Time for a new Central Library cafe

There's gotta be something decent to eat in this place, right?

  • There's gotta be something decent to eat in this place, right?

I’m not sure if the little eatery at the Central Library downtown is still called The Question Mark Café, or if it’s managed by the same local foodservice company as three years ago, when a former saucier from Wolfgang Puck’s had been branded as its head chef (of sandwiches and salads). I only know that few other municipal eateries upset me so consistently.

Today I ate lunch there. A side salad and diet coke came to $7.61. The main course was a tiny, square plastic box filled with wet, wilted lettuce, soggy cucumbers, some smears of goat cheese and squeeze bottle ranch dressing instead of the promised “herbed vinaigrette.” They’ve got to be making at least 100 percent profit on this stuff.

My more memorable meals at the food stand have been small, nondescript fried fish fillets dwarfed by plain yellow bread, Philly cheese steaks that smelled like plastic, and salads with dressings that tasted like smoothies. I’m not expecting a gourmet meal at the library, but I do expect the price point, taste and portion size to intersect on some level. At least to touch. Right now, they’re not even close enough to be star-crossed lovers. That’s a problem.

It’s not in line with the library’s ostensible mission. Last time I checked, which was today, the library was funded mostly by taxpayer money. It’s a municipality that’s supposed to be there for the benefit of the community, not for some third-party foodservice company to gouge the hungry students and other various and sundry researchers captive inside all those beams and glass.

Fine, you say. Bring your own damn snacks if you’re going to be marooned for a day of research in the ’brary. Except that, according to library policy, you can’t. At least, those are the rules enforced by the suits who patrol the place for contraband sandwiches, who are oddly also immune to loud teenagers like people to dog whistles.

I’m not sure how much the catering service is giving back to the library; perhaps that comprises the mysterious “miscellaneous” percentage of the library’s latest breakdown of its revenue sources. Other revenues come from property taxes (80 percent), “other” taxes (11 percent), and fines and fees (5 percent).

Some other things I’m not sure of, because the point person has yet to call me back with the answers: When the foodservice provider contact is up. Why we can’t bring outside food and drink into the library. And what percentage the foodservice provider gives back to the library.

Our patron saint of literature, Kurt Vonnegut, is turning in his grave. He was a humanist.


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