The night we pulled up in front, an older, white-haired man rounded the corner on his bicycle with books piled in the basket attached to his handlebars. He was comfortably settled on a bench in front of the post office reading one of the thicker books when we walked around the square after our meal. As a train whistled and roared past, I half expected to see Opie and Andy wandering down a side street with their fishing rods.
That time warp and attitudinal adjustment continued when we perused the chalkboard menu propped in the café window of Cristof's. I imagined a European Aunt Bea checking the pantry and sketching out the impressive array of menu selections. The $9.99 specials (which included soup or salad) ranged from Sauer-braten to Chicken Paprikash, Vegetable Lasagna to Coconut Chicken Strips, a Deluxe Hamburger and Cod in Puff Pastry and a few other options. The vegetable sides offered the possibility of a complete meal: glazed carrots, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes and corn pudding. Our server forewarned us that the green beans were "not your regular green beans -- they're fancy."
A limited beer and wine selection was available, sufficient for the chalkboard menu. I sensed most diners that evening came for a good hearty meal and left satisfied. The eclectic decor was both comfortable and intriguing. High-backed booths line the walls with small café tables dotting the two cozy rooms. I particularly liked the carved swan bench facing the front room and the addition of a Magic 8 Ball to each table.
I debated whether to sample the Mock Turtle or the Chilled Asparagus Soup while my date settled quickly for the house salad and dressing. On that sultry night, the cold soup won my attention. The cool, thick chartreuse potage was creamy and thickened with finely minced parsley and dill in a savory broth, highlighted with crisp chunks of asparagus. The pretty and tasty portion in a pleasant little cup left me with a contented smirk.
The house salad offered torn Romaine leaves topped with slices of hard-boiled egg, fresh and crunchy, crumbled bacon and croutons tumbled with just the right amount of the robust champagne garlic dressing. It was a pleasing and refreshing appetite stimulant.
The sharp and familiar vinegar bite of the Sauerbraten married well with the fork-tender meat. The red cabbage was cut into short, thick tufts and was crisp and well-coated with the brine with no noticeable oil. Perched atop the full plate were two astoundingly light, moist and crisp potato pancakes. The only thing I craved for with this entrée was a scoop of applesauce.
Continuing with Teutonic cuisine, the Chicken Paprikash arrived in a small individual white tureen. Cubes of chicken were mixed with onion and celery in a splendid broth with tender spaetzle. While the flavor was full and satisfying, I was disappointed that the chicken was dry.
I'd been intrigued by the earlier comments about the green beans and couldn't resist ordering them as my side order included with the Paprikash. The bright, crisp and slim whole beans had been quickly sautéed in olive oil and garlic and tossed with a few companion yellow beans and some slivered carrots for a superb treatment of fresh farm produce. If fancy means not overcooked, I'll order green beans at Cristof's every time.
We were pleasantly surprised that we had room for evening confections and were tempted by several. The Chocolate Mousse Puff (desserts were $3.25) was a light chocolate cloud captured between a split and airy heart-shaped puff pastry dusted with powdered sugar. The chocolate flavor was deep and rich while the pastry was light with great height, a grand accomplishment for any kitchen. My imaginary Aunt Bea must have been busy in the back, whipping up a classic textbook flaky piecrust for the Pistachio Cream Pie. Although overly green, the pie had an excellent flavor and consistency, sprinkled with pistachio pieces.
Cristof's was an unexpected delight. Nestled into a tidy neighborhood, the menu was surprisingly European and very reasonable (three courses for two adults with drinks for less than $20 per person) in a comfortable setting with friendly and efficient staff. Many established restaurants struggle for years to accomplish what Cristof's has done quickly.
Not surprisingly, when I tried quizzing our Magic 8 Ball as to whether we would have a return visit, the response that floated up was "Definitely YES."
Go: 16 Village Square, Glendale
Hours: Tuesday-Saturday 5 p.m.-9 p.m.
Prices: Very reasonable
Payment: Major credit cards
Red Meat Alternatives: Limited non-red meat and vegetarian options are usually available
Other: The menu changes daily and carryout is available