Located in Bridgeland, this breakfast spot is all about local ingredients and a great atmosphere
Mauro Martina is particular about his eggs. Seeing as he cracks about 2,700 of them a week (or about 170,000 per year), Martina knows the difference between an average egg and a truly spectacular egg that is worthy of the meals he serves at his always-busy brunch restaurant, OEB. When patrons order a blue plate special, omelette, benny, or any other dish at OEB, Martina always starts with the high-quality free run, dark yolk, Omega 3 eggs produced especially for the restaurant.
“People always ask what makes us different, and I always say we’re going to start by creating what I think is the most important element of breakfast, which is the egg,” Martina says. “It took me over a year to really find the farms who are willing to go the extra mile for us.”
While high-quality eggs are absolutely essential to what Martina does, the OEB experience is about much more than the choice between over-easy and sunny-side-up. Martina, who grew up in Europe and has trained and worked as a chef in cities all over the world, wanted to create a chef-driven restaurant that takes traditional breakfast dishes to the next level. After years of working grueling hours in restaurants that specialize in dinner service, Martina developed the OEB concept as a way to flex his culinary muscle while still being able to spend evenings with his young family. Since OEB is open daily from 7 am until just 3 pm, Martina is able to make his way home to be with his family by the late afternoon or early evening.
Just because Martina is creating dishes centred around the basics of eggs, potatoes, and breakfast meat, doesn’t mean that he’s getting lazy with his culinary skills. OEB’s menu is filled with a staggering array of creative selections all made with fresh and, whenever possible, locally sourced ingredients. Menu highlights include a Duck ‘n’ Eggs Blue Plate Special; a French Toast Trifle with Meyer lemon curd, seasonal fresh berries, pistachios and torched Swiss meringue; a Canadian lobster and shrimp scramble crepe; and OEB’s signature Box’d breakfasts. The last item is Martina’s take on the breakfast poutine, with breakfast potatoes, brown butter hollandaise, Quebec cheese curds, poached eggs, and various add-ons like lox, black truffles, pulled chicken, crisp pork belly, bacon lardons, and foie gras. Martina is also particularly proud of his breakfast potatoes, which are always cooked in duck fat to ensure maximum flavour.
“The idea was always to be a chef-driven concept rather than hiring someone from the outside and letting them cook,” Martina says. “Breakfast is always just considered the greasy spoon — you just hire a line cook. I want to change the perception of what breakfast is.”
Martina says that he’s committed to sourcing locally whenever possible and uses local butchers and bakers to produce unique meats products and baked goods that are only available in the restaurant. While you’ll often find seasonal locally sourced foods on your plate at OEB, Martina also isn’t afraid to go further afield to get theabsolute best ingredients when necessary, but he does try to keep it Canadian when he can.
“We source locally, however, certain things are not in our reach so we have to cross the pond sometimes or go into different provinces,” Martina says. “Canada has so much to offer, the foie gras out of Quebec, the water buffalo out of Ontario, the sturgeon caviar out of BC. You have to reach out to those – you can’t just stay within Alberta. It’s not just about putting things on the plate and saying ‘Everything is local.’ I’m not going to tell you a story just to say that everything is local.”
Martina’s commitment to quality extends to the design of the restaurant as well. OEB isn’t a big room — but even with only 36 seats and small waiting area at the door, he’s managed to make it feel cozy and chic rather than chaotic and crowded. With imported wallpaper and furniture and original high-end artwork on the walls, it was important for Martina to create a look that complements the food and makes patrons feel welcome. He’s particularly proud of the large table that runs through the middle of the restaurant, which is intended to act as a community-building measure.
“I had a hard time figuring out what this concept was going to look like, but I knew at OEB I wanted a communal table,” Martina says. “Technology has taken over our lives, we’re constantly on the phone, there’s no conversation. So, I wanted that table because we are in a community and it is always nice to sit at it and if someone walks in I can invite him over to have breakfast with me. Some people love it, some people don’t but it’s going to stay there, we’re not going to change it.”
Naturally, all of this results in a fairly decent line snaking in front of OEB on weekends and a consistently bustling atmosphere in the restaurant. Martina sees about 1,400 customers sit in his 36 seats every week, 600 of those over the two days of the weekend. While he knows that some customers are bothered by having to queue, he says that line-ups are just part of the breakfast business and act as a sign that what lurks inside is well worth waiting for.
“I’m fortunate enough to have travelled the world, I get to go to New York a lot,” Martina says. “And if I don’t find a place with a line up from here to the moon, I’m not going to go. I want to be in a place that’s humming and buzzing.”
Photo by Julia Murray