wear your pajamas if you want. This is not the type of place that will care, though you may get some looks if you go all out with your bunny slippers. Just go. And get the pancakes.