I've been keeping my eye open for a good late night spot. Somewhere open until at least midnight, but preferably later, that can cater to the late night crowd. I have fond memories of midnight pie runs with friends in high school and college and Huntsville really didn't have anywhere to fill that niche. Enter City Cafe Diner, which opened last month on Drake just off the Parkway. Open 6am-midnight most days and 24 hours Friday and Saturday they are ready to serve breakfast, lunch or diner foods any time of day.
The hubby and I stopped in for dinner one Friday night and found the place bustling. We opted to stay outside for the projected 15 minute wait, but were called inside in less than 5 and settled at a table. The menu was daunting, 3 pages of breakfasts, sandwiches, wraps, gyros, and a hodgepodge of Italian, Greek, and American dinner plates.
While we considered the menu, we received a complementary plate of toast and a small loaf of bread.
The crunchy, garlicky toast was served with both hummus and taziki sauce. The hummus featured a slightly coarse texture and a slight lemony tang. The taziki was made with a sour cream base instead of the traditional yogurt. This gave it both a milder flavor and a pillowy texture. Small bits of cucumber provided a little crunch. Both spreads went well with the toast.
The loaf of bread (served with a bread knife sticking straight up out of it) had a thin crust and a spongey, yeasty interior. It was served with butter but equally tasty with the taziki.
After some discussion, we settled on sharing the Athens combo. The only indication that this was a dish meant for two was the price, at $18, it was nearly double many of the other menu items, but when we considered ordering it for a single person, our server steered us toward splitting it.
The menu states that each diner comes with a soup, a salad, a vegetable, and a choice of potato but those distinctions are blurry. Some of the dinners have one or more of those selected for you, and some of the lower priced dinners come with no sides at all (for instance the spaghetti and meatballs). When in doubt, ask your server.
Since we were splitting a plate, our server gave us the option of two soups, two salads, or one soup and one salad. The hubby decided on the broccoli cheese soup and I selected the greek salad.
Our soup and salad arrived promptly.
My salad was made "greek" by the inclusion of kalamatra olives, feta cheese, and the sprinkling of herbs dusting the top. The ingredients were wonderfully fresh--crisp cucumber; flavorful bell pepper; bright, juicy tomatoes; sweet vidalia onion; torn romaine. The olives offered a sharp, tangy contrast, but the fact that they were unpitted caught me off guard. The housemade oil and vinegar blend featured a thick oil, lightly seasoned. However, the smooth feta and herb blend was plenty of seasoning for me, so I found dressing unnecessary.
My husband enjoyed his soup, proclaiming it "very good".
Our entrees arrived on a plate that took up a good third of the table real estate (and we were in a booth). Trust me when I say that this picture does not do justice to the scale of the meal. In addition to dinner, we also each got a hearty lunch out of it and still had food left over.
The combo included moussaka, spanikopita, rotisserie lamb gyro, and greek lemon potatoes. In the center of the plate are the vegetables that came with the dish. Since I am not a huge fan of either eggplant or ground beef, we swapped the regular moussaka for the veggie moussaka.
The veggie moussaka (in the two dishes on either side of the platter) was delicious. The bechamel sauce was whipped into an airy, melt in your mouth topping. The body of the dish was made up of layers of thinly sliced potatoes, tomatoes, zucchini, squash, and eggplant, coated in a fresh tomato sauce. The vegetables were tender and the eggplant was thinly sliced enough to downplay the "meaty" texture I tend to dislike. The dish was a clear winner.
The spanikopita (bottom of the picture) had a flaky pastry exterior but I found that the spinach filling had an odd taste. It didn't taste as bitter as frozen spinach, so my best guess is it was some sort of seasoning I wasn't partial too. My husband thought it was fine, so it may be a matter of preference.
The steamed veggies (middle of the picture) were served over fat, lightly oiled grains of rice. The vegetables themselves were steamed and left with just a hint of crunch. They were unseasoned letting the natural flavors of the vegetables shine though.
The gyros (top of the picture) were served as a tangle of meat nestled on a pile of pita and topped with shredded lettuce and a bit of tomato. Taziki sauce was available on the side in a small plastic container.
The pita was fresh, soft and thick. The gyro meat was thinly sliced and featured a wonderful depth of seasoning. Combined with pita and the taziki sauce, it was absolutely delicious. The lettuce added a bit of crunch.
Another small plastic container held a mayonnaise based coleslaw. I'm not sure exactly how it related to our meal, but it was tasty, featuring crunchy, fresh cabbage and carrots, naturally sweet.
Walking past the enormous display cakes on our way to our table, we had decided we needed to try dessert. By the time we reached that point though, we were too full to consider eating it just then. Instead, we ordered dessert to go. After some contemplation of the display cakes, we settled on a slice of blueberry cheesecake and some baklava.
These we took home and refrigerated before eating.
The cheesecake sported a creamy whipped texture, a slightly tangy flavor, and a thick, tightly packed, graham cracker crust. The blueberry topping featured plump, fresh blue berries in a thin sauce, dusted with powdered sugar. Homemade cheesecake is always a winner with me, but be forewarned, this slice was huge--more like 3 slices of cheesecake than one. This photo should give you a sense of scale.
The baklava was similarly supersized. A "serving" consisted of two good sized triangles.
By the time we reached the baklava, it had been sitting in the fridge for a couple of days which had allowed the pastry to soak up some moisture, clearly not a failing of the restaurant. Despite our delay, the flavors were still great. Layers of flaky pastry and sticky sweet minced nuts, gave the treat a touch of crunch. The light honey flavor was well balanced and not overwhelming.
The diner atmosphere comes through clearly in the TVs, the neon rings around the ceiling and the loud chatter of other patrons. The clean, comfy booths and broad menu make City Cafe Diner stand out. Their late hours and well executed dishes will make them a favorite. We'll absolutely be back.
Total for the meal: $35.10 (Includes one Athens combo, two drinks, one slice of cheesecake, and one order of baklava)
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