No Pretenses

Café Passé's use of fresh ingredients and its charming patio make it a Fourth Avenue highlight

Located in the heart of Fourth Avenue, Café Passé is a throwback to a time when "The Ave" was the epicenter of '70s counter culture. It's a simpler, laid-back, less-commercial space.

A hip mom-and pop sandwich shop and coffee house, Café Passé attracts a mix of neighbors, university folks and tourists—and manages to please them all. While the vibe is simple, there are some 21st-century touches. (Who knew way back when that people would one day be sipping organic coffee and eating wasabi tuna while they worked on laptop computers?)

The space is compact, with a counter/kitchen area taking up much of it. Chic modern art hangs along one wall, and at the back of the building is a wonderfully charming patio. There, you'll find a quirky mix of tables and chairs, bougainvillea, ferns and even a well-hidden refrigerator that holds myriad beverages.

The vibe is comfortable and cozy. One could easily spend many an hour here enjoying a bottomless cup of coffee or tea (not bottomless) and reading some of the various magazines and newspapers on hand. The people prepping and serving—they do both—are really nice, even though most of the time while I was there, they were kept busy by a steady stream of customers.

The folks here are dedicated to freshness, if our various selections were any indication. Fresh greens and jewel-bright roma tomatoes accompanied each plate. The mozzarella that was in my tomato, mozzarella and basil ciabatta sandwich ($7.50) was fresh and creamy. The basil came from a light, homemade pesto. (A little more might've added a bit of a kick to the mellow flavors.)

Baked goods—some of which are made in-house—are offered, as is a nice mix of coffee, special espresso drinks, teas and smoothies. We enjoyed two smoothies—a banana/berry ($3.95) and the Oscar Wilde ($3.75), which has mango and passion fruit added to the banana/berry. We split both of them due to the huge size and rich, thick texture. We also enjoyed the house-made lemonade ($2.50) and a coffee ($2.25 with unlimited refills).

Sandwiches constitute the majority of the menu, with a few salads also available. We ordered the house salad with wasabi tuna ($7 without tuna, $8 with). Unfortunately, after our order was taken, the counter person realized they were out of the tuna and offered to add something else. We went with the mozzarella and ended up with a generous portion of cheese atop the mixed greens, tomatoes, carrots, cukes, sprouts and onions. We enjoyed the salad, because everything was so fresh, but I think the tuna would've really made it stand out.

Besides the above mentioned tomato/mozzarella sandwich, we tried three other sandwiches: the cold ham and brie on ciabatta ($7.75), the "It's a California Thing" ($7.75) and a "real egg bagel" ($7.50).

The real egg bagel was surprisingly good. This sandwich has been done to death—often winding up rather bland—at many places. Café Passé changes that. The eggs, scrambled and laced with fresh herbs, were fluffy and firm. The everything bagel (not my favorite flavor) had been toasted, and an inch-high cube of cream cheese was served on the side. The greens were fresh as could be, and the bright, red slices of roma tomatoes added color and taste.

The other two sandwiches were pretty ordinary, but they worked, because all the ingredients were so fresh. The California was served on nine-grain bread (our choice); it was basically a BLT with avocado. A little more mayo (or maybe flavored mayo) would've added another much-needed layer of flavor. On the other sandwich, the sweet and salt from the ham balanced the mild creaminess of the brie; with a little bit of snappy mustard, this was an enjoyable sandwich.

The one gripe I had involved the cookies ($1 each). Both the macadamia-nut and the chocolate-chip versions we tried were dry and had an odd, lingering flavor. In contrast, samples of chocolate-chip banana bread were quite tasty—and this is coming from someone who is not a big fan of banana bread ($1.95).

All in all, the folks at Café Passé know what it is they're doing. They aren't pretending for the café to be anything it isn't; there are no pretenses, and no artificial hipness. For those in the Fourth Avenue area, this could easily be the go-to place for a good cup of joe, a nosh, some easy hours on the patio and occasional live music.

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