Cafe Zuppa: A downtown deal 

The downtown experience is made of many parts. For people who work there, being downtown should mean that if you want to go out for lunch, you should be able to walk to a satisfying meal in the time allowed for a break -- and not have to pay too much.

Café Zuppa, 320 N. Meridian St., delivers on all counts. This large, high-ceilinged room on the ground floor of the Chamber of Commerce building, with a picture window view of the War Memorial and the passing parade of pedestrians streaming by outside, is a lively spot for a weekday bite.

Although Café Zuppa is open for breakfast, offering bagels, muffins, pastries and several omelet croissant sandwiches for under six bucks, soups, salads and sandwiches are the self-proclaimed specialties of the house.

You order at the counter at Café Zuppa. They don't have a large menu on display, so bring your reading glasses to read the rather fine print provided on the hand-held versions. Luckily for the near-sighted in our party, the good-natured staff was more than happy to help navigate.

We sampled a Classic Italian Panini sandwich ($6.75), a BBQ Chicken Chop Salad ($6.25), a slice of Spinach and Artichoke Flat Bread Pizza ($5.75) and a couple of soups: the Broccoli Asiago and the soup du jour, a Watermelon Gazpacho ($4.25).

The panini was served on grilled flat bread and included baked ham, pepperoni, melted pepper jack cheese with a sliced banana pepper in what amounted to a slightly spicy take on a comfort food classic. The banana pepper provided some welcome zest. The sandwich was served with fresh Kettle chips that were particularly good.

The BBQ Chicken Chop Salad was a little flat by comparison -- the lettuce was a tad limp -- but the chicken was juicy, nicely cubed into bite-size bits and treated with a dark, sweet BBQ sauce. Corn kernels gave the dish a Southwestern accent.

Over on the flat bread pizza side of the table, the Spinach and Artichoke featured a parmesan artichoke sauce with fresh spinach, mozzarella and feta cheese. Ours came with an optional topping of Applewood bacon. Flat bread pizzas tend not to retain heat, so you don't want to waste time before digging into this slice. The feta cheese and bacon were a flavorful pairing.

And the zuppa(s)? The Broccoli Asiago combined shredded potato, julienne tomato and ham in a rich soup that begged for a little more animation than the ham could bring by itself.

Given a warm summer day, the chilled Watermelon Gazpacho was a treat. The emphasis here was on the watermelon, delicately sweet over spicy, with large, shredded hunks of tomato to provide the right amount of density.

Both soups were sufficient lunchtime meals in themselves -- and, as such, a great buy.

After you order at Café Zuppa, they bring the food to your table. The presentation on streamlined, rectangular plates, with silverware wrapped in white cloth napkins, looks smart. And we were back to work with time to spare, though it felt like we'd taken our time.

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David Hoppe

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