Don't look for a hamburger on the menu at Café Rustica, or anything involving a deep-fat fryer. There isn't one. And don't expect a lackluster vibe; anyone who knows Andy Howell has come to expect humor, opinion and finesse without pandering. His newest enterprise, actually a reopening at 414 E. Main St., comes after some fits and starts and the usual take-too-long city inefficiencies.
Howell and co-owners Michelle Turner, whose 17 years at Bamboo Café have made her a bar goddess, and Sam George, recently chefing at the Executive Mansion, bring something fresh to the predictable downtown diner circuit. Theirs is European-influenced comfort food, from the sizzling skillet for breakfast to the savory bread pudding and griddled Mediterranean short stack for lunch. Coffee, fair-trade organic, is offered in medium and bold roasts. Booths and bar are fittingly rustic and instantly familiar.
For now, the cafe serves breakfast and lunch during the week and brunch on Sundays. By next year, the partners plan to add a wine bar/dinner business and delve more deeply into the flavor country that has marked Howell's reputation, with German dishes and Old World wines figuring prominently. "It falls on our shoulders to try something different, to fill a niche downtown," Howell says. "I love a hamburger. I just don't want to serve it." 225-8811. - Deveron Timberlake