Sunday, June 28, 2009
458 Edgewood Ave., http://www.cafe458atl.com/
My boyfriend Kyle and I ate brunch at Cafe 458 today. I have been eating Sunday brunch at Cafe 458 once every few months for over three years now, and this was Kyle's fourth brunch there. The restaurant is located in a somewhat sketchy area of the city on Edgewood Avenue, but I have never felt unsafe there during the late morning hours on the weekend.
Cafe 458 is in itself a novelty. It's run by The Samaritan House, a local nonprofit geared towards getting Atlanta's homeless into the workforce and off the streets. Cafe 458 is staffed almost entirely by volunteers. During the week the Cafe serves homeless individuals, allowing them to regain a bit of their dignity by ordering and eating good food in a restaurant setting. The rest of Atlanta gets the opportunity to dine at Cafe 458 for Sunday brunch. All proceeds, including any tips, go to The Samaritan House's work. It's a unique and self-sustaining idea.
Before it's renovation a few years ago, courtesy of a local TV show, the interior of the Cafe looked almost exactly like my high school cafeteria, albeit on a much smaller scale. Cups and silverware were mismatched, tables were rickety and chairs were uncomfortable and boring. Now the place is really cute, decorated in brown, cream and dark orange with photos of the participants in the Samaritan House's programs. It's attractive and cozy.
Kyle ordered the day's special, the cinnamon raisin French toast, which came with cheesy eggs and bacon. He was a little disappointed, primarily because he'd previously eaten a Texas French toast at the Cafe and preferred it over the thinner, drier toast of today. I ordered the smoked salmon omelet, which was accompanied by three links of sausage, basil home fries and a biscuit. The biscuit could easily have come out of the Pillsbury can, which isn't really a bad thing. The basil home fries were a little unpleasantly spicy. The omelet was very good. The chopped smoked salmon was nicely complemented by a garlic pico de gallo style topping, which also contained a refreshing citrusy flavor.
Although we weren't completely won over by our selections today, we've been consistently impressed in the past. Kyle really loves the Carolina pulled pork eggs benedict, a regular menu item. A few months ago I thoroughly enjoyed the special French toast; that day it was bananas foster with powdered sugar, surrounded by diced honeydew melon. It was beautifully plated and richly delicious. Considering the great quality of most of the menu items, you're getting an excellent deal.
The service, however, is often a problem. Today we arrived at the Cafe when it was nearly empty, so we were served promptly by a very polite waiter, and we received our orders correctly. Unfortunately this isn't always the case. Service is often very, very slow, and I have been served an incorrect order more than once. Getting a mistake corrected will likely tack on another 15 minutes to your wait time. Since Cafe 458 is staffed almost entirely by volunteers, I have to give them a large amount of leeway on this front, but I don't always have time to spend two hours there for brunch, and I don't think most people have the patience or tolerance for slow service either. Today one of the waitresses smelled strongly of marijuana. On the bright side, I have never had a server exhibit a negative attitude and each person has always made a big effort to perform the job well. Service has improved during my past three visits to the Cafe, so I am optimistic.
Another problem is that the Cafe is often out of items standard on the menu. I've ordered hot chocolate almost every time I've eaten there (think around twenty brunches), and the Cafe has only had it on hand three times. Once I was told that they had the ingredients, but no employee knew how to make it. Today my first choice entree was the fish, shrimp and grits, but my polite waiter informed me that they were out of fish. I assume the management is to blame for these shortages. Again, when I dine there I try to keep in mind that most of the people working there are graciously volunteering their time, and the money is going to a great cause.
I noticed that two other restaurants - Cafe Circa and Edgewood Corner Tavern - located right beside Cafe 458 are also now offering brunch. I am afraid that if the service at Cafe 458 doesn't pick up, it is destined to lose much of its business to these more professional competitors. I hope for the sake of Samaritan House and fans of Cafe 458 that the Cafe can take some steps towards improvement in the near future. It would be a shame for this great organization if the Cafe failed.
Verdict: A wonderful cause, a great idea and a generally awesome brunch for the same price as your local IHOP. Be prepared for at least some menu items to be out of stock. Service is somewhat inconsistent but seems to be improving.