Louie’s, Louie’s, ya ya ya ya
Sometimes when you go out to eat, you just want food that comforts rather than dazzles, a neighborhood establishment that welcomes tourists as well, an informal environment free of decorative folderol, and prices that don’t require you to empty your wallet. Once you’ve found that spot, it’ll hold its place in your heart.
In its old location, the restaurant formerly known as 815 Early earned a devoted following for a dedication to fresh, local, organic ingredients; a cheery, if diminutive, dining room; and a sense of humor. Alea Jensen and Robin Hardie departed the Early Street location after lease-negotiation difficulties and have moved to a larger, sunnier spot on the corner of Galisteo andWest Alameda streets. The new place is called Louie’s Corner Café.
Hardie and Jensen don’t kid around when it comes to high-quality and regionally produced ingredients. They regularly rely on Rasband Dairy, Flying E Ranch, Harris Ranch, and Agapao for milk, eggs, beef, and coffee, respectively. They practice a “homemade everything” philosophy, which means they bake their own bread, pastries, and sweet-sounding desserts (which I sadly lacked the belly capacity to sample). Jensen and Hardie don’t take themselves too seriously, though. Puns, jokes, and innuendo run rampant on the menu: Cunning Amigas; Cockadoodle Do Me; Kevin Bacon Lettuce, and Tomato, for example.
The Earl of Sandwich must be smiling down from heaven on Louie’s. You can have a sammie any time of day here. Escape from breakfast detention with one of the restaurant’s signature egg sandwiches, named for stars from The Breakfast Club: the Emilio Estevez (bacon, blue and cheddar cheeses, red onion, green chile, and egg), Ally Sheedy (gouda, tomato, and egg), and Judd Nelson (ham, Swiss, tomato, and egg). Each is a juicy, distinctly flavorful, and delicious variation on standard morning fare. Just make sure you have plenty of napkins when you dig in.
French toast, sweet and savory crêpes, omelets, and other favorites are in attendance, as are hefty breakfast burritos of the meaty, vegetarian, and vegan persuasions. Heed the caution I received when I asked whether I should have mine smothered: “How much do you have to do today?” my server responded. “I usually make sure I have time for a nap afterward.”
Louie’s makes generous smoothies to order. Create your own, or choose one of the suggested combinations, all named after yoga poses. I couldn’t stop slurping up the Cobra (mango, blueberries, apple juice, and orange juice) or the Sun Salutation (strawberries, banana, raspberries, and orange juice).
The lunch menu expands your choices with burgers, soup, and salads (the Girly Boy was fine, though the sautéed mushrooms, roasted red peppers, and caramelized onions made the whole affair a bit slimy)— as well as more sandwiches. The Rock Star panini almost suffers from too-much-of-a-good-thing syndrome. With a roster of ingredients that includes turkey, avocado, bacon, bleu cheese, tomato, red onion, and pesto, it packs a mouthwatering punch, but some of the discrete flavors get lost in the intense mix. I enjoyed the zesty Tina Turner Melt: heavy-on-thecelery-seed tuna salad topped with cheddar, tomato, and red onion. The old-school L.Y.L.E. Gotta Lovett — spicy, emollient liverwurst; red onion; and Dijon mustard on rye— reminded me of sandwiches my great-grandfather used to make on weekend afternoons. One quibble: I love panini as much as the next person, but dear Louie’s, must every sandwich you serve be pressed and hot?
Carved into the café’s front door is the legend FULL BAR BILLIARDS POOL, which will remind you that this charming space was once a bar. The rejuvenated dining room is open and welcoming, with wide windows and wood floors. The walls are colorful, but hard surfaces and tall ceilings make things a little noisy. When the speakers broadcast lively music, blenders whir up smoothies, and espresso machines gurgle and hiss, you might have trouble discerning anything your dining companions are saying.
Louie’s will serve dinner eventually, and the proprietors are awaiting a beer and wine license. Parking is tough to find, but Louie’s is bound to benefit from ambulatory locals and tourists. I’ve already entertained hopeful reveries about summertime meals and glasses of wine on the broad enveloping patio. Given the dearth of patios around the Plaza — not to mention the flavorful, thoughtfully prepared food — Louie’s will surely become a warmweather destination.