Old Vine Cafe

I can’t say enough about Old Vine Cafe. It has been a long-time favorite and the muse to epicurean daydreams. I have lunched and brunched and dined there with some of my favorite people, and on a few occasions, by myself. Chef/Owner Mark McDonald has created and continued to maintain a warm, unpretentious atmosphere heralding unique and unbelievably delicious dishes, undoubtedly inspired by his background in Southern Italian cooking.

In an attempt to convey my feelings about this hidden gem, Mike and I spent a long lunch there in an effort to capture the magic. I know, I know, it was a diffucult errand, but someone had to do it.

As per usual, The Camp was somewhat desolate but for a handful of weekend shoppers and a lone crooning musician posted up in the shade of a cabana. I browsed the gorgeous trinkets of my favorite shop, Seed, and Mike gazed longingly at the Patagonia flannels and beautiful Sorrel boots. There are old airstream campers, renovated into quaint garden shops selling potted succulents, or a miniature stationary flea market with fantastic vintage luggage. A flock of mailboxes presents the menus of The Camp’s eateries. Men and women drenched in sweat and toting rolled mats vacate a hot-yoga studio. A new restaurant specialising in bahn-mi has popped up since I was last there. There are campfires and hammocks strung between the sapling sequoia redwoods. Everything about The Camp oozes kitch and clever.

Rounding a corner into a small, shaded area, we arrived at Old Vine. Unsurprisingly, there was a gaggle of people waiting patiently outside. I signed my name on the wait-list and we scooted off next door to Ecco, happy to pass the time with a cold adult beverage. Ecco just so happens to offer a handful of crafty bloody marys, which is the cocktail of choice for Mike. I opted for a local red ale, served in a frosty glass.

Not too many minutes later, we were ushered to our table on the wee little patio – we settled in and eagerly flipped through the menus, which are mounted on hand-painted canvasses.

Finding it too hard to decide between literally everything the menu had to offer, we settled on the pre-set lunch menu. Three courses for $20 was difficult to pass up! We were soon presented with our choices for the first course: imported burrata with grape tomatoes and delicate flash-fried arugula, dressed in citrus infused olive oil – and the Old Vine salad; a crisp fresh toss of dark organic greens with tomatoes, tangy kalamata olives, and shaved pecorino cheese.

As our “main”, we both opted for a version each of their outstanding panini. I delved into my quattro fromaggi panino, oozing with provolone, gruyere, and pecorino, an earthy addition of shitake mushroom, and the peppery bite of baby arugula. Dipped into their home-made pomodoro sauce….it was pure heaven.

Mike’s reuben panino was also incredibly satisfying – I bartered for a little section of it before his plate was licked clean. The layers of flavor were classic reuben – all natural pastrami, the pickle-tang of saurkraut, rich gruyere cheese, and “russian dressing” for dunking.

Our bellies growing full, we asked for just one of the deserts to be served, and the other to be packed up – sure to be a midnight snack. And so, as we nursed the remaining sips of our chilled rose, a final plate was set down between us. “Grandma’s Cheesecake” is surpisingly thin – we thought, but where is the rest of it? Silly us, making presumptions before swooping a forkfull. Thin though it may be, this cheesecake is lacking nothing. It’s comforting and soft and whipped and cream-cheesey, with the most fantastic cinnamon spice crust. Swiped through a drizzle of wild berry puree, with a little sliver of fig or dried apricot, I was left speechless. The second slice, boxed up, is waiting patiently in the fridge…and I’m impatient as ever for this sequel.

My point is as simple as this: Old Vine Cafe will always remain a firm favorite in my heart. And you should go.



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