What does every neighborhood need? Maybe a coffee shop, a pizza joint and a cafe. Definitely a cafe — a place to get a sandwich, burger and something a little heartier in the evenings. A place for PTA committee meetings, lunch with a co-worker or dinner with the family.
Roswell has such a cafe, tucked away on a quiet street between the main thoroughfare on Canton Street and the historic square. Oak Street Cafe sits at the end of the SoCA (South of Canton) development, a block behind Krispy Kreme.
Joseph McCaffrey and his wife, Kim, opened Oak Street Cafe in 2005 upon relocating here from New York. Although McCaffrey grew up in Roswell, he revealed that he was no longer familiar with the Atlanta food scene at that time and had to make predictions about the area where he set up shop.
Good call. Roswell’s dining scene has grown by leaps and bounds over the past few years. Oak Street Cafe’s location, a few blocks from the hullabaloo (and parking competition) of Canton Street, helps it retain its neighborhood sensibility.
McCaffrey describes Oak Street as a “classic American cafe,” though you’ll see Italian influences on the menu. The restaurant, a deep raspberry color with dark furnishings, exudes bistro more than sandwich shop. It features a long bar bordering an open kitchen, the perfect place to sip one of the craft beer specials such as the smooth Duck-Rabbit milk stout ($5) or a Bell’s Amber Ale ($6).
The welcoming staff wearing shirts emblazoned with taglines for the restaurant’s popular dishes (“Thrilled Cheese,” “Fry Guy,” “Burger Boy”) takes orders at the counter during lunch and provides full service in the evenings.
Sandwiches, made on bread from Artisan Foods and Buckhead Bread Co., are the mainstay of the lunch menu, with options such as the grilled Virginia ham and Emmentaler ($9), a thick ground chuck burger on a soft challah bun with crispy-edged hand-cut fries ($10.50) and the restaurant’s most popular item, the chicken salad sandwich ($9). The all-white-meat chicken salad is about as simple and as satisfying as it gets: well-seasoned chicken, a little mayonnaise and some celery for crunch on toasty whole-wheat bread ($9). No fruit, no nuts, no fancy.
And then there’s the Ultimate Grilled Cheese ($9), a gooey blend of warm goat cheese with melted Fontina, Emmentaler and cheddar overhanging slices of buttery day-old Tuscan white bread. Be sure to order a cup of the tomato basil soup ($4.50) with that. Although the basil doesn’t get much play here, the bright pop of the San Marzano tomatoes do. Trust me, in the winter when you’re craving warm and rich and hearty, this will be your go-to dish. Dip the grilled cheese in the tomato goodness. Go ahead. No one’s looking.
The dinner menu includes many of these sandwiches but also offers a little added variety. You’ll find appetizers such as the white bean hummus ($9), a play in neutral flavors. A slightly loose mixture of cannellini beans and extra virgin olive oil topped with a mild feta and sweet caramelized onions, it might perk up a bit with some salt. The home run comes with the buttery and fruity Castelvetrano olives served on the side.
Grandma gets credit for the next home run, the polpettone ($15). McCaffrey’s 84-year-old grandmother prepares this Italian-style meatloaf made with ground beef and pork, Parmesan cheese and a mess of Grandma’s secret ingredients. I confess that meatloaf tops my foods-to-avoid list, but this version bears no resemblance to the mushy ketchup-slathered ones I came to detest in childhood. Instead, the polpettone, more meatball than meatloaf, gets a healthy dose of a zippy “tomato gravy” made of the same San Marzano tomatoes used for the soup. (Insider tip: If you have a craving for the polpettone at lunch, order the meatball sandwich on challah with Fontina cheese. It’s polpettone on a bun. $9)
McCaffrey says Oak Street’s mission is to “keep it simple and at the right price point.” Keeping it simple works. The only major flub I experienced was a well-seasoned but overly cooked (and then cooked some more) pork chop ($19).
Every neighborhood needs a cafe, but not just any cafe. Neighborhoods need one like Oak Street, a place that accomplishes its mission by not being overly ambitious. My neighborhood has such a spot and it just happens to be Oak Street Cafe.OAK STREET CAFE