Washington Square Cafe
451 S. 200 E.
1st (lower) Floor of City-County Building
Mon. — Fri. 8:30 a.m. - 4 p.m.
It has been almost two years since Washington Square Cafe opened its doors, but you should not wait a minute longer to visit this secluded diner in the heart of downtown Salt Lake. Located in the historic City-County Building, the seat of Salt Lake City government, on the Washington Square block (where the Utah Arts Festival and Utah Pride Festival happen) you may have never noticed this hidden gem that is cranking out great breakfast, lunch dishes and “specials” that actually live up to the moniker!
Washington Square Cafe is the extension of Clock Tower Catering (which serves parties, community and special events outside the cafe hours), however, you should make a point to swing by the Cafe and visit with Liberty Valentine. The owner prides her operation on the tenet of “providing the highest quality food at the most affordable price.” She does just that and more while adding a warm sentiment for every patron with her generous smile and laugh. Located on the lower level of the east side of the building, the restaurant may lack flair and kitsch, but there is something comforting about the muted tones, throwback tables and straightforward style of the cafe. Mirroring the sentiments of Chef Mary Catrow, the focus should be on the food.
Classic diner breakfast items include minimalistic fair like The Basic, featuring two eggs, any style, with home fries and choice of a bread side ($4.50), French Toast/Pancakes ($5.50) and a variety of omelet dishes. Catering equally to omnivores, vegetarians and gluten-free patrons, the staff has done an amazing job of making all of the dishes enticing and, more importantly, delicious. You can easily over-indulge by adding sides of eggs, fruit, toast and assorted meats, but the servings are well-portioned and leave you satisfied, not stuffed.
The bulk of patrons come for lunch, and the cooks aim to please with staples, including hot sandwiches such as the Monte Cristo or Rueben ($6.75), and an array of salads and cold sandwiches such as the Lemon Chicken Garlic ($6.00). Served on pita bread with lettuce and tomato, the Lemon Chicken Garlic sandwich is a bright, light and flavorful menu item that really surprises with the homemade pesto aioli. Served with chips and salsa (you can substitute with fries or a salad for a buck), this is a great “go-to” if you just can’t decide between all the options. For the vegetarians, I highly recommend the Grilled Veggie Hoagie ($6.25) or the Veggie Burger ($6.25). As an omnivore, one thing I appreciated about the Veggie Burger was the homemade patty. Unlike some restaurants that try and replicate the shape, color and texture of meat, Chef Catrow opts for a more natural patty, with great seasoning, non-pureed vegetables and a mashed potato binder. Served on a Stoneground bun with chips and salsa on the side (or fries/salad), you can also treat yourself by adding cheese, avocado or hummus.
Where the Cafe really excels, though, is with their daily specials. Check the cafe’s Facebook (Washington Square Cafe) or Twitter (@ClockTower77) accounts for updates before you decide, because you will be greeted with killer options such as Thai Coconut Red Curry, Roasted Vegetable Salad with Goat Cheese, Pulled Pork Sammies or Wild Rice and Quinoa Croquettes! The Beet Salad makes frequent appearances, with good reason. I was lucky to get it with chevre (made from goats milk) cheese, walnuts, oil and balsamic ($6.50). The mild tartness and creamy texture of the goat cheese was ideal as it paired with the earthy flavors of the beets and crunchy walnuts.
On a separate visit, I split the healthy—nutritionally and portion-wise—Roasted Vegetable Salad. The combination of carrots, eggplant, pepper, cauliflower, broccoli and squash gave a wonderful variety of textures to the dish. The warmth of the roasted veggies softens the tender chevre cheese (which enhances so many dishes effortlessly) just a touch, and its tartness blended perfectly when tossed in the Smoked Paprika that coated the veggies. It’s making my mouth water again just thinking about it, I kid you not.
Currently, with only Monday through Friday breakfast and lunch hours, you have to make a bit of a commitment to eat at the Cafe. Parking can be troublesome, like most places downtown, but the Cafe makes every effort to accommodate its two-wheel patrons with extensive bike parking outside the east entrance. Its location, directly west of the Main Library, also makes it convenient to walk to from most of downtown. According to Valentine, the Cafe is under negotiations for expanding hours to include Sunday brunch soon. With such an ideal location, and the gorgeous grounds of Washington Park, there are few eateries that will be able to match the Cafe’s charm and appeal for a leisurely Sunday meal. Do not be fooled, however, because it is just as good any other day, too!