Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Soldotna cafe thinks it’s Thyme for change

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

Charlotte’s Cafe in River City Books in Soldotna had a much-loved menu with devotees to certain salads or sandwiches. Now under new ownership, diners are finding different favorites to fall in love with.

The café changed ownership and names June 1, and changed menus Sept. 1. Monica Ellis, a former Charlotte’s employee who also has cooked at Mykel’s, bought the restaurant and renamed it Fine Thyme Café. She and five-year employee Bobbi Stelljes worked together to create the new menu.

“Monica’s very creative,” Stelljes said. “She’s not afraid to try new things. And she’s very health conscious, too, which makes a big difference.”

Some of the new favorite items include the Reubenski sandwich — corned beef, sauerkraut with nutty Swiss cheese and Stelljes’ “1001 island dressing” on rye — and a Kona Ciabatte sandwich — a coconut-lime marinated chicken breast with pineapple, avocado, lettuce and mango mustard sauce on a toasted Italian ciabatta roll.

One of the new menu items, the Apple Cinnamon Roll Salad, gets some raised eyebrows at first, followed by rave reviews.

“That apple salad is so good,” Stelljes said. “I was so surprised with it. I told Monica it sounds too sweet for a salad, but I took one home … and it was so good.”

The male half of a visiting wedding party stopped by the café for an early lunch and a man from New York tried the salad. Later that day the man’s wife was in with the female half of the wedding party, specifically to try the same salad.

“She said, ‘My husband was in here awhile ago and said it was the best salad he’d ever had in his whole life,’” Stelljes said. “I said, ‘You’re from New York and this is the best salad he’s ever had?’”

The menu came about in part from trial and partially through requests. The Grilled Cheese Our Way sandwich, for example, was something asked for by customers. It includes sharp Tillamook cheddar cheese on honey oat bread with bacon, red onions and tangy honey mustard sauce.

Other items were developed by Ellis with Stelljes’ input.

“It’s strictly inspiration. You have to go with what you have, then the inspiration comes from there and it’s just a blessing, just a gift,” Stelljes said.

All of the items were tested out on customers as specials before making it to the menu permanently, and the café held an open house where they offered samples of the new food.

“Everybody seemed to like everything really well, so we decided to go with all of it,” Stelljes said.

As the name implies, Fine Thyme Café includes fresh herbs in many of its dishes, often from plants growing in the window of the café. Thyme plants also sit in teapots on the tables.

Along with the six new sandwiches and four new salads on the menu, Fine Thyme Café still has a rotating selection of newly created specials, including a quiche of the day. The dessert menu often has new items to tempt people, as well. The café does take-out orders, small party catering and is happy to accommodate requests, from vegetarian to substituting ingredients or offering meals for lactose- or gluten-intolerant diners.

“We’ve always been good about that,” Stelljes said.

She said she has gotten a few customers nostalgic about the old menu, but said that disappears once they try what the café now has to offer.

“We had some people in who almost didn’t stay because they had a specific sandwich they wanted. But when they left they decided they had a new favorite, so it works out good having really good quality food,” Stelljes said.

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