Haymarket Cafe offers a variety of choices

By Lauren Rockoff

It’s a chilly winter morning and you’re on Main St. in Northampton. You pass Faces on the right, so you know it must be close. You almost walk right by, but then realize your mistake. Haymarket Café’s little entryway nearly eluded you.

You come in through a small door that is easy to miss – the one that a friend and I nearly skipped over altogether on our way to review this Northampton staple. But the small entryway is actually one of the great appeals of this interesting place. In the café’s own wordless language, it seems to be saying it has never had to beg people to come in. And come they do, as is clearly evidenced by how packed it is inside.                                                                                        

As you continue to walk through the galley-shaped restaurant, there are plenty of cozy corners and snug nooks to sit and sip coffee, drown in a milkshake or swan dive into an oatmeal chocolate peanut butter cup. At the back is the café part of the restaurant and dessert case. Two stairways, one in the front and one in the back, will take you down to the restaurant portion for full meals – breakfast, lunch and dinner.                                                                   

As you head downstairs, the old-world feel continues. It’s like you’ve taken a trip, but not just to NoHo. The stairwell at the front is lined with paintings in a mish-mash of golden, gilded and intricate frames you’d think were straight out of a medieval castle.                                      

The lower level is dimly lit with decorative metal cut-outs and satiny fringed lamps. Their glow dances upon the large cream floor tiles, exposed wood and mirrored and mural-covered walls. Painted tables decorated with the same reds and oranges of the walls line the right side and black square ones sit unobtrusively scattered about the rest of the space. A warm hearth-like glow is set upon each one by a single glass votive candle in the center.        

Orders are taken at a counter on the left hidden behind a luxurious cream-colored floor-length curtain held back by a tassel. Though the din of the place makes it hard to hear your number being called, it’s somehow subdued to a comforting level that speaks of familiarity rather than noise. It’s crowded, but in such a way that it builds your excitement about the meal ahead.           

The breakfast menu ends at 11:30 a.m. I guess I could deal with that, except for the fact that when you pick up the menu, the breakfast options are on the front page and are therefore the first thing seen. As college students about to eat our first meal of the day on Saturday at 11:32 a.m., seeing a breakfast menu that includes bourbon french toast served with crème fraiche, sourdough toast served with fruit compote and a fresh fruit bowl served with homemade granola, the immediate effect can only be that of an overwhelming desire for these scrumptious-sounding breakfast foods.

Still, although we had arrived too late for breakfast, the lunch menu proved itself to us without a doubt. My friend and I elected to choose from among the sandwich and soup options, though an equally appetizing selection of salads and rice dishes make up the lunch menu, which is served until 4:30 p.m. I went with the baked portobello mushroom sandwich with gorgonzola, mesclun greens and tomato, and she chose the fresh mozzarella and tomato sandwich with greens and basil pesto.

We both also tried the soup of the day, a very tasty cream of tomato soup. Our sandwiches were accompanied by wavy tortilla chips that were perfect for dipping in the soup. Neither of us were impressed with the generous pieces of bread that housed our sandwich ingredients. Though soft and appealing to behold, I didn’t particularly care for their spongy texture or lack of discernible crunch.                                                                                                                    

In the end however, the bread was only a tiny piece of the total Haymarket Café experience. In fact, an eatery must be good when you and a friend both fail to notice the absence of meat on its menu until someone else points it out days later.

Additionally, the Haymarket Café recently introduced a separate dinner menu, served from 5:30 p.m. until 9:30 p.m. With dishes under $10, like the house-made tagliatelle served with spinach, roasted red peppers and fresh thyme in lemon, caper and cream sauce, I’m thinking it’d be worth it to make another trip back before the semester’s end.

 Lauren Rockoff can be reached at [email protected]