Cuisine des Beaux Arts

Cafe Artiste offers culinary masterpieces within a Cajun aesthetic

Cafe Artiste is the antithesis of slick in the service department as well as the looks department. It's a family affair manned by Meredith and his grown daughter, a restaurant-and-hotel-school product whose demeanor seems oddly desultory and detached; it is not uncommon to walk in and find an empty counter, with nobody to take your order. Paying your tab can require an eagle eye and quick reflexes. But so far the place is so undiscovered that it hardly matters. I worry, though, about how they'll cope once word gets out that when it comes to breakfasts, they're right up there with the Quilted Toque and Jim Goode.

Meanwhile, initiates can linger over coffee dripped to individual order while classical music and Sade tapes amplify the cafe's dreamy lassitude. The Montrose pageant comes and goes: young men in jackboots and lengthy horsetails; hip middle-aged women in earnest conversation; a guy noodling on his guitar; a striking girl in a purple African turban. Inducements to a genteel, impecunious, Montrosey life of the mind abound, from notices of cafe literary readings to hand-lettered schedules for the cafe's Sunday jazz sessions.

And Meredith and daughter, sometimes assisted by his wife and small son, keep tinkering with the place in best loving-hands-of-home fashion. One day, after a bout of ladder-climbing and electrical-fiddling, Meredith demanded, "That doesn't look too bad, does it?" I regarded the orange extension cord that snaked over the paint-speckled pink walls where a nascent coffee boutique was going to go. "No," I lied.

Another day, Meredith confided that they were thinking about putting in a full galley so that he could whip up his special Cajun spaghetti and lasagna. "Great," I told him. I wasn't lying at all.

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