November 27, 2007

Let’s do Lunch Today at The Café

It’s been almost a week since Thanksgiving Day, and chances are most of us have eaten up the leftovers by now, or discreetly discarded the congealed remains. It may still be a little too soon to think about settling down to another expansive repast, though, so this week let’s do lunch.In fact, let’s do two! The Café, formerly known as the Café at the Louisville Antique Mall, has reopened in new quarters after losing its locational clause as a result of a move: The historic red-brick factory on Goss Avenue that housed the antique mall (and the Café) is going condo, prompting its long-time tenants to move. The Café now turns up in bright, sunny quarters in an attractively restored old warehouse building next door to Louisville Stoneware east of downtown.Lunch Today, a pleasant shopping center spot in Indiana just minutes across the Ohio from downtown Louisville, lures a lunch crowd to modern shopping center space in Water Tower Square, an office park and shopping complex built around the 19th century American Car and Foundry Co.We’ve dined happily at both destinations recently. Now that we’re stuffed like roast turkeys on a banquet table, chances are we’ll be going back again. You don’t have to eat abstemiously at these places — certainly not if you go for the oversize wedges of homemade cakes at the Café or the rich pecan and chocolate bars at Lunch Today. But stick with salads or a half-sandwich-cuppa-soup option, and you can go out feeling both satisfied and virtuous.The Café’s former antique mall location was hard to beat for atmosphere, as it occupied a vast, high-ceiling space on the looming old factory’s second floor, enhanced with huge windows along one wall, a collection of hanging chandeliers and lots of antiques to provide an old-time vibe.The new location isn’t quite so eclectic, but it manages to capture a similar effect, with large, square windows along a wall to let in lots of light, offering a view of the neighborhood’s sturdy industrial buildings and the old railroad viaduct. High, black ceilings, galvanized ductwork and shiny concrete floors impart an industrial feel, but it’s fresh and shiny. You’ll find quite a few chandeliers here, too, plus antiques and objets d’art in knickknack cabinets; a collection of pastel doors and windows make a funky decor element in one corner. Tables sport white tablecloths under protective glass.The menu appears unchanged since the move. There’s a good variety of soups, salads and about 18 sandwiches from $6.50 to $7.45. (A breakfast menu offers all the traditional goodies and some fancier stuff, from $2.25 for scones or muffins to $6.95 for roast potato mixed-grill hash or strata del giorno.)For a recent lunch, we both picked the soup-and-sandwich option — billed as Combination No. 3  ($7.45) — which includes a cup of soup, half of a sandwich, your choice of side dish and a cookie. The Café’s chili ($2.75 for a cup, $3.50 for a bowl or $8.50 for a quart) is dubbed “Old Faithful” and described as “West Yellowstone Montana chili.” It’s thick and meaty, spicy but not fiery; loaded with ground beef, pinto beans, onion, tomato and green pepper, topped with shredded cheese, bits of scallion and tangy sliced banana peppers.Tomato dill soup was a rich, textured blend with good tomato flavor. Soups come with thick-sliced white baguette with single-serving tubs of real butter. The “Queen Anne” sandwich ($6.50) puts thick slices of crisp, smoky bacon, fresh leaf lettuce, sliced cucumber and Benedictine (no green food coloring, thankfully) between slices of good wheat bread.“The William and Mary” ($6.95) consisted of thin-sliced deli corned beef on thin rye bread, dressed with mild Swiss-type cheese and slices of tomato and red onion plus a schmear of hot mustard.A side dish of cole slaw featured fresh, fine-chopped cabbage, bits of carrot and herbs in a tangy vinegar-based dressing. Corn tortilla chips were commercial red, white and blue.Service was quick and cordial and surprisingly attentive; a server noticed my wife was low on Diet Coke and hustled out a free refill before we had a chance to ask. With iced tea and a cola, a fine lunch for two was under $20; adding a couple of gigantic slices of cake ($4.25 each) to take home boosted the tab to $28.05, plus a $6.95 tip.The Café712 Brent St.637-6869www.thecafétogo.comAnother welcoming and sunny spot, Lunch Today is easy to reach from downtown. Jump off I-65 north at the first exit, turn left and head straight into the shopping center. Turn right (past Kye’s Catering) and you’ll spot Lunch Today in a short strip of stores.It’s an attractive room, in pretty earth-tone colors of terra cotta and burnt sienna with bright-red trim. Mural-size designs of Italianate trees and arches are painted on the front and back walls. Bright and clean, service is competent and friendly, and the food passes muster: That’s a lot to like.Order from the counter at the back, then serve your own soft drinks, coffee or tea and wait for someone to bring out your lunch. It won’t take long.There’s a good selection of more than a dozen sandwiches and panini — most of them $5.75 — plus several soups ($2.50 a cup, $4.75 a bowl) and salads ($5.75 to $6.95), too.To keep things consistent, we went with the half-sandwich, cup-of-soup option again; this combo is $6.Country potato soup, a special of the day, was thick and slightly spicy, full of chunks of potato, nibblets of yellow corn and diced ham that gave a delicious smoky flavor to the soup.Chili was Midwestern-style, complete with one-inch lengths of spaghetti. It was flavorful but only one-alarm spicy and on the thin side, with ground beef, green pepper and tomato chunks swimming in the cup.A grilled Portobello sandwich was built around a burger-size round of dark, meaty mushroom layered with a wan tomato slice and roasted red bell pepper; mild white cheese, thin-sliced red onion and pesto vinaigrette, all pressed between slices of good quality sourdough loaf on a panini grill. Our other sandwich, thin-sliced sweet and mild honey ham, was dressed with mixed fresh leaf lettuces, pale tomato and red onion, a dollop of spicy mustard and a dab of creamy, garlicky herb-cream cheese, all piled on a short length of chewy grocery-store French bread.Lunch for two, with a Diet Coke and a glass of strong, fresh, iced tea, came to just more than $15, with the change from a $20 going into the tip cup.We also took away a pecan bar, a seductive dessert akin to a chewy square of pecan pie, with maybe just a hint of maple flavor to make it interesting. (Lunch Today makes its own cookies and bars, we were told; cheesecake is commercial, but it looked good.)Lunch TodayWater Tower Square590 Missouri Ave., Suite 100Jeffersonville, Ind.(812) 282-1005www.bajcatering.com/lunchtoday.htmContact the writer at rgarr@louisvillehotbytes.com