Diminutive Diner

Café Jinx is tiny and easy to miss, but it's worth finding for fresh, inexpensive and healthy--albeit simple--fare

The word that comes to mind when I think of Café Jinx is "simple."

Jinx is located in a small storefront along Fourth Avenue, tucked among much-larger operations like Bison Witches and the Food Conspiracy Co-op. About six tables occupy the narrow room, and the owner, Dominique Kaufmann-Francesca--the sole employee of Jinx--works behind a small counter. There is only one copy of the menu--two sheets of verbiage on laminated paper that Kaufmann-Francesca says she banged out late one night at the Grill, using what appears to be a typewriter in serious need of adjustment. And if you want to use a credit card, forget it: Cash only, please.

Heck, even the hours are simple, and limited: Café Jinx is open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays, and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays. Beyond those 29 hours per week, forget it.

Oh, yeah, there are a few things that are not simple at Jinx: some of the entrée names. On my first visit there, I had a delicious salad with fresh mozzarella, red onion and roma tomato on a bed of spinach, topped with a tangy pesto vinaigrette. The name of this salad: "A 'Politition' I Can Trust, Music I Can Listen to and a Lover That Won't Drive Me Crazy" ($3.95).

What Kaufmann-Francesca was under the influence of that one crazy night while she tapped away at the Grill, we'll never know.

Ah, I kid. But here's the serious scoop: If you're willing to work within the narrow confines of Café Jinx (in terms of menu, hours and space), then you're in for a delightful experience.

I first checked out Café Jinx one recent weekday, on the recommendation of James DiGiovanna. Hugh Dougherty and I found the restaurant, then made a quick ATM run after learning that Kaufmann-Francesca does not accept anything but cash. (This is my only semi-serious beef with Jinx; while others may disagree, I consider credit-card acceptance a customer-service issue.) Scanning the hard-to-read menu, I decided on the aforementioned salad, along with an order of huevos rancheros ($3.95), while Hugh picked The Alibi (a turkey reuben with Swiss, sauerkraut and homemade Thousand Island dressing, $4.50, as are all the sandwiches) and a 29 Kisses smoothie (berries, banana and orange juice, $2.95).

The small little diner is comfortable in that stereotypical Fourth Avenue way--folk music played overhead as passers-by glanced in the windows. The walls are painted two colors in the reddish family--a pink and a maroon, before the wall turns yellow behind the counter--and horseshoes make a ring around the room. Fresh flowers adorn every table--a nice touch, indeed. Random knick-knacks, such as a miniature dinosaur skeleton, dominoes, small mirrors and see-through curtains complete the look. Oh, and you won't be bothered by the sound of a ringing phone--the restaurant doesn't have one.

Hugh and I enjoyed our dishes. My salad was amazingly fresh--the taste of the tomatoes impressed me (they were almost as flavorful as the kind picked from your own garden at the height of the season)--and the pesto vinaigrette was a nice blend of flavors. The huevos--two eggs, black beans, homemade salsa and a flour tortilla--were solid, yet unspectacular. Hugh scarfed up his sandwich, thus showing his appreciation for it, and his smoothie--I stole a sip--was also a fresh, tasty delight.

Nothing fancy here. Simple, yet very good.

I returned, solo, on a Saturday, and got the Mediterranean plate, called "At 6's and 7's" ($4.95); I wanted the bruschetta plate, but Kaufmann-Francesca revealed that she had removed it from the menu but hadn't had a chance to re-type it yet. No big deal; the plate was a yummy success. Four vegetarian grape leaves, seven cucumber slices, six roma tomato slices, eight olives (pitted), a slice of white onion, hummus, garlic cheese and pita bread all mingled on a bed of fresh spinach, and all of it was fresh and delicious. I washed it down with a peaches and cream smoothie (peaches, orange juice and yogurt, $2.95); it was delightfully different, as the yogurt made the drink more tart and less sweet than your normal smoothie.

After finishing my meal and paying the bill, I asked Kaufmann-Francesca--a Minneapolis native who's called Tucson home for three years--the question I had to ask: What in the heck happens if she gets sick?

She smiled. "I can't get sick," she said.

A simple answer. How appropriate.