Vic’s and Northside News Café deliver the daily flavors
Literate locals have long turned to Northside News for their print fix. No other magazine shop in town carries such a wide and eclectic selection of journals, from fringe political zines to sleek coffee table journals, even vintage Playboys for “collectors.”
The Miami Herald Cuban ($5.99) at Northside News Café.
But now the folks who clearly know something about the press have turned their talents toward the sandwich press, opening a quaint little café on the other side of their newsstand where well-fed minds can nourish their bodies, too. The news has traveled fast — you can hardly get a seat at lunchtime. The menu is small, mostly sandwiches, with a few salads and sides. A garden salad ($3.59) was fresh enough, but shredded mozzarella dominated, and the raspberry vinaigrette was more like a syrup for your waffles. Curried spinach-lentil soup ($2.50) was exactly as described, though the curry was quite mild and the spinach a little stringy. But what were we doing ordering anything but sandwiches anyway? The focus here is clearly on panini-like sandwiches, each themed around another journal or newspaper available on the racks next door. Sometimes it’s clear what inspired the sandwich. Take the Irish Times Reuben or the La Cucina Italian. The Miami Herald Cuban ($5.99) was a deliciously straightforward version of this South Florida legend with plenty of mustard along with roast pork, ham and pickles. Here, the ingredients blended well on crisp Cuban bread. Vegetarian sandwiches repeat flavors a bit, all derived from Mediterranean staples like pesto and sun-dried tomatoes. It’s sort of vague how Mother Jones inspired a sandwich of artichoke hearts and spinach with an olive and sun-dried tomato tapenade and provolone cheese. But Mary Harris “Mother” Jones did turn up in Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle — an early bible for vegetarians. Her sandwich was competent, but the filling wasn’t exactly plentiful, and no flavor really stood out. A bit more of the tapenade or a sharper cheese might have brought things together better. Again, the crunchy bread was the highlight. Big chocolate chunk and white chocolate cookies (99 cents) rounded out the meal well — and impressed the chatty counter clerk with our appetites. Sparkly and personable, she never seemed not to be engaging a customer or hollering back to the kitchen. She was emblematic of a warm and welcoming place that will surely become a neighborhood institution. Northside News Café 5406 N. College Ave. 254-8110 Monday-Friday: 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday: 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday: 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Food: 3.5 Atmosphere: 3 Service: 3.5
Vic’s Coffee Café
While it may come as a surprise that Vic Rigdon opened his funky but understated espresso bar almost four years ago in a storefront off East Street downtown, the place does retain an undiscovered quality. Uncluttered and comfortable, this is one coffeehouse that has yet to be overrun by the masses. Which is a shame, given it’s just as stylish, much friendlier and every bit as competent with the brewing arts as the corporate clones around the corner. Abstract paintings in earthy hues decorate the perimeter and a more secluded room to the back offers couches and overstuffed chairs for lounging. The place tends to draw a cheery and diverse clientele. At a nearby table, theater techs discussed the lighting for entrances in an upcoming play. Next to them, a family of four sat chatting over a hearty lunch. Laptop users tapped away at other tables, providing a kind of soothing rattle of contemporary life. Late last year, Vic changed his format to offer a wider selection of panini, soups, salads and baked goods. He’s even building a bakery in back to make more of the pastries and breads in-house, and he plans a full renovation afterward to make the place more spacious. Counter selections emphasize the fresh and light. The “Et Tu Brute” ($7.50) was a generous salad of crisp romaine with a less heavy Caesar dressing, bright red tomatoes, parmesan shavings and homemade focaccia croutons. We added salmon ($2), a modest serving of sliced smoked salmon that added a little richness and variety to a familiar salad. Split pea soup proved a warm and creamy elixir good for a chilly winter afternoon with little bits of ham for flavor. As part of a lunch combo ($8), it accompanied a “very veggie” panini that combined hummus with mushrooms, onions, spinach and “special sauce” on a focaccia-like bread. The mushrooms and onions might have worked a little better had they been cooked first, but the sauce — a roasted-pepper spread — added a nice zip, and the veggies were a good counterbalance to the heavier soup. While a bakery in back will ensure pastries are consistently fresh, what Vic has now is nothing to scoff at. A fudgy brownie ($1.50) was perfect for splitting — chewy and loaded with chocolate. The sun streamed in the front windows as we strolled out, dreaming of days when Vic could put up umbrellas outside and usher in the season of al fresco eating. Vic’s Coffee Café 627 N. East St. 951-0335 Monday-Thursday: 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday-Saturday: 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday: 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Food: 3.5 Atmosphere: 4 Service: 4