A tip of the hat to a gentleman who calls himself "Prexcoble" who left a comment on the entry I had for Oddfellows Burger Kitchen in Ames, IA (see that entry here). He suggested that before I do my Best Burger List for 2012 (see that entry here), I needed to try the burger at The Cafe in Ames, IA. I didn't get there in time to do that, but I was in Ames recently working on a problem that a customer was having with one of the products we sell. After I finished up with that, I decided to go have lunch at The Cafe.
The Cafe is located in the north part of Ames on Northridge Parkway along with a number of other businesses and restaurants in the Somer Street neighborhood. (see map) In fact, a dealer that I called on for awhile was located just down the street from The Cafe. But until this visit, I had never been in the place before.
Actually, The Cafe will celebrate their 10th anniversary next month. The original owners, Bob Cummings, Kevin Rettig and Pat Breen opened their doors in February of 2003. In doing a little digging on the three, I found that Breen is the owner of the popular Aunt Maude's restaurant in downtown Ames, and that Cummings was the owner of O'Malley's and McGee's, a Mexican restaurant that closed down a few years ago. I believe Cummings is the managing partner of The Cafe.
I parked on the street in front of The Cafe (there's also parking in the rear) and went inside just before 2 p.m. I was standing there for quite some time at the hostess stand before a young lady finally came up to me after a couple minutes and asked if I needed any help. "I'd like to get some lunch," I replied.
She looked at her watch and said, "Well, we quit serving lunch at 2. (It was still before 2 on my clock on my phone.) Let me check." She went away for a moment and I saw her talking to another lady and pointing in my direction. The other lady looked at a clock in the kitchen area and she came up to me. She cheerfully said, "Sure, we can get you in. It's officially 1:58 on the clock." The place was packed with diners and I thought it was rather strange to have the cut off so early, but there are restaurants that do changeovers from lunch to dinner after the noon rush. As the young lady ushered me back to a booth, I heard the first girl who greeted me say in a not-very-nice tone to the cook staff, "We have ONE MORE for lunch!" I half expected to hear groans and words of derision from the staff they way she said it. But they didn't.
I was seated in a booth in one of the two dining areas at The Cafe. There's a second dining area in the bar area in the back of the place (pictured right). There is also a small coffee shop/bakery off to the side of the front entrance. I took a number of pictures of the place, but none of them turned out. The lighting in the place was a mix of reduced direct lighting and natural light coming in from the large windows in the front of the restaurant. The lighting played havoc with any type of good picture that I wanted to get.
The hostess left off a menu with me, and even though I knew that I was just going to get a burger I wanted to see what else The Cafe had to offer. The menu isn't that extensive so it was sort of perplexing to me why they needed a changeover between lunch and dinner. In fact, the only thing that was different from the lunch part of the menu were five entrees that included wood-grilled salmon, a chicken entree, duck breast and couple others. But I only eat at restaurants and don't run one, so I don't fully understand how they work behind the scenes.
The menu items at The Cafe are locally sourced and some items are made in house. They encase their own fennel sausage for their pizza at The Cafe and they use locally grown beef for their burger and New York strip steak. Nearly all of the meats that are made for entrees, sandwiches or salads are cooked over an oak wood-fire grill. The wonderful smell of smoldering oak wood was prevalent throughout the restaurant.
Because it was still busy, it took some time for a server to come over. Finally, after sitting for about five minutes, a tall, personable young lady by the name of Paula came by to greet me. She said, "I'm sorry I haven't been over sooner. Can I get you something to drink?"
I told her, "Sure, and I pretty much know what I'm going to have for lunch, too."
Surprised, Paula said, "Oh! OK! Do you want to hear the specials we have?" I told her I did not. "Go ahead," she exclaimed. I ordered the Cafe Burger - a half-pound wood grilled burger topped with white cheddar cheese and Russian dressing, with lettuce, tomato and pickled onions served on a kaiser/rosemary bun that, I'm guessing, is made in their bakery. For a buck more, I asked Paula to put some bacon on the burger. Homemade potato chips came with the burger.
It took about 15 minutes for the burger to come out to me after I ordered. The lettuce, tomato slice and pickled onions were set off to the side. I tried one of the pickled onions before I put them on the burger and they tasted excellent. Two thick pieces of bacon laid on top of the thick burger patty.
The bun had enough rosemary on it that you could smell the herb from two feet away. I was worried that it may overpower the overall taste of the burger, but from my first bite into the burger, my fears went away.
The burger was cooked with a little hint of pink in the middle - a tad more overdone than I like, but it was still good. I wasn't certain that I cared for the Russian dressing on the burger, but I do like Russian dressing on salads. I should have gotten the dressing on the side. But, the wood-grilled taste of the burger was wonderful, and the burger patty, itself, was moist, but not really juicy.
The highlight was the kaiser/rosemary bun. It had a somewhat crunchy crown, but it yielded a moist and chewy inner core. It was spongy and it could easily be mashed to be able to take a full bite of the burger. The great thing about it - the rosemary didn't fall off when I mashed it down. The rosemary was a great additional taste to what was already a pretty fine burger.
And the burger was a belt buster, too. I was able to finish the burger, but I was satiably full afterward. Not to the point that I felt that I overate, but more to the point that I knew that I wouldn't need a big dinner that evening.
Where would I put the Cafe Burger from The Cafe on my best burger list? It's probably more of a gourmet burger than one you'd find in a greasy old burger joint. I would probably put it on my honorable mention list, but I think the burger over at Oddfellows was more pleasing to me. That's not to say the burger at The Cafe wasn't good - far from it. It is a very good burger and one that I wouldn't have any problem having again. I'll just have to make sure that I'm REALLY hungry and that it's well before 2 p.m. if I get back there for lunch.