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The outdoor signage at Café Alma

 

Café Alma garnered the impressive accolade of being named one of the top five new restaurants in Greater Cincinnati in 2022, according to Keith Pandolfi, dining columnist at the Cincinnati Enquirer.  

For Pandolfi, visiting restaurants to assess the settings and the food is part of the job. Not part of that job is returning time and again to places already evaluated. He’s done that at Café Alma, for personal reasons. In fact, he put it this way: “There is something about this new Pleasant Ridge restaurant that relaxes me, and it’s not just the healthy and delicious Mediterranean fare they offer.” He closed his Top Five evaluation, saying: “…the only problem with this café is that I never want to leave.” High praise, don’t you think?

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The poke bowl tuna dish

“We’ve gotten really good media coverage in our first year,” said Lainey Richler, owner/operator of the café, along with husband Yair. She ticked off several TV and print media mentions that showcased Café Alma. She went on to say that Pandolfi had been at the eatery several times during 2022, and he named Café Alma in his Best Eats in April and Best Eats of the Year columns as well as the Top Five inclusion.

In his Top Five column, Pandolfi wrote of the house salad, the shakshuka, and the “decadent” halva and banana pancakes and the challah French toast. All worthy options, then he added: “But my favorite thing to order at Café Alma is the Shmagel’s bagel platter, which allows you to construct your own bites of house-made Montreal bagels with lox, capers, pickled red onions and cream cheese and hard-boiled eggs.”  

So, good media coverage and a great finish to 2022, with a top five eatery commendation. Yet Lainey and Yair Richler see those laurels as yesterday’s success. Going forward there is a new menu coming in February that will be more focused on lunch items. “We’ve added a whole section (to the menu) that is dedicated to lunch. We’ve noticed that during the week, people want to come in for lunch dishes instead of our breakfasts,” Lainey Richler said, adding that the kitchen has been working on the additions for a while now.

Among the items soon available will be a Beyond™ burger sandwich, aka the hutzpah burger. It’s a veggie burger that I, for one, cannot discern from the real McCoy. If you have never tried this brand of vegetable-based patty and you enjoy a good, old-fashioned, juicy hamburger, I’m betting you are in for a pleasant surprise. 

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The hutzpah veggie burger

When grilled, this veggie patty finishes with an exterior texture indistinguishable from a beef patty. Al dente (to the tooth), the bite is the same, the chew is the same, the flavor reached by the Maillard effect (browning and grill markings) is the same. Café Alma’s hutzpah burger will be served on a challah bun and a through-the-garden treatment. Because it’s all-veggie, it fits the kosher profile of the eatery.

Also, in the “sandwich” category is the “salmwich,” featuring grilled salmon done in a piccata style and served on the challah bun. The two sandwich options are designed to appeal to those who want a lunch-style bill of fare at the midday meal.

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The salmon “salmwich,” served on a challah bread bun

Last year, this column wrote about Café Alma’s lasagna special, an off-menu item available now and then. Soon, the dish will be on the menu as a fixture of the lunch section. It differs from the Italian American lasagna version, according to Yair Richler. “The marinara sauce, we use our red shakshuka sauce as a base; it’s made from scratch and it’s a little chunkier (than a typical marinara sauce would be). We use cottage cheese in place of the ricotta and put it all together with mozzarella and spinach and the noodles. We top it with our green shakshuka sauce,” he said.

There’s more. “Our coolest new addition is the Mediterranean poke bowl,” Lainey Richler said. “It’s a bunch of veggies, blended rice, and tuna steak, pan seared and blackened (and served rare unless one specifies otherwise, and why would one do that?!). The veggies are shredded raw carrots and radishes, with roasted edamame and beets. It’s very colorful (see photo)! Just really a good dish.” 

As for all the media attention and the top five designation for Café Alma, Yair Richler believes there is a reason. “What we are doing here, it’s new, it’s exciting, a breakthrough maybe in the cuisine of Cincinnati,” he said, adding that patrons are coming from far and wide to try what the eatery offers.

See you at Café Alma!

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