Restaurants have been organized around '50s themes and even the Roaring '20s, but not many have looked to the '60s for inspiration. That may or may not be a good thing.
Intentionally or not, Taste of the World Cafe in Northside evokes gentle memories for those of us who were there, while appealing to younger diners who think they are time-tripping to an historic era. (Mom, did you wear love beads?)
The nostalgic atmosphere is more evident in the food, since there's nothing overtly hippie-looking in the place, a long, high-ceilinged room furnished with mismatched kitchen tables and chairs in an old storefront on Hamilton Avenue. Framed art-for-sale hangs on the walls, and a refrigerator case in the rear of the restaurant offers assorted non-alcoholic beverages. A small patio holds five or six tables for al fresco dining in clement weather, and alternative music fills the air inside.
Fridays find music fans assembling to hear anything from Folk to Blues, and an oversized bulletin board advertises arts and community events. There is espresso, of course. You get the picture: A friendly, unpretentious neighborhood cafe, where instead of a BLT or a burger, you can sample an eclectic menu with a whiff of '60s counterculture.
While not completely vegetarian, the offerings lean heavily enough to pulse-centered foods and what I always call "hippie comfort food" -- Hummus ($2.50) and other near-Eastern favorites such as Tabouleh ($2.50) and Stuffed Grape Leaves ($2.75) -- to satisfy most who avoid eating meat. I like the simple rice (white, thankfully, and not brown) filling in the grape leaves appetizer which comes with feta cheese and find the cold Asian Noodles($3.50) tasty, but they could have more peanut flavor
We sample the daily special, Mulligatawny Stew ($6.25), which is served over basmati rice with a side of chutney. There's a little bit of chicken amidst the tomato and pepper chunks, and the curried sauce has a pleasant piquancy that doesn't overwhelm the dish. While I usually enjoy this as a soup, the cafe offers it as a hearty main course.
The Indian Wrap ($4.75) is our other entrée (we seem stuck in India), and it is an enormous flour tortilla filled with the curry of the day, which is dal, spicy lentils with basmati rice. A mango ginger chutney accompanies the wrap, and it helps perk up the filling, which has too much rice in proportion to the lentils.
The menu tilts to the East with its curries, Lebanese favorites and other forays into culinary geography such as Lobeo ($3.25), a Russian bean and walnut salad, and Rozdali ($5.50), an Indo-African dish of lentils, rice, currants and pine nuts. I want to try both on future visits.
For meat eaters there is the Crunchy Oriental Chicken Salad Sandwich ($5.25), overflowing with Asian seasoned chicken, cashews, veggies and a touch of sesame. It is served on a croissant, so here is a bow to Western food cultures, and comes with a cup of soup or the Asian noodles. There is pepperoni in the Italian Wrap ($3.75), otherwise the rest of the regular menu seems meat free, though there is some use of cheese.
The specials vary widely with quiches, grilled melts and even sushi on occasion, so there is always something interesting to try at Taste of the World. For desserts, the menu is more centered in the West, except for the Baklava ($1.50). Cheesecake ($2.50) beckons, but we settle on Lemon Poppyseed Cake ($2.25) and Pecan Pie ($2.25) to end our meal. Fluffy white frosting sweetly contrasts with the faint lemony tartness of the seed-studded cake, and it definitely tastes like something Grandma made, just not my Grandma. The flaky crust of the rich pecan pie also suggests it is made by hand. East meets West here, at the dessert tray. Like, wow.
Service is pleasant, and definitely not rushed. Take your time. Relax over your coffee. Browse through the cookbook collection. Or just write in your journal while you people-watch through the front windows. When you want something a little different from the Italian or Chinese place down the block, stroll into Taste of the World, and take a seat. You don't even have to wear your tie-dyed shirt or Indian print skirt to feel at home. Peace, man. ©
Taste of the World
Go: 4037 Hamilton Ave., Northside
Hours: 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday; 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday.
Payment: Visa and MasterCard are the only credit cards accepted.
Vegetarian Friendliness: Very
Parking: In lot across the street or on the street.