It is being reported that economic recovery is back, at least for the 1 percent, who get to eat $100 dinners at pricey new spots like Brasserie Provence, or nosh from the upscale end of the dinner menu at El Camino. For the 99 percent, though – the rest of us who are still struggling paycheck to paycheck – well, we’re getting by on a load of new lunch spots where an appetizing midday repast won’t cost you an arm and a leg.
It’s happening downtown, where the folks from Rye on Market recently opened Atlantic No. 5 on West Main; and the Highlands, where Chef Kathy Cary now presides over a resurrected La Peche Gourmet to Go and Cafe; St. Matthews and beyond, where Cheddar Box Too has joined a squadron of established eateries that I’d be tempted to call “ladies-who-lunch” spots except that this confirmed gent loves ‘em too.
This week let’s visit a couple exceptional new places, just a few blocks apart in the zone where Butchertown runs into NuLu. Curiously, both share parallel heritage as businesses built on market-leading desserts, now expanded into full-service lunch.
We’re looking at Jackknife Cafe in Butchertown, where Erika Chavez-Graziano has added a fetching eatery to her Cellar Door Chocolates business; and Cake Flour, where top-rank pastry chef Claudia DeLatorre has opened a bright, colorful lunch space adjacent to her popular pastry shop.
You have to work a bit to find Jackknife Cafe: It’s in Butchertown Market, a growing retail renovation of a hulking red-brick industrial building (originally an 1880s tannery) about midway between I-64 and Main Street on Story Avenue.
Once you find your way inside (go for the door at the west end of the building), step into the Work the Metal retail shop and work your way past its shelves of trendy decor, clothing and accessories, homing in on the sound of plates clanking and diners chatting until you find Jackknife (and Cellar Door) occupying retail space within the shop.
Order from the blackboard menu behind a service counter, take a number and take a seat in the nicely refurbished dining room – converted from an industrial carpet-storage area, I was told – servers will bring your food out pronto. The menu is short, about a dozen brunch and lunch items; and affordable, with dishes ranging from $6 (for granola or breakfast biscuits with poached eggs, cheese or ham) to $12 (for smoked-salmon or prosciutto-goat cheese sandwiches).
There’s coffee and espresso drinks, short but attractive beer and wine lists, and, as you would expect, plenty of dessert love including a presumably addictive “crack pie.”
An egg-salad sandwich ($7), a daily special, wasn’t much like Mom used to make, but in a good way: Rich, creamy and lightly spicy yellow egg salad was thickly smeared on a bed of fresh spinach leaves on a fine round French-style bun, with a tart, crisp cornichon and a ration of thick and crisp kettle chips. Red pepper Gouda soup ($5) was a thick crimson puree, simple and consoling for a brisk autumn day.
“The Roy” sandwich ($8) featured thick-cut “Kentucky mortadella” and melted mild Cheddar that pleasantly evoked childhood memories of Velveeta and baloney on white. Chicken noodle soup ($5) was a thin but savory broth with chopped veggies and tender chicken. A peanut-butter cookie and chocolate-chip cookie ($2 each) looked and tasted homemade.
Lunch for two was $30.74 plus tip.
(Moved to 2420 Lime Kiln Lane, 719-0172)
When DeLatorre, a graduate of New York’s French Culinary Institute, opened Cake Flour in 2008 as a pioneer in NuLu, I was a regular. I couldn’t stay away and would sneak in furtively, like an alky haunting a dive bar. Best cookies and pastries ever, all made from natural and organic ingredients! Ultimately, to avoid the “food writer profile,” I had to count calories and stay away, but I retain fond memories. Now, with the addition of a lime-and-lemon color dining area with high banquettes and pedestal tables, and a lunch menu that continues the ethic of seasonal, regional, local and hand-made, it’s going to be even more difficult to stay away.
The short menu changes frequently, usually containing a half-dozen panini-grilled sandwiches, priced from $7.50 to $9.50 including a side, and built on excellent house-made country white or wheat bread.
The roasted veggie sandwich ($8) was fine, a flavorful blend of roasted red and yellow peppers and cauliflower and balsamic-marinated portobellos plus earthy Kalamata olive tapenade, with a well-made, simple salad of baby spinach leaves and chopped red and yellow peppers and a ramekin of quinoa salad on the side.
The turkey pesto sandwich ($8.59) was flavorful but a bit puny, made with a deli-thin slice of Smoking Goose Farm Indiana turkey and a thin schmear of basil pesto. A cup of savory but thin onion soup was topped with rounds of what seemed to be sweet pastry repurposed as croutons.
Lunch for two was $22.90 plus tip. A take-home bag of wheat bread, a macaron, a chocolate sandwich cookie, a chocolate-cranberry tart and a chocolate chip cookie added another $7.25.