No two coffee cups look the same at Washington Square Cafe, while other pieces of tableware tend to leave the premises and return at no set interval. The City & County Building staff take to-go items back to their offices on porcelain, rather than in disposable containers—one of the quirks of this hidden eatery, which re-opened under new owners in the building’s basement in August 2010 and has garnered a small, dedicated following since.
“We usually get [the dishes] back in at least a couple of days. But, sometimes, I’ll be out of knives all of a sudden and have to run up to the third-floor green room and collect them,” says manager Liberty Valentine with a laugh. “We definitely encourage people to take the porcelain. Not only is it eco-friendly, but it is also about maintaining the food’s presentation.” That’s because chef Mary Catrow believes that simple and traditional diner/cafe fare can look gorgeous—providing a pleasing contrast to the minimalistic interior decorating and beige walls, which features a rotation of artwork by local artists.
Aside from serving up eye candy, Catrow sends a daily e-mail to several divisions in the building and describes the specials—from burritos to crostini to mujadara (a Middle Eastern lentil and rice dish). “That’s us tempting their taste buds,” she says. Often, the phone starts ringing minutes later.
The cafe caters to gluten-free eaters, vegans and greasy-food lovers alike. Some of the must-try staples include the classic egg & cheese breakfast sandwich and the Indian-spiced veggie burger made from quinoa and lentils. Regulars often order their favorite dish every day of the week, says Valentine. When regulars call that in, she can tell within a few seconds who it is and what they’ll have. “It feels kind of like a home, in some ways,” she says.
WASHINGTON SQUARE CAFE
City & County Building
451 S. State
Monday-Friday 7:45 a.m.-4 p.m.