It’s rare when someone suggests a restaurant that I’ve never heard of, not the slightest inkling from a mention in a blog post or tweet or passing conversation. A recent foray to the Row House Café was the result of just such a suggestion from my sister, and the site of a late dinner with our mom. We’re spending quite a bit of time in the Eastlake and South Lake Union neighborhoods these days. Serafina is our usual haunt – and bartender Julianne deserves a special shout-out for the good care she takes of us – but it’s fun to throw a different location into the mix now and then.
I’m shocked that I haven’t ever noticed the café in my drives through the neighborhood because it sticks out like a sore thumb amongst the new office buildings of South Lake Union. I use that phrase with much appreciation, as I haven’t yet fully embraced the slickness of SLU and love that they’ve successfully bucked the new design aesthetic of the neighborhood. In the outside spaces front and back, and throughout the various rooms inside, it’s a mish mash of kitchen tables and chairs, standing lamps, reading lamps, armchairs, benches, and then a neon sign thrown in for good measure.
All of us agreed, from the moment we stepped in the door, that it was a warm and inviting spot and somewhere we felt welcome right from the start. The comfort food-leaning menu was just what we needed, and I was pleased as punch with my Acropolis grilled sandwich. Gooey with sharp cheddar, fontina, ementhaler, and fresh mozzarella, and smeared with olive tapenade, it gives any other grilled cheese sandwich a run for its money.
I’ve only been there in the evening, but I imagine that this would be a particularly nice place to visit for breakfast or brunch. Especially if you happen to live down the street and could saunter in for a cup of coffee and the 100 Layer French Toast (picture the usual French bread replaced with a croissant) or the Prosciutto Benedict.
There is a lot to love about the Row House Café, though I can’t help but think it’s suffering a bit of an identity crisis. The front of the menu references “Euro Caffe,” and I’m not sure exactly what that means except perhaps the presence of wine and cocktails in addition to coffee. That presumption is reinforced by another phrase in that list, “Top Shelf Liquor,” but what good is top shelf liquor when there is no apparent cocktail list and a server who had to rustle up olives left over from a catering gig? The menu is geographically all over the place, and even knowing it’s intentional given sandwich names like Kremlin, Vatican, and Louvre, the whole still feels a bit disjointed.
I still like that the Row House Café doesn’t fit with all of the shiny office facades of South Lake Union, and for that I will surely return. Maybe not for cocktails, but definitely for brunch.