Professional bon vivants will remember Mari as owner of the Loop's beloved but now-defunct La Patisserie, where over the years many a Sunday hangover was coaxed into submission by her inspired cooking.
"It's basically the same menu," Mari says of her MoKaBe's buffet, which she arranges casually on the coffee house's pool table (making better use of it than I ever could). Among the delicious staples: pumpkin-bread pudding, breakfast burritos, apple strudel, vegan country-style potatoes, meatless sausage, scrambled eggs with cream cheese and basil. At 10 bucks for all-you-can-eat (including juice and coffee), it's a great deal; I always get seconds on the stuffed French toast with raspberry sauce and Patrice's weird-and-wonderful mushroom "bacon."
Mari, a self-described "accidental restaurateur," began her culinary career making desserts for local restaurants while working at the Golden Grocer. Business boomed, and she found a space in the Delmar Loop to house the enterprise. When the University City fathers wouldn't let her run a wholesale operation out of a retail storefront, La Patisserie was born. "I had no intention of opening a restaurant, but it just snowballed."
After a successful 10-year run, Mari sold La Pat in 1992 and worked a stint as a country-club pastry chef ("It was awful; it was bad for the soul") before resurrecting her brunch on South Grand last March. "After the Sunshine Inn closed, nobody was doing a vegetarian breakfast, so I thought, "Why not?'"
Why MoKaBe's? "They've got such a progressive crowd," Mari beams, "and Mo was so open to it. She's given me free rein. And just look at it -- the response has been great." If today is any indication, she's not kidding; there isn't an empty seat in the house.
MOKABE'S COFFEE HOUSE, 3606 Arsenal, 865-2009. Brunch: 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Sun.
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