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Working Lunch: Cuisine a la Carte

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Small neighborhood spots occupy a particular niche when it’s time to make the daily decision of where to lunch. If it’s someplace close to home or work, you may default to it out of familiarity. But as a destination for those farther afield, it may not speak to someone who’d have to seek it out. Cuisine a la Carte seems to have a dedicated cadre of the former.

Vibe

You know how cozy is real estate lingo for cramped and tiny when describing an apartment for rent? Cuisine a la Carte is cozy. Other than the counter, the petite space is filled with five two-top tables, a chip stand and a drink case. An extensive chalkboard lines one wall detailing a menu of soups, salads, sandwiches and desserts, although the majority of the steady stream of customers — worker bees and near West End moms in tennis skirts — already seems to know what they want. The overall vibe is familiar and welcoming.

The spot is known for its soups, such as this chilled red gazpacho. - SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist
  • The spot is known for its soups, such as this chilled red gazpacho.

Menu

Established in 1986, Cuisine a la Carte is a family operation offering traditional — read safe — lunch options. Just about everything is available in a boxed lunch, which gets you a side or chips and dessert, but no box. A chicken salad sandwich with dill mayo tasted mostly of mayonnaise, but judging by the frequency with which people were ordering the tarragon chicken salad, we may have made the wrong chicken salad call. Pesto —and pizazz — were in short supply on the chicken pesto sandwich, which uses deli chicken. The Patterson Avenue was billed as bits of shrimp in a tangy cream cheese spread, but the tang was missing in action. Of all the sides — pasta salad, coleslaw and potato salad — it was the latter, singing with the sweetness of pickle juice, that made a lasting impression.

Only a BLT fully delivered with an abundance of bacon, the last of the flavorful summer tomatoes and lettuce, although plain mayonnaise had been subbed out for the promised dill mayo. But high marks go to a house-made onion-filled gazpacho, fresh-tasting and full of late season tomato goodness, along with every dessert we tucked into: chocolate chocolate-chip cookies, a lemon bar and a slice of dense, moist iced pound cake. All three were stellar.

Brandon James carries out an order to a customer. - SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist
  • Brandon James carries out an order to a customer.

Service

You can tell the folks at Cuisine a la Carte have been doing this for a while because their efficiency is exemplary, their friendliness sincere. First-timers are encouraged to take their time choosing and meals are dropped off at the table with a heartfelt smile and instructions to let them know if we need anything further. When we can’t finish everything, they’re there to offer to wrap up our leftovers.

Workability

Did I mention how small this place is? With so few tables, to camp out indefinitely at one to work seems like a gross lack of manners. It does have Wi-Fi — with one of those complex series of letters and numbers kind of passwords — but outlets are scarce for plugging in. And with the nonstop coming and going of customers, it could be tough to get in a working rhythm with people hanging about waiting on their orders and blathering about how Stan is going to lose 50 pounds by Christmas. We weren’t even trying to work and it was distracting having to listen to Stan’s weight-loss plan.

Inside the tiny eating area at the original Patterson Avenue location. - SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist
  • Inside the tiny eating area at the original Patterson Avenue location.

Speed

I’ve yet to order that I don’t have my lunch in front of me within five minutes, no matter how busy the folks are at the counter. If you’re coming in with a co-worker to discuss a project over lunch, you can be assured you’ll have plenty of time to eat and get down to business. Even parking is a snap. Not only does it have a parking lot, but generally spaces are available along Patterson Avenue as well.

Price

Sandwiches and salads run from $5.30-$5.95 with box lunches $8.80-$9.75, so nobody’s going to break the bank eating lunch at Cuisine a la Carte. Judging by the sheer number of people who stop by solely for quick, low-cost sandwiches, I’m inclined to think it’s a go-to place for those in the neighborhood when they’re out running around and don’t want to get home and have to make lunch. And who can’t relate to that?

If you’re looking for a comfortable place to settle in and work for a few hours, Cuisine a la Carte may not be ideal. But for a quick sandwich or a boxed lunch — the way to go since the dessert game is strong — the ease of parking, low prices and speedy service can’t be beat.

Cuisine a la Carte
Mondays – Fridays 8 a.m. – 5 p.m., Saturdays 10 a.m. – 3 p.m.
5606 Patterson Ave.
288-5311
cuisinealacarte.com

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