The $10 Challenge: The Cafe

(Blogger’s note: Congratulations to Rob E., who correctly guessed this week’s Challenge location.)

Broccoli cheddar soup from The Café.

My introduction to The Café began like a bad Abbott and Costello routine

Rob: We should go to The Café one day.

Me: Which café?

Rob: No, The Café.

Me: OK … But which café?

This went on for another five minutes before I figured out that The Café is a proper noun. More specifically, The Café is a cozy breakfast and lunch spot off Broadway and Barrett in Louisville.

I’m in this area a lot, but seem to miss the prime dining hours (7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday). Apparently, I’ve been missing a lot of goodness.

Rob and I arrived as the servers were still wrapping utensils in paper napkins and stacking menus. The dining area was as welcoming as the slightly harried but helpful staff. The restaurant feels like stepping into your cooky aunt’s living full of eclectic art, fresh flowers and rainbow table umbrellas. The atmosphere provides a great escape from the hassles of the workday, if you can manage to get away from the office for a bit.

The lunch menu, though not as quirky as the decor, is enough to keep your interest. This menu is built on a foundation of mid-priced, basic soups, salads and sandwiches that you would expect to find at a neighborhood deli – and I mean that as a huge compliment. Some classics include the chef salad ($8.45), a roast beef sandwich (called the Early American, $7.95) and a pimento cheese sandwich (called the Victorian, $7.25). But The Café throws in some interesting combos, such as The Renaissance with salami, ham, Swiss cheese and homemade olive relish ($7.95) and the BLT with guacamole (the Art Deco, $7.95).

The best values at The Café are in the combinations section of the menu. These options, which start at $8.25, are available for folks dining in and people taking box lunches to go. The combinations come with some mix of a whole or half sandwich, side dishes and a cookie. A combo seemed more appealing than just getting a sandwich, which only comes with one side.

While I studied the menu, I munched on slices of French bread that had been taunting me since I sat down. The bread was baby-bottom soft and irresistible with a smear of butter. I would’ve taken a picture, but those crabs disappeared down my pie hole too quickly.

After I wiped the many crumbs off my mouth, I settle on combination #3, a half sandwich with soup, one side item and a cookie. I went with the Country Chicken Salad sandwich, broccoli-cheddar soup (the soup of the day) and a fruit cup.

The number 3.

The soup, which preceded the rest of the lunch combo, was some of the creamiest broccoli-cheddar soup I’ve ever eaten. Chunks of broccoli were swimming throughout the soup. It made me wish that I had some of that aforementioned French bread to dip into the soup. But alas, it was gone.

The heat of the soup was immediately cooled by the crisp chicken salad sandwich. Bits of apple, grapes and pecans were scattered throughout this mayo-based concoction. The salad sat atop a slice of a gala apple and some lettuce. From the wheat bread to the smallest bit of pecan, this sandwich was one of the best I had ever had. The fruit sweetened the salad while the pecans added just enough saltiness to balance the flavors. And the folks in the kitchen were generous with the chicken salad – a fork was necessary to eat the entire thing.

I didn’t think the meal could get any better. Then I ate the cookie.

See those humps? Those are chocolate chips. YUM.

Holy cannoli, that was a moist, chocolate-y treat.

The Café is worth many return visits. Though the prices teeter toward the higher end of a $10 Challenge budget, the food easily justifies spending more than 10 bucks.

The Stats:

The Café, 712 Brent Street, Louisville, Ky.

  • Lunch combination #3 – Half of a Country Chicken Salad sandwich, broccoli-cheddar soup, a fruit cup and a cookie: $8.45
  • Total (with tax and tip): $10.30
Mission: Failed (but completely worth it)

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