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Sapphire’s decadent brunch

By Diane Armitage

As my New Year’s resolution has me tucking into my 17th arugula salad with apple cider vinaigrette, I think longingly back to my last, great decadent meal at the weekend brunch at Sapphire.Cellar.Craft.Cook. 

My “brunch buddy,” Ali North and I, decided to make our monthly brunch a New Year’s celebration, too. The day was a glorious blue as we met at Sapphire.Cellar.Craft.Cook and were seated on the patio. 

Sapphire's patio

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Courtesy of Sapphire.Cellar.Craft.Cook

Sapphire’s open-air patio offers a companionable view to the charm and bustle of Laguna Beach

Sapphire.Cellar.Craft.Cook stepped in as brand new ownership at the old Sapphire location in late 2019. Despite the COVID shutdown in March 2020, Owner Russ Bendel and Director of Operations Chris Hutten were able to open The Pantry, the take-out extension of the restaurant on April 1, 2020. (Thank heavens, for that, too, as they provide the most amazing cocktails to go in small mason jars.) 

The restaurant, itself, phased in with dinner service first on May 28, 2020 with lunch service later added on June 22. Once the world really started rolling again, the team began its first weekend brunch service on July 25, 2020 and business has been cooking along ever since.   

Brunch cocktails aplenty

Joining the Patio Pounder cocktail are the “standard” Bloody Mary and Mimosa. If you know Sapphire.Cellar.Craft.Cook, though, you know there’s nothing standard about the standards here. 

The Mimosa, alone, offers three options with the La Marca sparkling wine: Strawberry & Thyme; Passion Fruit, Orange & Guava; and Ruby Grapefruit & Sweet Basil. We both opted for the latter. Fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice is always my preference with Mimosas as it cuts the sweet, but the unique basil addition gave the drink a whole new depth of flavor. 

Sapphire's mimosa

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Photo by Diane Armitage

Sapphire’s brunch mimosas come with three flavor options. This is the Ruby Grapefruit & Sweet Basil.

More than 10 options on the brunch menu

While some restaurants may opt for a “less items is more” approach on their brunch menus, Sapphire pulls out all the stops with a variety of full-plate, high-flavor meals. Choose from a lettuce salad with grilled Jidori chicken, or dive into breakfast items that range from sweet (Nutella waffles, for example) to classic (Market Vegetable Scramble or Filet Mignon with eggs) to comfort (Cheddar Buttermilk Biscuits with Sage-Garlic Sausage Gray) to over-the-top, where-did-that-come-from dishes. If you’re not in the mood for breakfast, try the restaurant’s best-selling sandwiches, the towering Wagyu Beef Burger or the fabulous Crispy Chicken Sandwich. 

We were here for breakfast, though, and as it was my last decadent meal for the month of January, I thought it best to opt for the over-the-top options. 

Starting with a sweet option

First to arrive was the Meyer Lemon Crème Fraiche Waffles. Awash in the freshest berries and a thick ribbon of crème fraiche, the waffles arrived with a hearty side of bourbon maple syrup. These were melt-in-your-mouth memorable waffles. 

Sapphire's waffle

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Photo by Diane Armitage

The Meyer Lemon Crème Fraiche Waffles are a perfect shareable to get the brunch party started

And startingly good savory

I opted for the Kurobuta Pork Belly Benedict because…why not? 

“It’s the best-selling item on our menu,” Owner Russ Bendel told me. “It’s definitely one of a kind!”

Truer words could not be said. The chefs start with a rosemary focaccia biscuit “because you can’t have a soggy bottom on your Benedict,” said Hutten, whose long-time talented chef skills nicely aid in menu creations. The stout biscuit held a mighty tower of ingredients, but still proved fork-friendly and fluffy. 

A double pile of crispy pork belly portions is loaded on with Champagne béarnaise sauce ladled between layers. Then, the poached eggs land (I had three on my dish) with another healthy pour of the béarnaise. The chefs finish with a sprinkle of pork belly pieces and micro greens. 

This is an insane dish, a joyful meld of creamy goodness and the crisp, salty chew of the pork belly. The dish was so mighty that I carried at least two-thirds of it home with me. 

Sapphire's benedict

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Photo by Diane Armitage

The Sapphire Pork Belly Benedict is a crowning gem of happy flavors

My brunch buddy, Ali, ordered the Crispy Duroc Pork Schnitzel with Maitake Mushrooms. Frankly, I’m not sure that any other restaurant in town currently offers pork schnitzel, let alone in a brunch menu. 

Schnitzel is typically crafted from boneless pork chops, which are hammered lightly to thinner proportions, and then breaded and either sautéed or flash-fried. 

Even with its hammering, this was one of the largest pork chops I’ve seen. Here at Sapphire, the chefs add pumpkin to the spaetzle mix, which added great moistness and just a touch of sweetness to the pork. The team laid down a foundation of fava beans, maitake mushrooms (think peppery), pearl onions, yellow wax beans, blue lake beans and romanesco. 

“We basically use whatever vegetables are in season,” said Hutten. “It’s just an easy way to sneak in some veggies for breakfast!”

After a douse of Meyer lemon and tarragon emulsion, the great chop landed, followed by more of the creamy emulsion and two eggs done any way the customer chooses. It was a beautiful beast of a brunch item, and I felt somewhat redeemed in that I’d eaten my vegetables, too. 

Sapphire's schnitzel

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Photo by Diane Armitage

The Sapphire Crispy Duroc Pork Schnitzel is a tender, flavorful and very rare addition to a brunch menu

A lovely way to while away a Sunday morning

Although Sapphire.Cellar.Craft.Cook fills its extended patio first with guests before moving into the restaurant, the full patio still offers plenty of space between tables and the noise level is quiet ambient. Service was fast and friendly, and the food arrived piping hot (something I always look for). 

What an enjoyable way to spend an hour or so on a Sunday morning in our beautiful town. Sapphire’s brunch is both Saturday and Sunday, from 10 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Call for reservations please at 949.715.9888, or go online to to book your table. 

The best-selling author and blogger on The Best of Laguna Beach™, Diane Armitage is on an endless quest for the most imaginative adventures in Laguna’s restaurants, events, and lifestyle. Check out chef interviews, retail and restaurant news, and favorite events at and follow on Instagram @BestofLagunaBeach (look for Diane’s smiling face).


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