34th Street Cafe

1005 West 34th St., 371-3400
Mon-Fri 11am-6pm; Sat 11am-4pm

34th Street Cafe's cool yellow walls, classical music, black-and-white photos, and white-clothed tables contrast oddly with the restaurant's plastic dishes (an ecological no-no) and casual counter service. But instead of clashing, the divergent styles marry well, making the cafe the perfect setting for a quick, informal lunch in an atmosphere more sophisticated and relaxed than your average deli.

Run by Eddie Bernal (formerly of Granite Cafe), and Timothy and Hellen Albright, 34th Street Cafe's menu features a dozen classic deli sandwiches made with Boar's Head meats and cheeses (all under $5), salads featuring pesticide-free greens from Hodge Station Farm in Burnet, Tuscan pizzas with crusts as thin as water biscuits, homemade soups, and daily blue plate specials priced at "six bucks while they last." The owners of the cafe also offer sandwich and dessert trays to order.

Pizza lovers in search of a light lunch won't be disappointed by the spinach and goat cheese pizza ($7.95; six slices). Leaf spinach sautéed lightly in garlic and dollops of creamy goat cheese are scattered atop a wafer-thin crust brushed with a smidgen of tomato, blanketed by melted cheese, and sprinkled with ground herbs. The pizza crunches under your teeth with each bite, and unlike most "pizzas on the run," 34th Street's ingredients are clearly of quality -- even the side of parmesan is the real thing.

The Tuesday blue plate special, a lasagna layered with spicy Italian sausage, fresh herbs, and ricotta and parmesan cheeses, packed an herbal punch. Traces of fragrant leaf basil and fresh rosemary, and a powerful anise aroma no doubt provided by fennel seed, elevated the dish beyond the ordinary. The accompanying side of crisp green beans and yellow and red bell peppers provided a welcome contrast in texture.

In the coming months, 34th Street Cafe's owners promise to host wine tastings, cooking classes, and handle full-service catering. Meanwhile, slip into the cafe for a quick, low-key lunch in an atmosphere that urges you to hang around awhile. -- Rebecca Chastenet de Géry

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