Some confessions up front. Two of my co-workers have basically moved into Volunteer Park Cafe. They work out of the cafe many days out of the week. This adorable little cafe located in an otherwise residential portion of the Capitol Hill neighborhood in Seattle is quite homey, so it’s no surprise they’re making it their workday “home”. In addition, as I joined them and another friend for lunch, after we ordered, one of the “regulars” informed the owner that I’d be writing about my meal. In addition to all the food we ordered and paid for, a plate of free cookies and cake magically appeared towards the end of our meal. I make it a rule not to let restaurant owners know why I’m there and I pay for my food. I chastised the informer appropriately, but I did eat those cookies.
My general philosophy is that I try to be as fair as possible. I don’t ask for special treatment, and I don’t expect any. That said, I do photograph my food and restaurant folk are not dopes. However, in my experience, any diner that loyally patronizes a restaurant and interacts with the staff in a consistently positive way will get treated like a prince. People in the restaurant business tend to take care of their loyal customers whether they are blogging about the meal or not. OK… enough disclosure. On to the food!
As I’ve written before, as much as I may like the decor or environment of a restaurant, and Volunteer Park Cafe is way cute, I really count it for very little as ultimately I care primarily about the food. Luckily, the food at Volunteer Park Cafe does not disappoint. This is not complicated fair, but it is executed well and with a delicate touch. You stand in line walking past all the prepared baked goods, cookies, and quiches as you decide what to order off the big menu. It’s hard not to salivate. Luckily there’s a glass divider keeping saliva squarely away from the food.
We ended up kicking off with some of the Ham Quiche. Solid if not striking. Moist insides, flaky buttery shell, and a smooth wide flavor. No sparks, but satisfying. The platter of cured meat is hard to beat with a little bean salad, cheese, and cornichons to adorn your bread and meat combinations. Adorn we did. It’s hard to say anything bad about flavorful cured pork products, on fresh french bread, accompanied by various flavorful condiments. And I won’t. The same goes for the Prosciutto Mozarella Baguette. We should have had a more diverse menu but the prosciutto was hard to ignore.
Luckily we ordered the Chicken Salad. A chicken salad sandwich is not something to be ordered lightly. In fact, I generally make it a rule to order anything other than a chicken salad sandwich on menus. A chicken salad sandwich does not automatically get all the benefit of thin slices of smokey ham like the prosciutto sandwich does. Prosciutto sandwiches start with the ball one yard from the goal line. Chicken salad sandwiches start from deep in their own end zone. A very bland end zone. The typical response is to season it. Heavily. Curry is always a favorite path to take. But that’s not what happened here. Instead, the chicken salad was covered with melty cheese. The whole thing came together in a creamy, melty, stretchy, almost sweet bite. The seasoning didn’t need to be “exotic”, it was just right.
While I’m relatively picky about desserts (my co-blogger’s are the exception of course) a cookie is the way to my heart. Chocolate chip with toffee bits that has just the right balance between chewiness and crispyness? Yes! But raisins are my mortal enemy. I’m sorry. There’s nothing I can do about it. I will never like them. Other dried fruit I’m generally OK with but over the past several years there is a deplorable trend to dry other fruits as some sort of raising substitute — I’m looking at you cherries and cranberries! Combine that with oatmeal raisin cookies masquerading as chocolate chip cookies presented to those who don’t examine their cookies closely and you can start to understand the depth of my fear. As you can imagine, seeing a Cherry Chocolate Oatmeal cookie on my plate felt like a tease at best, and a nightmare at worst. And then, I tried it. That same crispy chewy yin yang harmony was at play. But instead of the comfort of the toffee bits as with the other cookie, this time those dried cherries transcended their raisin cousins and added little sparks of bright sour flavor into my cookie. Fantastic.
Here’s the thing. The folks running Volunteer Park Cafe are not confused. They know what they’re about. Simple, flavorful, slightly refined, down-to-earth, comfort. There’s no need to try to be anything else. This is plenty.