By: Elizabeth Webber Akre
The phrase “it’s a small world” isn’t just a cliché. At least, not if you live in the South. It’s a FACT. This phenomenon is probably true in all areas of the world, but I can attest to its omnipresence here in the southern United States. It would not be an exaggeration to say that at least once daily I meet someone that I have a connection to, in one way or another.
A good example: Today I overhead a man mention a “swing dancers club” and then it hit me that I’d met this guy before. Sure enough, he was one of the organizers of a swing dance celebration a few years ago during which Neil’s grandmother was honored. Why, you ask? Betty Wood, or “Nana” as we called her, was one of the original Big Apple kids. She WAS swing dancing. And sure enough, this was the guy who arranged a weekend-long celebration during which Nana taught Lindy, Big Apple and Jitterbug classes and received the key to the City from former “Mayor Bob” Coble.
Another example of the small-worlded-ness to which I refer? Michael Fusco. Mike Fusco was (is) the older brother of my high school buddy Dave Fusco. When we were in college, the Fuscos’ opened Irmo’s first gourmet, upscale restaurant called Restaurant 1-2-3. To this day I believe it was truly the only high caliber restaurant Irmo has ever enjoyed. Later, the Fusco family moved on to open yet another high quality restaurant, this time in Lexington…Cinnamon Hill. And then they hit the Vista with the Rhino Room. All of these ventures were successful, top quality, something-to-talk-about restaurants that we Columbians were fortunate to experience. Now, Mike has hit Main Street and true to form, we are all going to benefit from his experience and his talents.
Michael’s Café & Catering officially opened last Tuesday for breakfast and lunch. They are located at 1620 Main Street. Yes, that’s the “Mast General” block. For those of you who work downtown, you might be interested to know that just around the corner is a 24/7 gym. You can work out, pop into Michael’s for a coffee, juice or smoothie, and grab breakfast to eat or take with you to your office…granola, yogurt parfaits or a hot breakfast burrito. There’s something for everyone. And, as you’ve certainly surmised from the title, Michael’s provides catering services, including a full service, tech-outfitted conference center adjacent to the café for your big events. And for those of us who attend downtown churches, Sunday brunch is on the near horizon!
Tuesday night, Michael was über generous and opened his café up to me and some of my friends from the food blogsphere. We were able to tour the beautiful, shiny new kitchens, the sharp conference center, and the hip yet warm café. We also tasted some of Michael’s menu treats! We tasted, photographed, tweeted, instagrammed and otherwise bragged to our friends about the experience. Let me tell you this…if you are ever invited to a restaurant preview, dry run, soft opening, whatever you want to call it, GO! They are so fun and you really feel a connection to the place when you’ve been included in something so special.
So, anyway…you want to know about the food, right? We sampled lots of goodies. Here goes:
- Frieda’s Special: this is a Greek salad, but it’s a killer Greek salad. Know why? Frieda is a wonderful Greek lady who is a mutual friend and the salad is reflective of her; high class all the way. Quality lettuces, ample feta, pitted Kalamata olives, tender & spicy pepperoncini, outstanding dressing. Not your typical iceberg lettuce salad, for sure!
- White Russian sandwich: OMG! It’s not complicated. Turkey, bacon, swiss and a homemade “not your typical” Russian dressing. This is a fabulous sandwich, friends.
- Pimento Cheese: We had this as a dip and also as a grilled cheese sandwich. Let’s face it…pimento cheese rocks as long as it’s homemade and made with really good quality cheese.
- Philly Cheese Steak: I’m super picky about Phillies. This is it. Lean, well cooked “grilly” tasting steak, spicy peppers and yummy onions and cheese. Add a high quality hoagie roll and, well, I don’t need to say any more.
- Pasta Salad: We tried two. The first was bow-tie pasta with pesto, artichoke hearts (I mean, can you go wrong with artichoke? NO!) and red wine vinegar/olive oil vinaigrette. The other was a multi-color fusilli with a rice wine vinegar vinaigrette…my fave!
- Shrimp Salad: Ok, see, we live in the South. If anybody can work with shrimp, it’s those of us in coastal states. This is a great example. The shrimp are what my dad and I call “creek size” shrimp. They are just the right size for a salad on lettuce, in a cup, on a croissant. Large, stuffable sized shrimp are not right for this job. They are flavored with herbs and mayo, but lightly so. It’s not heavy; it’s just what shrimp salad should be.
- Breakfast Burrito: Ok here’s the one place I have to insert something personal. When I heard that Michael was opening a new place, I told my 7-year-old about it. I’m proud to say that she is a very adventurous eater and loves to participate in the “grown up world.” As soon as she heard about Michael’s, she said, it “must” have a breakfast burrito. So, I told Mike about it and Viola! he added it to the menu. Viv is so proud. If only it were titled the “Breakfast Vivverito” or something…Just kidding Michael!
- Veggie Hummus Wrap: My girl April is a vegetarian. If you have veggie friends, you know that there are varied types. Some are vegan (NO animal products at all…this is a very hard, rigid lifestyle), ovo-lacto (ok with eggs, cheese, milk), pescetarians (fish, shellfish ok), you get the idea. My friend April describes her vegetarianism very simply as “no flesh.” That, I love. I don’t have to think for 10 minutes about what she can or cannot eat. So, Michael’s has several offerings for our veggie friends.
- And last, but not least…SMOKED TOMATO RANCH. Holy mother of Krypton. The mere description doesn’t sound like much, it’s true. But after hearing a few others comment about this dressing, I had to make my way down the table to try it out for myself. I don’t really know a better way to say wow, other than wowza, shazamm, holy something… We all know that in many cases, a salad is only as good as its dressing. This is fantastic. You just have to trust me and try it for yourself. I loved it so much, I asked Michael if he could think of using it as a base for a pasta salad. And, I think this would be the ideal dressing for any salad, even Frieda’s, if you want to deviate from the norm!
The evening was just fantastic and I know that the downtown community will love and support this new eatery. I want to thank Mike, Rebecca and Lisa for inviting all of us in and giving us the opportunity to try out the menu. Michael’s is focused on good quality, culinary talent and supporting other local culinary businesses along the way. Those of you who read my blog posts know my opinion of the importance of supporting local people and local businesses. Try out Michael’s Cafe. For a few reasons: because you love and appreciate good food, you need an efficient space for parties/meetings, and need a fantastic caterer for your special events.
And, because I said so. 🙂
Elizabeth writes Gastronomy (by a Wanna-be Chef) to record cooking thoughts, successes, failures and whatever crosses her mind. You can also find her on Facebook.