Category Archives: American

Village Baking Co: Aromas that rekindle childhood

Some of my earliest, fondest memories are of passing over U.S. Highway 75 on Mockingbird Lane in Dallas. The reason wasn’t the not-yet-existent Mockingbird Station or the La Madeleine that’s still there. It’s something much simpler.

The smell of baking bread is something that goes through your nose and fills your body with comfort – and it’s something you don’t want to let go.

Village Baking Co. is on University Boulevard in between Central Expressway and Greenville Avenue, releasing the sweet smells of baking daily. (Credit: Facebook)

Village Baking Co. is on University Boulevard in between Central Expressway and Greenville Avenue, releasing the sweet smells of baking daily. (Credit: Facebook)

Of course, the Mrs. Baird’s bakery that was once on that southwest corner is long gone. But what still gives me that warm feeling on an afternoon drive is a local bakery that opened up on my route home not too long ago.

Village Baking Co. is, unfortunately, no real local secret. It isn’t terribly packed, but it surely is getting attention with the growing number of farmers markets its products are getting into. Step in the University Boulevard shop on a Saturday morning and you’re greeted with a smile from someone behind an island topped with baked goods, but you’ll be waiting a bit to order your sweet breakfast.

Village Baking Co. scones

The size, taste and soft density of the scones at Village Baking Co. make for a hearty breakfast (or afternoon snack). Photo by Taylor Adams

For that meal, the scone is a safe bet. Any flavor available that day is lively enough to keep you full for the morning. The cranberry scone has a subtle flavor that comes out in every bite of the bread that has a crunchy exterior and soft, dense inside. It’s delightful, warm, and sweetly satisfying.

Another expected option on this wooden table of baked assortments are croissants: plain, au chocolat, and ham and cheese. In my visits there, the ham and gruyere croissant was the most popular order by most people around me. I always go for the pain au chocolate. This one is fine, but doesn’t strike me as terribly fresh, even as it takes me to a sidewalk cafe in France or to any other scenario that evokes French delicacies.

Village Baking Co. croissants

The array of croissants will give you plenty of options. The chocolate is fine, but the plain will give you a bit more satisfaction. Photo by Taylor Adams

There’s a crisp exterior; the inside is soft and delicate, but it’s a bit dry, as is the tiny bar of chocolate that runs throughout it. I’ll go for a ham and cheese next time, but the plain croissant does come out in a manner that seems fresh – just as you would expect from the aroma that fills this space. It’s smooth on the inside, subtly sweet, and one just won’t be enough.

But it’s not all sweetness in this tiny bakery. Its breads are worth the carbohydrates, too. The white sandwich rolls couldn’t be softer: they’re simple, but the freshest you’re going to get around here.

I’ll surely try a baguette on my next visit. Sitting in a wicker basket nestled in the east-facing window, they look like perfection, and they sound like they must be fresh. On a recent visit, a customer asked for one of the tall baguettes – the woman behind the large island reached up for one – “Oh! Still hot!”

Really? I need to get myself one of those.

Village Baking Co.Village Baking Co.
Location: 5531 E. University Blvd. in Dallas, 75206
Contact: 214-265-1170, villagebakingco.comFacebook, Twitter and Instagram
Hours: 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily
Service: friendly and fast
Ambiance: naturally-lit and spacious inside, picnic tables full of breakfast-eaters outside
Payment information: major credit cards accepted

Want to catch them at a farmers market? It shouldn’t be too hard. This Saturday, you can find them at those for Coppell, McKinney, White Rock, Collin County, Saint Michaels, Rockwall, Frisco, Little Elm and Keller.

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Filed under American, Breakfast, Dessert

Never mind the decor, stampede toward Pyles’ new Texas eatery

Stampede 66 by Stephan Pyles has taken over a modest corner in Uptown with a delightfully enticing menu offering “modern Texan cuisine.”

The chicken-fried buffalo steak tops a savory pan-gravy alongside greens and mashed potatoes. (Photo by Michael Danser)

The chicken-fried buffalo steak tops a savory pan-gravy alongside greens and mashed potatoes. (Photo by Michael Danser)

So what is that culinary genre? Apparently, it consists of bocaditos (small bites), tamales, pickles, breads and butter, tacos, bowl and Texas classics, Galveston Bay oysters, meat and game, farm birds and, of course, sweets.

The passion-chile margarita has Jose Cuervo tequila, Patron Citronge, passion fruit, jalapeño and lime. (Photo by Taylor Adams)

The passion-chile margarita has Jose Cuervo tequila, Patron Citronge, passion fruit, jalapeño and lime. (Photo by Taylor Adams)

With a list of specialty margaritas, one would seem to be worth your try. The passion-chile margarita was acceptable, but maybe not for the $10 price tag with it. The thick consistency of the passion fruit was complemented by a slight kick in the back of the throat from the jalapeño taste that was in the beverage.

The Paloma pink margarita  has a Fever Tree soda, grapefruit and the expected, lime, tequila and agave. A bitterness accompanies this tequila-heavy drink.

The wine list has a selection of nice (for) Texas wines, along with a list of imports, which has offerings from Chile and Spain, along with those from Sonoma, Calif. and Virginia.

The top half of the menu has your smaller plates, but their sizes don’t necessarily warrant sharing. The mushroom and huitlacoche tamales come with two to an order. Offering a moist, traditional tamale consistency, these have a buttery inside of mushroom. (What’s the huitlacoche? Another fungus; this one’s from corn.)

The mushroom-huitlacoche tamales are served on the corn husk and topped with a creamy, subtle huitlacoche sauce.

The mushroom-huitlacoche tamales are served on the corn husk and topped with a creamy, subtle huitlacoche sauce.

While a mushroom taco sounds equally appealing, the fried oyster taco is a small tortilla filled with fried flavor and six cups of different toppings to change up each bite. The pineapple-pico de gallo is an extra sweet kick.

On another visit, the serving of shrimp and grits is sure to be worth a try, along with another type of taco.

On the bottom half are plenty of options that are worth your money. The barbecued brisket is dry and flavorful, served with a vinegar-based sauce and a simple potato salad.

The chicken-fried buffalo steak is coated with a savory, spicy batter that can be eaten on its own. Although, the salty pan-gravy that comes with it makes it even better. This plate also comes with some almost-too-thin, creamy mashed potatoes and “Gun Barrel Greens.” This bitter assortment of kale, carrot tops and other greens was created by a fellow who goes by Gun Barrel, our waiter told us. (He also said this man was from New Orleans; two sentences later, he said he was from Gun Barrel City. It’s yet to be determined. If this dish by his name were better, I might have been more curious to find out.)

This shrimp dish at Stampede is some of the best étouffée in Dallas.

This shrimp dish at Stampede is some of the best étouffée in Dallas.

The shrimp étouffée is one of the more flavorful dishes I tried, but it’s not for those who are weary of some spice. Served in a modest bowl alongside dirty rice, the étouffée has a well-made rue that every base should aspire to be. The almost dirty-like texture of it makes the heat and spice help turn that shrimp into a perfect bite.

The list of desserts offers plenty. There’s a chocolate-pecan pie that they call the black-bottom “Bama” pecan pie, which is presented as a small (but share-able) tart. The dark chocolate takes the place of the jelly portion that would normally be underneath these slightly candied pecans.

The "black-bottom 'Bama' pecan pie" (background) is great, but can't stand up to the coconut desert that maintains layers of dense, moist cake.

The “black-bottom ‘Bama’ pecan pie” (background) is great, but can’t stand up to the coconut desert that maintains layers of dense, moist cake.

Some type of cake will be on the menu when you go. The coconut has layers of dense, moist cake, separated by a sweet cream, that has just a hint of coconut. For the crisp coconut, just eat off the back of the slice that could easily feed four people, which is padded with toasted coconut flakes.

The interior of Stampede 66 is overtly “Texas.” Wire horse heads protrude from the top of a tall wall and a large, metal snake is lit from below by lights of changing colors. In parts of the restaurant, it’s a bit bright and the overall feel can seem simply cheesy until you take your first bite of food – then all that’s around you just doesn’t even matter.

It’s also not bad when Pyles himself drops by your table to make sure your dining experience has been more than copacetic.

Worth the price and multiple visits, Stampede better be here to stay.

Stampede 66
Location: 1717 McKinney Ave. in Dallas, 214-550-6966
Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., 6 to 10:30 p.m. Monday through Wednesday; 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., 6 to 11 p.m. Thursday and Friday; 6 to 11 p.m. Saturday
Price: $$$
Service: Very attentive, extra friendly (If you haven’t ordered the “signature” Modern Star Canyon Margarita, there’s a chance a friendly fellow with a rolling cart will roll over to your table, attempting to persuade someone at your table to purchase the $16 beverage.)
Ambiance: Modern Texan, a little louder and quite bright
Attire: Dressy-casual
Payment information: All major credit cards accepted
Alcohol: Full bar

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Filed under American, Tex-Mex/Mexican

The Cedars Social: Bar fare worth a (very) short trip south

Just a few minutes in the car from my office is a bar worth visiting. The only reason I hadn’t made the short trip was a lame one – that trip was just south of downtown.

Across from where I had sipped coffee at South Side on Lamar and seen The Fray perform at the Palladium Ballroom is an intimate space full of books, booze and unsuspecting plates for dinner.

The double bone-in pork chop, purple and sweet potato hash is just an example of the tempting plates at Cedars Social.  (Facebook)

The double bone-in pork chop, purple and sweet potato hash is just an example of the tempting plates at Cedars Social. (Facebook)

The Cedars Social boasts on Facebook about its full rows of alcohol bottles behind the bar. The pride continues onto the pages of the cocktail menu that lists the drinks around $12 each (and many are higher).

The bartender here makes a worthy potion. The old fashioned and Tom Collins were acceptable standards. Any of the seasonal cocktails or “misfits” are more creative and worth experimenting.

The bar area is quickly packed on a Saturday night, but if you’re able to snag a table in the small dining room, you can explore some more flavors beyond muddled fruit in alcohol.

Expect to have a lot of paper on your table while you make your selections through the sharable small and big plates. One item is a blue file folder that has the pages of cocktail options. If you’re here on a weekend, one small sheet will be the weekend menu. Check that one if you’re in the mood for a selection of oysters. These offer some more explorable plates (with a bit higher price tag). The standard, two-sided sheets have the full menu.

There’s plenty to pique your interest on the small plate list. The truffle macaroni and cheese will take the spot as a favorite. I always use hesitation when knowing a chef is using truffle – whether it be fresh, salt and especially oil – but this pasta is only delicately laced with the flavor that takes the bowl to a whole new level of savory.

The shrimp and grits is also a plate you’ll want to share with your table. Texas Gulf shrimp are lined up on top of white cheddar and Parmesan grits. While the shrimp were standard, even someone who doesn’t get excited about grits will scrape up the last of this cheesy side item. The Kobe meatballs are small, tender balls of meat, ones that have a surprisingly crisp exterior to a warm, tender center. Most important, they’re perfectly seasoned and topped witha  simple, traditional sauce.

The lamb chops could be a meal on their own. They’re simply seasoned and cooked perfectly, just below medium rare. What takes these a step beyond an area steak joint is the Luxardo cherry jus that sits beneath them, waiting for you to swipe the tender meat through it for a sweet pairing. On a recent visit, we tried for the grilled oysters, which caught our attention with garlic butter and Parmesan cheese, but the kitchen was out of them. A small plate that should be ordered on your own (only because sharing doesn’t seem like a realistic option) is the oxtail ravioli, a special that hopefully will make a regular appearance. Each bite is a buttery and savory meat encased in a (just under al dente) fresh pasta.

The small plates kept our interest. Large plates that look worth a try are the truffled, roasted chicken with lentils, Mediterranean olives and cherry tomatoes and a Berkshire pork rack with cassoulet and crispy brussels sprouts.

We did test our stomach sizes a little further by going for the hand-cut garlic-Parmesan fries, where more truffle oil is poured out. Salty, a little oily and plenty crunchy, these are the consistency all garlic fries should be.

The special desserts, listed in chalk on the wall with other specials, listed a German chocolate cake that had run out before we had the chance to pursue a slice. By that time, we were too full to test out the Italian cream that was also listed.

Witha  menu so extensive and items passing expectations, this one is worth another visit. Very soon.

The Cedars Social
Location: 1326 S. Lamar St. in Dallas, 214-928-7700
Hours: 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Saturday and Sunday
Price: $$
Service: laid back, just attentive enough
Ambiance: cozy, noisy and intimate
Alcohol: full bar

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A granola that makes a sizable impact

Plenty of people would get excited for pie. Probably more would be excited for cupcakes. But what about cereal? Better yet, what about granola?

Impact Foods has granola that can get you excited for cereal again. (Photos by TAYLOR ADAMS)

Impact Foods has granola that can get you excited for cereal again. (Photos by TAYLOR ADAMS)

There’s more than one reason I can get behind any flavor of Impact Foods’ granola. For one, the Dallas-based business is headed up by two SMU grads. Second, they’re the Tom’s Shoes of cereal: buy one $5.83 bag, and they’ll supply a meal to a starving child.

As someone who has seen hungry children on the streets of Haiti, this idea hits home for me. To read more about how Uptown residents Ben Hurt and Blaine Iler are making a difference, check out this story on them from neighborsgo.

Now, $5.83 is worth supplying food for a child, but it’s more than warranted when you get something you can’t stop eating in return.

For a while, I’ve heard that these small bags of granola were amazing — either in a bowl with milk or scooped straight out of the bag with your bare hand. When I say, “amazing,” this is a word that came from others’ testimonies. That’s an extreme statement. So when a coworker plopped a couple of bags in the food-to-share area of our office, I thought I wasn’t missing much by skipping the cereal for an afternoon snack.

Finally, about a month later, I couldn’t resist the urge to open up my own bag when Lindsey Miller, who handles public relations for Impact Foods, handed me to flavors to try.

The blueberry-honey granola is packed with clusters and a fitting breakfast food.

The blueberry-honey granola is packed with clusters and a fitting breakfast food.

I started with the blueberry-honey granola, which offers suited tastes for a morning meal. The bits of blueberry make you think of summer, and the honey isn’t just a slight sweetness, you can really taste it. This one is mostly clusters, while the other bag had lots of oats.

This other bag also had a flavor listed on the bag that I was less than excited about: pumpkin spice. The two words may get you excited — you want pumpkin everything once a chill finally comes to the Dallas air. And, I’m not totally excluded; I’ll have one pumpkin spice latte once Starbucks starts promoting them. I’m also a fan of the occasional cinnamon-pumpkin pancake. But this flavor of autumn has penetrated almost anything it can, with poor executions all over the place.

So, pumpkin spice and granola? I wasn’t setting the bar high. I also intended to share it, until I tried some.

The pumpkin spice granola has oats and pumpkin seeds--all of which you'll want to consume.

The pumpkin spice granola has oats and pumpkin seeds–all of which you’ll want to consume.

I almost had no control. The flavor is delectable, but subtle. There isn’t an overwhelming, almost- heat of a spice, but a sweet warmth that has plenty of sugar and cinnamon. While the honey-blueberry granola is an ideal breakfast, this would be a good choice for dessert.

Impact Foods has the pumpkin spice for the season. Its other, year-long flavors include maple oat and vanilla almond, which I already have confidence in.

If the taste isn't enough, the fact that Impact Foods gives back for every bag purchased will interest you.

If the taste isn’t enough, the fact that Impact Foods gives back for every bag purchased will interest you.

Impact Foods
Impact Foods granola is vailable at stores such as EatZi’s and Whole Foods; you can also visit the Impact Foods website to order online and see what other local stores carry the product.

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Filed under American, Breakfast

Eggs Florentine offers a savory return to Crossroads

Crossroads Diner is worth revisiting numerous times, even after you’ve managed to write a short review on it.

The pancakes are the perfect flat of puffiness. The Belgian waffles are a delightful excuse for a sweet in the morning. The service is always sincere. But there’s one particular meal that has me wanting to return to the Lake Highlands spot: eggs Florentine.

The perfectly salty eggs florentine at Crossroads is served with crisped hash browns and two sweet pancakes. (Photo by TAYLOR ADAMS)

Under “Other Stuff” toward the bottom of the menu, this unsuspecting meal offers two poached eggs topped with a spinach sauce, all supported by a bed of a sliced English muffin and smoked-pit ham. While it’s not the most photogenic meal, it’s one that has you inhaling its spinach-ham aroma as the plate lands in front of you.
The egg, perfectly poached to the point of being an art form, is the way a morning protein should always be presented. The toasted bread and salted ham beneath it are fine, and highly necessary to have evenly with every bite on the fork. The best part is what truly makes this a Florentine–the spinach sauce. It’s savory enough to be called gravy, but delicate enough to be respectable to eat before 11 a.m.
Sure, sweet breakfast rolls are always safe–just thinking of the frosted cinnamon roll at Mecca or the cinnamon sticky bun at Crossroads can make a person’s mouth water. Who doesn’t love crisp slices of bacon? But this ultra-savory approach to breakfast will have my vote every time.
Crossroads Diner
Location: 8121 Walnut Hill Lane, Suite 1100 in Dallas, 75231, 214-346-3491
Hours: 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday – Sunday
Price: $
Ambiance:  Clean, calm and casual
Attire: Casual
Payment Information: Major credit cards accepted
Alcohol: Beer, wine, specialty cocktails

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Seafood that’s fast, fried and savory at Big Shucks

There are shack-like establishments up and down Cape Cod, many serving all of the clam chowder, lobster rolls and fried fish one could want. Unfortunately, the desire for these foods continues even when you’re not on the Cape, and you’re as far away as Dallas.

The spicy shrimp cocktail at Big Shucks (Photo by TAYLOR ADAMS)

So, lowering the bar a bit, there’s suddenly a necessity to find an environment that serves up this underestimated cuisine. Throw in a tall mug of shrimp cocktail, and you’ll get even more than you yearned for.

Big Shucks Oyster Bar on Mockingbird Lane has everything expected of a shack serving fresh seafood: a tabletop you don’t even bother wondering if it’s clean, a person with a smile hand-writing your order from behind a counter, and nowhere to sit on a Saturday night.

The menu, printed on boards above the register, boasts a house specialty—shrimp cocktail.

The mug balancing this heaping mound of shrimp is plenty for two. The shrimp is packed into a sauce of cilantro, tomatoes, Serrano peppers and onion. You get an option of mild, medium or spicy—the latter could use even more of a kick. But the taste has enough of a kick to be complemented by a chunk of avocado.

The combo fried basket of catfish and shrimp at Big Shucks (Photo by MICHAEL DANSER)

A portion of the menu is dedicated to baskets of fried food, all of which come with some steak-cut fries that need a good shaking from the Corona bottle containing salt at each table.

Whatever else is fried next to the potatoes should be fine, though. The fried catfish is flaky and salty with a thin, fine coating. You can get your shrimp in the same coating, or go for the sweeter option of coconut.

The best thing about the coconut shrimp is simply the freshness. Each shrimp doesn’t have a bit of meat without a flake of unsweetened coconut covering it. The hint of sweetness is fine on its own, not overpowering the shrimp taste, and keeps it somewhat savory. There’s a sweet chutney in a small plastic cup to the side, though, that will complete the taste to a delightful excess.

The basket of coconut shrimp at Big Shucks (Photo by TAYLOR ADAMS)

If you’re with someone who’s willing to share a meal, and you’re looking for healthier options here, you luck out with the Summer Platter, complete with crab claws, shrimp (which you will clean yourself), sausage, new potatoes and chunks of corn on the cob.

While the clarified butter on the same tray could probably lift up any fresh seafood’s taste, this Cajun seasoning of spice and sweetness on these shrimp and crab won’t slow you down. (The cracking of the shells on crab claws and sweeping off the heads of the shrimp will, however.)

There are other places to get fine crab served with clarified butter for dipping. But being able to stop here for a quick lunch of cracking into some sweet crab with a kick is convenient and savory.

The spicy powder combats the natural sweetness of the corn, which makes it one of the few things that will remain on the metal tray the meal comes on.

The summer platter at Big Shucks (Photo by TAYLOR ADAMS)

While the casual, seafood dining atmosphere might surprise you as you’re sitting so close to Lakewood, you’re in for a real astonishment when you leave. At the cash register, you won’t hand over a receipt for your meal. Instead, you’ll be asked, “What did you have today?”

Running on the honor system, this place obviously trusts its customers.  The risk of  lying just isn’t worth it: They’re sure to figure it out, and you won’t be able to go back for those seasoned crab legs.

Big Shucks Oyster Bar
Location: 6232 E. Mockingbird Lane in Dallas, 75214, 214-887-6353 (See website for the other three locations.)
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Price: $-$$
Ambiance: Windows around seating area provide plenty of natural light; with the crowd, it can get loud; there’s also a spacious patio overlooking Mockingbird Lane.
Alcohol: Beer and wine served

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Buli Café an ideal lunch spot on Cedar Springs

My favorite mocha came from behind the counter of the Mercantile Coffee House. With its sudden closing, the hunt was on for one that could at least meet it halfway in Dallas. The ideal result came much more quickly than I expected, and I even found a meal to go along with it.

Buli Café offers the Oak Lawn area enough for its visitors to indulge in: Aside from an impeccable mocha or black coffee, there are also sandwiches, cakes and assorted baked goods.

The Oak Lawn pastrami sandwich is made up of turkey pastrami, cheddar and Muenster cheeses, tomato, romain and lots of mayonnaise. Photos by TAYLOR ADAMS

Unless there’s a quick crowd, you’ll most likely be welcomed by whoever is behind the counter. You might be a bit rushed to make a decision as you look at the boards above him, but as he gives you time with the menu, you can narrow your choices, which should be centered on the sandwiches.

These sandwiches can’t be missed. What guarantees that your lunch will be good is the Panini bread that is almost crisp on the outside and savory and soft on the inside.

The sandwiches come presented alongside a bag of chips and a sliced pickle, all packed into a metal lunch box.

A bag of chips, a paper-wrapped pickle slice and the hand-held meal is all arranged into an old-fashioned tin. (At least, they seem old-fashioned: There may be a current pop band on the pink box, but I would bet there’s a chance of tetanus if you were to cut your finger on it.)

When my eyes scanned the menu, they immediately went to the two pastrami options: the New York or the Oak Lawn. I narrowed it down by skipping the sauerkraut on the New York and went for the Oak Lawn variation.

I let myself order the sandwich, despite the meat being pink turkey pastrami. But the melted Muenster and cheddar cheeses around it helped fight my stereotype of the meat significantly.

This sandwich would have disappeared from its paper-lined box had it been without the tomato, less-than-crisp romaine and copious amount of mayonnaise.

My friend had the cream-o-chicken, which had grilled chicken breast, cream cheese, bacon, baby spinach, basil, tomato and apricot-habanero chutney. A bit much is going on in this sandwich, but it plays it safe by having cream cheese and bacon in the mix.

We both opted for the iced tea, which proved to be the perfect choice for anyone feeling that she’s dying of thirst–you can get about three glasses’ worth in the serving.

For dessert, there are cased cakes that are delivered from Massimo’s Italian Bakery. Don’t let the poor lighting in the case fool you—this cake is moist enough that it almost fails to support the frosting. What may be a glob of a mess on your plate is nevertheless a delicious one.

The iced tea is a healthy serving at Buli.

Whether you go in for breakfast or skip the cake and lunch, the staff here makes a good mocha, chocolaty enough to be indulgent, but it doesn’t drown the all-so-important caffeine. Of course, the iced tea is a safe choice if you’re the type who refuses to drink a hot drink on a sweltering day.

The service that brews and serves here is some of the best I’ve seen at a walk-up order. They’re so friendly, it’s worth the drive over there for me to order a water and have their attitudes brighten my day.

Buli Cafe
Location: 3908 Cedar Springs Road in Dallas, 75219, 214-528-5410
Hours: 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday and Tuesday, 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday, 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday
Price: $
Ambiance: Clean, small dining
Alcohol: none served

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Filed under American, Coffee, Sandwiches