It’s a rainy autumn Tuesday, and a large striped awning casts romantic shadows on a quiet block in Northern Liberties. A pair of circular tables sit out front, bookended by chairs with a classic polka–dot upholstery. A lone coffee mug sits atop one of them, no doubt a remnant of a lazy morning spent reading a newspaper or catching up on emails with a strong espresso. If it weren’t for a few distinctly Philadelphia clues, like row houses next to modernist apartment buildings and trash piling up on curbs, you’d think you were transported to a quiet side street in Paris or Beirut.
That’s the beauty of Lebanese restaurant Café La Maude, hailed as one of the best brunch places in the city. With the flourish of an aromatic cup of coffee or well–crafted steak and egg platter, this locale lifts customers out of city life and into a world of vibrant flavors and quaint comfort.
Owned by Gabi and Nathalie Richan, Café La Maude began as a quaint neighborhood café without a kitchen. In the early days, before it became a brunch institution and one of its owners, Nathalie, partnered to open Suraya, a Lebanese hot–spot and Philly's 2018 Restaurant of the Year, Café La Maude was just a quiet place to sip some coffee and chat with an old friend.
The same goal still tracks through the restaurant. The Richans sit at corner tables and discuss the restaurant business and foreign affairs with both strangers and friends, passion oozing from their hand gestures and booming voices. Modernist renderings of family dogs line the back wall, lording over communal bench seating. A coffee bar occupies the opposite side, with menu items scrawled on a chalkboard in loopy handwriting. The space, despite its endless stream of customers and accolades, still feels deeply personal and community–driven. The magic of Café La Maude is in the details.
The brunch started with a hot chai latte with frothy almond milk. The chai’s inherent spices—a hint of cardamom, a dash of ginger, a heap of cinnamon—shine through, cultivating a sip that engages all the senses. Yet, the tea doesn’t overpower the milk, creating a silky texture that feels natural. Presented with an artful swirl, the latte is balanced just so, as though each cup comes out exactly the same.
Next came the Framboise, a stack of spiced ginger snap chai pancakes piled high with raspberry yogurt, pistachio and rose petals. It’s the breakfast equivalent of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, slightly askew and rich with ornate details. The pancakes have a crispy edge, imbuing each bite with a crunch that complements the yogurt’s sweetness. It pairs flavors that verge on sensory overload. There’s the salty aftertaste of pistachios and the calm fragrance of rose petals and decadence of caramelized banana. The Framboise is intricately layered, yet it’s not busy, and, like the latte, almost effortless.
The Entrecôte followed. A sophisticated take on a diner’s steak and eggs platter, it pairs an 8 oz. hanger steak drenched in herbed butter with a well–seasoned vegetable hash and sunny–side–up eggs. Cooked medium, the steak sizzles. The hash isn’t an afterthought, either, with onions adding an extra kick to the the tried–and–true breakfast side. The dish is distinctly Philly and French, combining a heftiness with a refined and experimental sensibility.
Finally came the Green Shakshuka. The menu’s emerald crown jewel, it subverts the brunch staple’s construction by placing the eggs on the bottom of the skillet and swapping bright red tomatoes for the equally vibrant green variety. The shakshuka is perfect for the fall, its texture thick like a homemade stew, and enlivened by mixtures both trendy and homey. Sure, there’s kale and fava beans drizzled with a tahini sauce. But there’s also sweet potatoes and fried cauliflower coated in a warm and gooey feta cheese, with the three combining to somehow taste warm and inviting—kind of like a hug from your favorite grandmother.
Café La Maude could easily be the most austere restaurant in Philadelphia. Most esteemed restaurants are. And yet, it maintains a playful energy. During a Sunday morning rush, Gabi might take a break and lean over your table, asking what you think of the weather. Nathalie might chastise the family next to you, whose kids are building towers out of sugar packets. Café La Maude has the spontaneity of true neighborhood joint, breaking the breakfast routine just enough to create something special.
Café La Maude
Location: 816 North 4th St.
Hours: Mon—Sun: 7 a.m.—4 p.m.