Open Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 3 a.m.; Friday and Saturday until 4 a.m. Credit cards - expected any time. No reservations.
Food: Satisfying sandwiches, dashing desserts
Style: Bustling anb bright
Price: You can get change from a $5 bill
THIS IS THE RESTAURANT that American technology built. From the neon red, white and blue star in its wraparound glass front to the computers blinking orders to the sandwich makers, the American Cafe is the vindication of the machine aesthetic, shrine to mass production. But don't sneer. It works.
The American Cafe started with large taste-testing panels in the back room last fall when it was still called Blimpie's. The in-off-the-street tasters pretty consistently chose - and recognized - the highest quality ingredients, such as Haagen Dazs ice cream, and reported that they were willing to pay for the quality. So far, response to the restaurant has reinforced this.
Tiled, bricked and mirrored, the Cafe looks as lively as a circus - but considerably cleaner. Strictly American materials such as Corion and stainless stell unexpectedly enhance, even warm, the room. Lattice dividers cut the space into clusters of a few tables, as well as separate the buffet line from the seating area. For exhibitionists there are two outdoor tables squeezed between the sidewalk and the picture window.
About the buffet line: I didn't work as well as intended, particularly since the menu requires considerably study, so waitress service was added during the week as an alternative, and the self-service was eliminated entirely on evenings and weekends. Good decision, since the waitresses are as personable and un-machinelike as could be.
The menu may be no more than sixteen sandwiches, two soups which change daily, a salad, and an equivalent array of pastries, crepes and ice cream desserts - simple, really - but the mix-and-match possibilities complicate one's decision. You can request any of thirteen garnishes, from bean sprouts to deli mustard (said to be the real thing imported form New York). You can flesh out your sandwich with soup and beverage and call it a fixed-price meal packed in a picnic box. Or you can have your choices to the suop-croissant-dessert-beverage special.
Even if you just want a roast beef sandwich (very good, by the way,) you can have it plain, with pate and mushrooms, or served hot with mushrooms on a toasted roll. You could go triple decker, embellishing your roast beef with turkey and Swiss cheese. Or skip the roast beef in favor of a zesty, generous reuben, an Italian submarine, a club, or - the hands-down winner of all I sampled - a smoky, shredded pork barbecue on a toasted twist roll, handsomely attended by cole slaw, slivered green peppers and halved cherry tomatoes. All the sandwiches are garnished with care, and only the club, with its bland chopped bacon, slightly soggy turkey and untoasted rye bread, called for major improvement. Repeated bouts with the soups left me disappointed by a tinned undertone and starchy consistency, and I considered them anything but enchanced by packaged herbed croutons. They were, however, chunky with sample rough-cut vegetables and meats or seafoods, which almost redeemed them.
Desserts constitute over half the menu and are largely divided between crepes - with fruits, yogurt, ice cream or pastry cream, doused on request with liqueurs - and enormous sundaes topped with superb hot fudge, fresh fruits and such. The crepe Alfredo, filled with the sweetened ricotta one usually associates with cannole, and topped with fresh strawberries and real whipped cream, is a clever idea deliciously executed, and the Old Fashioned crepe, filled with ice cream and gilded with chocolate chips, walnuts, whipped cream and slices of brownies, is a childhood fantasy in the flesh. Pastries, however, are less consistently good.
The attention showered on the quality of the food is reflected in beverages. The house wines are pleasant bordeaux, pleasantly priced at eighty-five cents a glass or $2 a carafe. There are beers on tap, fresh-tasting lemonade and good coffee, all reasonably priced.
Most sandwiches cost $2.75; the chepest is a cheese and raw vegetable conglomeration for $1.75. Soups are $1.25 a cup, $2.25 a bowl. Desserts start at fifty cents for brownies but climb to $2.50 for the show stoppers.Thus, a soup-and-sandwich lunch can cost $4 to $5 plus tip. For that, it is programmed by a computer, prepared to order, presented on white Rosenthal china, and served with a very human smile. The kitchen may be staffed more by mechanics than cooks, but from the vast catalog of mass-produced American foods they have taken care to order the best parts.