When it comes to dining out in the far north portion of the city, quantity is kicking the hell out of quality. But thanks to a handful of local operators, standing up to the chains, scale is starting to tip back toward quality.
Before I continue, let's be clear: I understand the worth and value of chain restaurants. They are good for the local economy, producing valuable tax dollars and offer jobs to locals that not only help folks pay their mortgage or rent but also impart education for future endeavors.
But that doesn't mean I like to eat at chains myself. No, it's not that I've never been to one, it's that I choose to eat local 99 percent of the time when I eat out.
I recently had a chance to make a couple of visits to Cafe 7, which started badly but ended great. The bad start had nothing to do with the food. It had to do with the concept.
Cafe 7, 14101 N May, offers salads, pasta, pizza and sandwiches all under $7 and ready in less than seven minutes. The menu has seven choices in each category, including "build your own."
Color-coordinated order forms are on a table as you enter. The diner is intended to fill the forms out and hand them in at the register. I was unaware and didn't notice the instructions. It wasn't because the instructions were hard to see, it was because of competing diners.
The set up unintentionally puts patrons in competition to fill out their form as fast as possible and get it in. As a first-time diner, people were buzzing past me like I was a grandmother cruising the I-40 Crosstown. I finally approached the register and was asked to please go back and fill out the form. Thanks to the frustration of those pressing by me and my family, I almost walked out.
Thank God I didn't. Cafe 7 is a real find. The ingredients are fresh and expertly prepared. I tried a chicken sandwich the first time and a pizza the second. I loved both equally. My children, aged 10 and 12, are enormous fans. My extremely picky 10-year-old daughter can get her pepperoni pizza the way she likes it. My slightly more adventurous son, can try something new each time. My vegetarian wife doesn't have to pore over the menu or feel awkward about asking for something without meat. I get peace and quiet and excellent food.
And then there's the fact that the price is right and the service, once you get to it, is efficient.
Cafe 7 combines the traditional delicatessen with what the owners call a "pasteria" experience. Owners Paul Sorrentino and J. Mays were once student and professor at Oklahoma State University's Hotel and Restaurant Administration school, where they forged a friendship that developed into a partnership.
While I'm not sure what there plan is for the concept as costs will undoubtedly force them some day to become Cafe 7.99, I'm glad it's around today.
Cafe 7 also offers prepared meals for takeout, including meat loaf, chicken parmesan and lasagna.
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11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday to Saturday
11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday