Sum of Love Café
There's a certain kind of eatery that once could be found all over the nation, those places I think of as "hippie hangouts," and that's not intended as derogatory. Rather it's recognition that these casually artsy and creative cafés were more multimedia community centers with food than gourmet palaces, more inspired by Judy Garland/Mickey Rooney-movie-type amateur enthusiasm than by the polished professionalism of schooled chefs and restaurant-management MBAs.
While there are some sophisticated art gallery cafés (like Meza Fine Art) in town, informal hippie hangouts are not so easy to find these days. So send some peace and love toward the Design District's colorful Café Buena Vista, which recently moved from its original location in a hidden courtyard on NE 40th Street to a much more visible -- in fact eye-poppingly painted in tropical psychedelic patterns -- storefront across from Power Studios on NE Second Avenue.
Along with expanding its space, the café, opened three years ago by a retired teacher, expanded its hours and its menu, from strictly breakfast/lunch to dinner. True, supper hours are limited by South Beach standards. So are entrées, by restaurant standards, to just one daily special plus four regular hot dishes -- some, like stir-fried vegetables with organic short-grain brown rice, sure sound like 1967 classics. But this fare's far better, probably because the café's cook comes from Indonesia, not Haight-Ashbury. Fans of hard-to-find Asian specialties shouldn't miss Friday's bulgogi (Korean beef barbecue with kim chee). Monday is chicken satay day; Wednesday features vegetarian, chicken, or shrimp pad thai; and Indonesian ayampukang (grilled chicken in coconut milk sauce) is available every day.
Also still available all day, though, are Buena Vista's old -- and satisfying -- soup, salad, and sandwich standards. Chilled gazpacho is fresh and refreshing, if a little bland, but a special seafood/celery chowder was super, thick without the dreaded gloppiness of New England clam chowder and subtly spiced. A Buena Vista Club sandwich was also tastier than the standard specimen, thanks to nutty seven-grain toast and fresh-cut hickory-smoked ham. A stacked sandwich of homemade chicken salad was even better; though not your standard poultry/celery stuff, the salad was helped, not hindered, by its upscale additions: sweet tarragon, walnuts, almonds, and crunchy red and green pepper pieces.
There's no alcohol, but lemonade is good, neither too sweet nor too tangy. And yes, "breakfast all day" means that if you want a good (though not homemade) Danish pastry or a hefty three-egg omelet with a "create your own!" filling (feta! avocado! tofu!) at 8:00 p.m., you got it.
It's not fancy food -- especially not when served with fast food-style plastic utensils and condiments in envelopes. But for those who just want to hang and have a relaxing bite with good friends (or a good book), Buena Vista is a groovy place to do it.
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