Next stop, wonderland
The café’s short but sweet menu follows whimsical suit, including items like a Most Wondrous Quesadilla, a Downright Great Grilled Cheese, and both a cake and a salad whose names involve the word “sparkle.” But décor and nomenclature aside, nothing you’ll eat here is silly.
Remember the tea parties of your childhood? You know the ones: The guest list included some stuffed animals, a Barbie or two, your mom or your sister, and maybe an imaginary friend. The food, if it actually existed, might have been Nilla Wafers or graham crackers, and the teapot was filled with water, Coke, or Kool-Aid. More likely, though, you pretended to serve stuff like unicorn cake, fairy cookies, and rainbow tea.
Indulge Café (occupying Aztec Café’s old spot) feels like a place where that sort of childhood fantasy carries on. One corner is a dedicated space for children, with blackboard walls, a tiny table, and a cohort of toy companions. The rest of the room may make you think you’ve taken a bite of that magical cake from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and that you’re in a blown-up, grown-up version of the same space. Inspirational quotes and lines from Lewis Carroll, among others, are stenciled on the walls. The mismatched tables and chairs are painted in pretty pastels. There’s a sparkling crystal chandelier, a sea-foam green, retro-style espresso machine, and an overall palette that echoes the generously frosted chocolate cupcakes in the bakery case. The cartoonishly bright portraits on the walls (the work of Lydia Hesse, one of the café’s co-owners) turn out to be named for the birds sitting on each subject’s head. On one visit, a little girl skipped past me wearing fairy wings, and even the music was successfully transporting, the piped-in Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald standards taking me straight back to tea parties at my grandmother’s house.
The café’s short but sweet menu follows whimsical suit, including items like a Most Wondrous Quesadilla, a Downright Great Grilled Cheese, and both a cake and a salad whose names involve the word “sparkle.” But décor and nomenclature aside, nothing you’ll eat here is silly. It’s robustly flavored and rapidly prepared, with a nod to nutrition — everything on the menu is vegetarian and can be made vegan upon request.
Now, I’m all for self-confidence, but declaring something you serve to be “the best ever” is pretty audacious, so I felt justifiably skeptical as I awaited my Best Burrito Ever. It had been heated to give the tortilla a pleasantly toasty snap, and the filling was a tongue-entertaining blend of black beans, quinoa, pesto, golden corn, spinach, cheddar, and crunchy pumpkin and sunflower seeds. After the first few bites, I felt like John Travolta’s character in Pulp
Fiction: doubtful about the deliciousness of a fivedollar milkshake, he takes a few long slurps and then admits with wide-eyed surprise (and a string of expletives) that he’s impressed. “Wow, that’s a pretty flippin’ great burrito!” I said to myself.
Much of the same workings reappear in the oversized, overflowing Most Wondrous Quesadilla, made with what must be the World’s Biggest Brown Rice Tortilla. After less than half, I was stuffed, but perhaps that was because I’d been preoccupied by my plate’s tiny version of the Sparkle Goat Salad: spinach, crunchy purple cabbage, red onion, black olives, saline snow-white feta, diced tomato, and nutty pumpkin seeds with a just-sweet-enough honeymustard dressing.
The portobello panini was similarly surprising, a riotous blend of vegetal flavors, with sundried-tomato pesto coming to the fore — that ’90s-era gimmick is perfectly at home here amid spinach, arugula, mushrooms, and sharp cheese. The Downright Great Grilled Cheese lived up to the first part of its name, though it’s so loaded with greens, roasted peppers, tomato, and onion, it’s less strictly a “grilled cheese” and more a griddled veggie sandwich that happens to include cheddar. The bread — which appears here and on the panini — has an excellent chewy crumb and the delightfully funky, nasal twang you expect from the finest sourdough.
The bakery case is rather sparsely stocked, but what’s there is perfectly pretty, from Raspberry Rose Sparkle Cake, mango coconut cake, and coconut-chocolate almond “delights” to deep, dark chocolate miniature cupcakes topped with intricate buttercream flowers. Everyone here is friendly and welcoming in their own way. One staff member was bubbly and outgoing, while another had a serenely piercing gaze but was soft-spoken and taciturn — the sort of reserved demeanor that can come across as aloofness when it’s actually just shyness.
Indulge has rather limited hours — they’re open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. five days a week — which is a bit of a bummer (I’d love to start a morning with a Best Burrito Ever), but it’s still a welcome option in a relative sea of burgers and barbecue and chile-cheese fries. It’s also an enchanting place to escape the gravity of the “real” adult world and remind yourself of what Peter Pan said: “Once you’re grown up, you can never come back.”