Restaurant Review

Sabrina’s

Sabrina’s Café has been a hit since the first one opened in Philly in 2001. The first NJ location has exquisite egg dishes at breakfast and brunch.

Sabrina’s Café is famous for two things: brunch and lines. It’s been a hit since the day Robert DeAbreu, a former Carrabba’s manager, and his wife and business partner, Raquel, opened the original Sabrina’s in Philadelphia in 2001. Even now, if you hit one of the locations in and around Philly on a weekend, the sidewalk will almost certainly be jammed, and a polite hostess will tell you the wait is likely an hour.

Last November, the DeAbreus opened the fifth Sabrina’s on Collingswood’s main drag. I figured I’d be safe arriving at 1:30 pm on a Sunday, well after the brunch rush. I figured wrong.
The hostess estimated “an hour, hour and a half” wait and said she’d text me when my table was ready.

They overestimate. I was seated in exactly 42 minutes. Holding a steaming mug of La Colombe coffee, I perused the familiar menu, largely developed by corporate executive chef Lance Silverman and the same at all locations. The creative and often kooky daily specials available across the river were not yet offered in Collingswood, so I went with the classic French toast. As usual, it was delicious. Positioned upright, the thick triangles of battered challah looked like suntanned pyramids. Their filling of tangy cream cheese offset the sweetness of sliced bananas and vanilla bean-flavored maple syrup.

“We wanted to make sure we had the brunch menu down and were executing it properly before adding specials,” DeAbreu explained over the phone after my visits. Collingswood chef Yahkoub Diahkite, a native of Mauritania in West Africa, started as a dishwasher at the original Sabrina’s and worked his way up. He’s now having fun whipping up specials like pumpkin pancakes with fried plantains, candied pistachios and cornbread crumble; and an egg-white omelet loaded with lentils, olives and spinach.

The kitchen did a fine job with eggs. I had the Ultimate Mexi Scramble, with cilantro pesto and grits studded with black beans. My guests enjoyed sunny-side huevos rancheros with zesty chorizo on blue-corn tortillas, and a giant omelet with sliced green apples and sharp Wisconsin cheddar. My one criticism: The apple slices would have been much more appetizing sautéed rather than practically raw.

At dinner, tables were readily available. That surprised me. The friendly atmosphere, people-pleasing menu and easygoing prices should be catnip for families. But maybe it’s no surprise. A bowl of thick, brown broccoli-cheddar soup was shockingly bland. Fried calamari were rubbery. Moist, tender, buttermilk-battered fried chicken came with a fluffy biscuit and tasty brown gravy. Too bad the crackly coating fell right off.

On the other hand, fried chicken cutlets on a crusty roll from Sarcone’s in South Philly came with marinated long hot peppers, sautéed spinach and sharp provolone. It was crunchy, spicy and delicious. Well-seasoned chicken-noodle soup comforted me on a cold night.

The pulled-pork sandwich, as described on the menu, sounded busy and aggressive, with its Southwestern spice rub, chipotle-orange marinade and mango-berry barbecue sauce. But each bite balanced spicy, tangy and sweet. And there was enough juicy, braised pork in the sandwich to feed two.

I recommend upgrading from the complimentary regular fries to Sabrina’s justly celebrated polenta fries for just $2.79. The long, crisp logs with creamy centers come with housemade marinara sauce for dipping. The fail-safe dessert is dense, creamy cheesecake, in whatever variety is offered that night—chocolate-peanut butter, on my visits.

A similarly priced and varied menu can be found across the street at the much-loved Pop Shop, but in restaurant-rich Collingswood there are plenty of eaters to go around. “We love the neighborhood and the feel, with all the families,” Raquel told me. “It reminds us a lot of our original location.” If it straightens out a few glitches, the fifth Sabrina’s could enjoy a similar run.

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Restaurant Details

  • Cuisine Type:
    American - Breakfast
  • Price Range:
    Inexpensive
  • Price Details:
    Dinner, Lunch: $7.99-$18.29. Breakfast, Brunch: $4.29-$13.89.
  • Ambience:
    Big, bright and cute.
  • Service:
    Young, chatty but focused.
  • Wine list:
    BYO

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