Atmosphere: Very informal, but crowded.
Price range: Ala carte and dinners 50 cents to $3.50.
Credit cards: No credit cards or checks accepted.
Hours: (Until Dec. 23) 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.
Special facilities: Accessible to the handicapped.
Reservations: Not needed.
For the couple who can't settle on a cuisine, the shopper who just wants a snack, the family whose money is tied up in Christmas bundles these days, there is the International Cafe.
Sprawling across one end of Springfield Mall next to Herman's sporting goods store, International Cafe's sign gleams in mirrors and neon. Inside, one wonders what prompted the name cafe: There are no intimate dining nooks, and the only view is one of people en masse looking for buys. But visitors should not be put off by the spare decor. The cafe houses seven stalls - soon to be eight with addition of a Mr. Kebab - that offer diners a rare chance tomix and match their courses.
In a gathering with friends at the International Cafe one evening, nine of us - six adults and three children - managed to fairly eat our way around the world as we consumed egg rolls and hush puppies, Chinese salad and spanakopita, gyros and knackwurst and an assortment of pastries and side dishes. Though we weren't keeping strict account, the bill came in somewhere under $35, which included the two boys splurging on the largest splits this side of Swensen's with three toppings and three flavors of yogurt perched on a large melon slice.
Not long ago we returned for an inexpensive family outing with our 2-year-old. While my husband and I grabbed a table in the crowded cafe, and tried to decide which stall to visit first, our son announced he would have his usual, a hot dog with ketchup. That cost 52 cents from the Wurst Pub, which offers several sizes of knackwurst with kraut and also sells beer.
My husband and I turned to the Grecian Corner for something a bit more exotic. We both chose gyros ($1.85 with French fries), a mammoth sandwich of chunks of meat, bits of tomato and slices of onion, wrapped in Pita bread and drizzled with a tangy yogurt sauce. The meat is a blend of beef and lamb, roasted on a vertical spit on the counter and sliced while you watch. Because of the way it is cooked, the meat is juicy with a crusty outside.
Grecian Corner also offers souvlaki and tasty Greek cheese and spinach pastries. The pastries are $1. Dinner of moussaka, and eggplant and ground beef casserole, and pastitsio, beef and pasta with cream sauce, are good for $1.95, but the two vegetables that accompany them have succumbed to the steam table treatment and are tasteless.
On the American side of the Grecian Corner, run by the same people, is Burger Bite with full range of hamburgers and toppings from $1.25 to $1.95.
To round out our dinner,we visited the Wok 'N Roll, which prepares an outstanding Chinese salad of Chinese cabbage tossed in a sweet, sour and sesame dressing. A large bowl is 35 cents. The salad is apparently quite a favorite, because the stall had already run out of it by the time we got there.
As a substitute we sampled a beef turnover, 75 cents, a large pastry stuffed with a bland mash of meat and vegetables; it was disappointing.
The Wok 'N Roll does have a variety of Chinese dinners and side dishes; the most expensive dinner is sweet and sour pork with egg roll and rice for $2.75.
There is also a Backboard Barbecue stall, which serves beef or pork sandwiches for a little more than a dollar, hush puppies and barbecued chicken or spareribs platters for $1.79 or $2.95.
At International Cafe the main course can be just a prelude to dessert. For the healthy indulgence, Naturally Yogurt provides chocolate, vanilla, banana and strawberry flavors and 10 or so toppings including nuts, mixed fruit, cherry, blueberry and chocolate fudge. A yogurt split, for those who just can't decide on one flavor, allows three flavors of yogurt and three of toppings, for $1.50.
For the less healthy splurge, there is an array of pastries incluxing French Napoleons, Turkish kataefi and Italian rum cakes at the International Desserts counter.
I was well satisfied with galaktobouriko, 75 cents, a Greek pastry filled with custard and topped with a honey sauce. My husband, who is on a diet, opted for a dish of yogurt with butterscotch sauce, for 80 cents. Our son, anxious to visit Santa Claus, said he was also on a diet and didn't want anything.
The dinner bill came to $7.11.