Sunday, April 29, 2012
West End Café
1720 West End Avenue
The diner concept is simple: breakfast and lunch served quickly and hopefully with a homey feel. The upscale diner sounds like an oxymoron, but it simply elevates the food and décor. The point is still the same: quick, dependable comfort. The West End Café serves a section of West End that desperately needs a joint for coffee and eggs. Given that, the West End Café should be a prime hang-out for hung-over college students and those of us older folks just looking for some good food.
The sandwiches we tried hit the spot. Hot and tender roast beef paired with brie and horseradish aioli is a simple and yet effective combination on lightly toasted and thin-cut sourdough. This isn’t a “stuff the sandwich full” type of joint. Expect carefully chosen ingredients and moderation in construction. The house made chips are big, thick and flavorful. Fries are light, super-thin and seasoned with just the right amount of salt and pepper. Mac and cheese was a bit soupy in consistency and given pop with gorgonzola. A spring mix salad was fresh and crisp.
Our breakfast was a mixed bag. The ham and cheese omelet featured quality ingredients but came out of the kitchen lukewarm. Sausage patties were crisp and a bit overdone. In fact, they had many service issues on our breakfast visit. It’s a common problem for a new restaurant as they try to adjust to the ebb and flow of business. The breakfast vibe though feels just right. It’s a comfortable spot for a big mug of Bongo Java coffee.
Veggie Eater: My spouse once insightfully remarked that he did not understand his good fortune of having not one, but two Sicilian asses in his life (referring to his wife and our lovely mini donkey, Flo) and he is right. Flo and I share many attributes-we are stubborn, can be loud, and hold grudges. This information is provided as a disclaimer to my perspective about this new eatery. First, the good points. This place reminds me of more of a Chicago style diner; barn wood walls, decent beer selection, and Mimosas freely flowing.
On our first visit I opted for the classic salad, which consisted of slightly wilty mesclun greens, onions, peppers with nicely acidic balsamic vinaigrette. Next up, was the Caprese Sandwich served on slightly stale French bread. As always, I should know better than ordering a Caprese anything in winter, but did it anyway and found the Roma tomatoes to be rather tasteless and mealy (why not pop for Camparis if you are going to have this on the menu outside of summer?) and also found it a bit stingy on the balsamic syrup as well. We wanted to try the dinner fare for our second visit and had a group of friends with us for our second attempt. Alas, we arrived at about 8 o’clock on a Friday and found them closing up shop (9 pm was the posted closing time then). So, we returned next time for breakfast instead. It was Sunday morning and they did not have enough staff. Strangely enough, it doesn’t appear anyone had done any of the morning opening prep work either, so that none of the tables were set up – no salt, pepper, condiments, or silverware with which to eat. They were not slammed busy, but the inexperienced staff simply could not keep up (frequently requiring two trips for everything requested). I opted for the 3 cheese omelet and was asked the rather bizarre question of whether I wanted everything on it (yes, I would like all three cheeses, please). Due to the disorganization and staffing, the food came out lukewarm at best, which yielded a somewhat rubbery final product. On the brighter side, the jalapeno cheese bread was delicious and Lyle Lovett was crooning on the stereo in the background. I have found beer makes everything better and although it’s a small beer menu, there are some nice ones, which helped to ease the pain. Meat Eater is far more gracious than I and noted that they are new and still working out the kinks.
Meat Eater: We know restaurants are going to change hours in the first months of business. Just make sure you do everything to let customers know of the change. Closing up an hour before the time listed on the door and your website is just a bad idea (it has since been rectified in both locations). Anyway, they’ve since scaled back the evening hours to 7 p.m. making it more of a happy hour thing. We’re sure they will get these kinks worked out and have a prosperous future on West End Avenue.