Every morning for the past 32 years, Antoine’s Café has served and connected with the people of San Clemente, and for the past 17 years, the people of San Clemente have regularly rewarded Antoine’s Café with their votes in the annual Best of San Clemente Golden Ole Awards.
This year, Antoine’s Café has received more support than ever, with its haul of four Golden Oles and two Silvers, giving it the most medals earned of any San Clemente business this year.
“It’s been a journey, for sure,” Antoine’s Café owner Veronique Price says. “But, I mean, I love it. I’m glad I stuck to it. It’s nice. It’s good. It’s sweet. Now that I’m older, what I called ‘my little shrimp,’ all those little kids that used to run over the restaurant 30 years ago, and now they’re getting engaged or getting married, to having babies or bring me their babies. So, I feel like there’s definitely a whole community. It’s a family. It’s just sweet.”
Antoine’s Café won four Golden Ole awards this year, being named the Best of San Clemente for breakfast, lunch, brunch and breakfast burritos. For bagels and healthy choices, Antoine’s earned Silver Oles.
“It’s a mecca of the real San Clemente,” says Antoine Price Jr., Veronique’s son and the operator of Café Mimosa. “It’s all here.”
With that run of awards, it’s clear that San Clemente has chosen to start its days with Antoine’s Café, as the fantastic food and bright, attentive staff have made a connection with the Spanish Village by the Sea.
“My theory is everything goes really fast,” Veronique says. “Everybody is on their screen. Everything is computers, cellphones, all this stuff. You know what people are going to be missing the most is a personal relationship. They want to feel the connection or love.”
Veronique credits that connection to her front-of-house staff, but it doesn’t hurt to have the solid foundations of fresh, quality food underneath. The rule at Antoine’s Café is food is newly prepped each day, sometimes twice a day, and those ingredients never stay in the fridge longer than two days.
And while there is a variety of awards for Antoine’s Café, most of those fold back into the restaurant’s main course—breakfast, which quickly became a favorite of Veronique’s when she came to the United States from France.
“See, I love breakfast. In France, you have no breakfast,” Veronique says. “Breakfast in France is like a cup of coffee. Once in a while, you get a croissant.”
While breakfast became a fast favorite of hers, the unfamiliarity with all that came with American breakfasts presented a small challenge when the Prices took over the then-named Halfway House and branded it as Antoine’s Café.
“When I bought the place, since I’m French and you know my English wasn’t the best,” Veronique says. “I’ve worked in a lot of restaurants. I’ve done a lot of stuff before, but I never did breakfast. So, when I bought the place, we used to write everything by hand, right? So we go, bacon and eggs, you know, what kind of toast?”
“At the beginning when I first started, the old owner trained me. We’d put the ticket in the kitchen, and then he would go, ‘Come over.’ I said, ‘What?’ ‘How do they want their eggs?’ And I’m going what, like, I don’t know. Scrambled? And he goes, ‘No, you need to ask them. Ask them, what, over-easy, over-medium, basted.’ I’ve learned a bunch of words, right? I’m thinking, oh, wow, really? So, you know it took me a little bit to figure that one out,” she continued.
Safe to say that Veronique and Antoine’s Café have figured out eggs.
The most popular dish at the restaurant is their omelets, along with Benedicts and all the other breakfast classics. Crepes are popular, too, for a small French twist, in addition to the award-winning breakfast burritos and bagels.
As the day stretches into brunch and lunch, there’s plenty of the unique and the familiar to satisfy returning customers over and over again.
“We’ve got certain items, especially here at Antoine’s, that you don’t normally see on most menus like Croque Madame and our little French twist here and there,” Antoine Jr. says. “But Antoine’s, I think is still your corner coffee shop that you come to all the time. Like, you want a burger? You got a burger. You want a Caesar salad? You got a Caesar salad. You want tacos? We got fresh tacos.”
Those satisfied customers are ultimately what pleases Veronique the most when it comes to being this year’s most-awarded business, as the Best of San Clemente Awards are fully the people’s choice.
“It’s a big deal, because it’s the people. Nobody can trick this,” Veronique says. “The people vote. They vote with their feet.”
Those feet have, and they will continue to wander down El Camino Real and into a booth at Antoine’s Café.