Cast Iron Café
You can always go home, but you don’t have to
Home-style cooking is romanticized in our culture. Images of perfectly roasted meats—never ceasing to give off wafts of salty steam—and creamy mashed potatoes spring to mind at the invoking of “mom’s home-cooking.” But this image is ersatz, as real as the Parkay used in the potatoes. It’s not how your mom cooked; it's how she would have cooked if she had the money, time and skill. And maybe if she had loved you a little more.
Cast Iron Café, in a business complex on Montgomery, is a joint effort between former and current owners of Vivace that attempts to bring childhood favorites to the fore. The menu even has a few surprises. Hawaiian surf and turf skewers aren’t the archetype of down-home eats, but the beef-and-shrimp kabobs could be a comfort to those who were reared off the mainland.
Serving mom’s cooking from all over the country sounds like a good idea, but it creates a conceptual problem. Beef Burgundy, though rustic, looks uncomfortable listed beneath chicken-fried steak. And a clam platter with banana pepper cream sauce just doesn’t play well with Idaho chicken pot pie. Similarly, the décor is awkward. A few cast-iron pans (homey) accent copper booths and backsplashes (swanky), creating an uneven atmosphere that lacks thematic continuity.
The crust is blistered and flaky and conceals several ladlings of gravy, chicken and vegetables.
Beyond the rough contrasts, there are several diamonds brightly twinkling on the menu. Cast Iron’s onion rings, shaved rather than sliced, are delicate and threadlike. The ever-so-fine circles of crisp red onion are battered and fried, then served in a towering pile with bleu cheese dressing and barbecue sauce.
At first glance, the café cheeseburger appears no different than any other restaurant-style burger. Truthfully, the lack of frills is what makes it so good. This is a burger, plain and simple. The all-beef patty, cooked to order, tastes like an all-beef patty. Topped with cheese, onions, tomato, lettuce and pickles, it's a burger to be taken at face value. It has no agenda and it doesn’t doll itself up with guacamole or truffles. Corned beef on rye manages to top the simplicity of the cheeseburger. A hot sandwich with briny corned beef spills past the crusts of toasted rye and sticks to tradition with caramelized onions and spicy mustard. It’s comforting and filling.
On the heavier side of the menu, a chicken pot pie is impossible to ignore—if only because of its great size. The crust is blistered and flaky and conceals several ladlings of gravy, chicken and vegetables. The filling is almost perfect. Were it not for the underseasoned, thin gravy made with milk instead of cream, seeing the oversized serving to completion would be an easy task.
An argument could be made for the mismatched nature of Cast Iron Café—maybe that's part of what makes it a true home-style restaurant. Like mom trying hard to make things a little nicer by using cloth napkins despite dad’s mud-caked work boots, Cast Iron Café makes its efforts to elevate home-cooking in earnest.