17 August 2007

The Café, Ames, Iowa

By Guest Blogger Patty Miller

When I was a student at Iowa State University in Ames, Aunt Maude’s was THE place to go for a special dinner – especially if the parents were paying. With its funky, Victorian charm, fabulous strawberry daiquiris (made with fresh berries) and well-prepared classic American fare like London broil and au gratin potatoes, Aunt Maude’s kept us coming back for more than 30 years.

So you can imagine our dismay when my college roommates and I made a pilgrimage to ISU in late July only to learn that Aunt Maude’s was closed for remodeling. Where would we eat? Ames is definitely not a hotbed of haute cuisine. More like hot dogs. The person at Aunt Maude’s who took our call must have sensed our disappointment and recommend Maude’s “sister” restaurant, a slightly more casual bistro called The Café.

First we had to find the place, which is located in a re-creation of a Midwestern downtown about 10 blocks north of Ames’ real downtown. The faux city center is the heart of a new housing development, which was a cornfield the last time we were in town. It’s actually kind of cool, and The Café is the attraction any downtown ― old or new ― needs to draw visitors.

Dark-red brick on the outside, it’s all dark wood, dim lighting, shutters and coziness on the inside. Just off the dining room is an order counter where you can carry out or eat in with minimal service. A long, narrow bar on the other side opens into an “alley,” an inviting space between two buildings to sip a well-mixed cocktail.

The Café touts its “local, in-season produce and homemade artisan breads and desserts.” The menu isn’t extensive, but offers a nice selection (featuring that local produce and artisan breads) of soups, starters, sandwiches, salads and entrees. Here’s where you notice the sibling resemblance between Maude’s and The Café – the food isn’t fancy or uber creative, but it’s well presented and delicious. And reasonably priced by Minneapolis standards – nothing was over $20.

Our group started with one of the simple appetizers – bruschetta served on house-baked flatbread. For entrées, we ordered the stuffed green pepper with a seasoned-just-right filling and dotted with tangy feta cheese; chicken drizzled with a rich, complex mole sauce and served with wild rice; and butter-knife-tender beef tournedos with garlicky mashed potatoes.

Of course we had to sample the desserts. It was refreshing that the portions weren’t gargantuan – just enough to have a little sweet at the end of the meal. The fresh raspberry tart was tasty, the tropical fruit tort was light and refreshing, yet moist and flavorful, but neither was anything to write home about. Our fave ― the dark-chocolate crème brûlée ― was velvety smooth with a crackly crisp sugar top.

Would we go back? In fact, we did – the next day when we dropped in and ordered hearty sandwiches at the counter. While our service in the evening – both in the bar and the dining room – was attentive and pleasant, the order-counter service was surly, bordering on rude. From other reviews of The Café, this unfortunately seems to be a pattern.

But next time you’re heading down I-35, make a quick detour into Ames and check out The Café, proof that you can find well-prepared food in the middle of corn country.

P.S. Aunt Maude’s is scheduled to reopen in the fall.

The Café

2616 Northridge Parkway

Ames, IA



SPKrikava said...

Thanks to my friend Patty for helping to get Krik's Picks more up-to-date. We're having lunch this coming week at Spill the Wine. Watch for the review.

Note to Patty: I've started using the camera on my cell phone for restaurant photos for the blog. It works pretty well. Upgrade your phone and give it a try!


Bananawoo said...

I love that you've mentioned The Cafe on your food blog! I am also an ISU Alumn and I really enjoyed going to The Cafe during my 5 years in Ames. I also recommend Cafe Beaudelaire next time you are in town or passing though.

Safe travels!