Mandy’s Cafe is the kind of new restaurant that makes such a good first impression that it immediately leads to great word of mouth buzz.
We heard from happy readers shortly after the tiny breakfast and lunch place located near the Costco on Panama Lane opened, and after visiting twice we understand why. Great ingredients, personable service and interesting work coming out of a small kitchen. It’s a tad hard to find in a small space in a large shopping center with only a fabric banner sign outside, but based on early returns we’re optimistic they’ll continue to get positive feedback. A tweak here and there to improve things, but you expect that in a new restaurant.
The space has been home over the years to Pappy’s Down South BBQ, Anabo’s Cafe and Soy & Spice Pan Asian Cafe, which moved to larger quarters in the same shopping center. It has a clean, trendy, industrial look with high tops with metal stools and some tables, but a very narrow dining room that is easily filled. The staff is small and we had to wait till some recently vacated tables were cleared to be seated.
On our first visit at breakfast I ordered the hash brown melt ($10) off the list of specialties while my companion selected the vegetarian skillet ($11), and while both selections were tasty we had our ideas to tweak them. My choice was basically a “hash brown sandwich” with cheddar cheese, grilled onions and either bacon or sausage inside. This was amazing, and a real contrast to my companion’s extremely healthy choice. Think of hash brown pancakes, very crispy on the outside, and all those great ingredients in the middle. It worked because the hash browns were ultra-crispy, even though I wouldn’t eat it with my hands and used a knife and fork. How would I tweak it? Offer eggs for a couple bucks, either on top or inside. Poached, scrambled, over easy, but that extra protein would’ve been a natural complement.
My companion’s skillet featured home fries with some occasional hash brown strings and three eggs scrambled with onions, broccoli, black olives, tomatoes, spinach — a very impressive feast. The lone weak note was the Swiss cheese on top, which my companion thought seemed like processed cheese rather than natural Swiss, which has a more pronounced nuttiness. Even still, the rest of the skillet is pretty amazing, another example of how good vegetarian food can taste. The crispy sourdough toast had a generous portion of melted butter, but what we missed was a decent jam or jelly to spread on it.
We went back for lunch another day, my companion selecting the Cobb salad ($11) while I ordered the Western burger ($11). Cheese was an issue again here, as the burger had bacon and onion rings but American cheese. Considering the quality of the other ingredients, it seemed out of place. A nice slice of cheddar would’ve been far more appropriate. My companion’s salad had all the expected ingredients (chicken, bacon, blue cheese, sliced guacamole, hard-boiled egg and grated cheddar) but the freshness of some was not up to the standards of the breakfast visit or my burger. The fresh grilled chicken strips were warm and tasty but the lettuce and guacamole were weary and the hard-boiled egg had a bit of green in the yolk, which she said comes from cooking the eggs too long. It’s harmless, but quite disconcerting.
The burger fared better, a juicy, thick fresh-tasting patty that appeared to be hand-formed. As I said, I would quibble with the choice of American cheese, but the bacon was crispy, thick and perfectly smoky. The bun and fries were workmanlike, nothing more, and the onion rings were not house-made, which even in small places is becoming something expected.
On future visits we will be sampling other intriguing choices on the small menu including Eric’s breakfast nachos, the buffalo chicken and chicken Caesar salads and the bacon guac grilled cheese.
Pete Tittl’s Dining Out column appears here on Sundays. Email him at email@example.com.