Alex and Tracey Chaker have sold their Grizzly Foods brand of homemade granola, pastries and infused oils and vinegars at farmers markets across the Valley. Now, Café 8 gives the husband-and-wife chefs/owners a permanent brick-and-mortar spot in Mesa to flaunt their culinary talents beyond specialty products.
Scene: Open since July 2013, Cafe 8 is tucked in a corner of a plaza anchored by Sprouts Farmers Market at Southern Avenue and Higley Road. The small eatery resembles a cozy European bistro with a simple but vibrant color scheme and decor that is clean and homey. There are tables and about 20 seats for dine-in customers. A chilled case near the register teases with a selection of gluten-free pies and cakes.
It’s easy to get caught up in talking with Alex, who’s eager to bend your ear about how the food is prepared. Every dish is made in-house, from scratch, with dietary requests in mind. Alex is willing to put in the extra time and effort to satisfy customers before a single item is ordered. The day we visited, he went as far as to bring out the various breads, gluten-free and regular, he uses.
Food: We started with the Mediterranean plate to get a sampling of Cafe 8’s fare. It came with pita bread. We declined the gluten-free version and opted for full strength.
The Hummus and feta were drizzled with various homemade oils. Conscientious about allergies, Alex asked us in advance if we were OK with avocado oil on the Tzatziki. We nodded in unison.
The hummus was splashed with garlic olive oil and offered a smoky profile with just a kiss of garlic.
Simple extra-virgin olive oil and lemon zest graced the fresh chunks of feta and dried oregano, and a handful of kalamata olives rounded out the dish.
This starter was exquisite in its simplicity, but the plating was more thoughtful than most. Instead of plopping the components on a large platter, Alex placed each item in separate dishes that fit like puzzle pieces on a wooden tray specifically made for these containers.
Soup, sandwiches: Who asks whether you prefer white or dark meat on your turkey club sandwich? Because there isn’t a slice of processed deli meat in sight, the Chakers do. We chose dark meat. Why not? There’s bacon, lettuce and tomato in the club sandwich, but the juicy chunks of delicately seasoned fresh turkey was the star of this sandwich.
For the grilled cheese sandwich the use of Asiago was a tasty twist, as was the blackberry balsamic, both of which combined for a unique tang that played well against the salty prosciutto and peppery arugula.
The Chakers provide a bevy of gluten-free versions of their dishes, mostly by substituting regular bread for its gluten-free counterpart. For his meatball sub, Alex has two types of meatballs ready — one made with gluten-free breadcrumbs.
Sandwiches come with soup or salad. We ordered the two soups of the day.
The chunky chicken fiesta soup was hearty and slightly creamy with a splash of chili oil for warmth. But, in my mind, no other soup existed after one taste of the tomato basil soup. Alex mentioned that a few restaurants order this soup in bulk from him; and we can see why. Not creamy, but thick and just chunky enough to stand on its own in the spoon without spilling. The ideal balance of garlic and basil was the finishing touch on this masterpiece.
Desserts: There were several gluten-free options, including key lime pie, pumpkin cheesecake and a decadent two-layer chocolate cake filled and topped with a raspberry-mascarpone buttercream. But the blueberry cheesecake looked too good to pass up.
When you consume as many desserts as we do, it’s easy to detect the gluten-free graham cracker crust. This version was so deliciously buttery that we didn’t care. The cheesecake filling that appeared heavy and dense actually was almost melt-in-your-mouth smooth. The use of fresh blueberries within the cheesecake, however, was the thoughtful element that pushed it over the top. Gluten tolerance aside, this would be a winner with any cheesecake fan.
Drinks: Bottled sodas, juice, tea and coffee are available, as is homemade lemonade.
Lowdown: From meticulous plating to bend-over-backwards service, Cafe 8’s little touches make for massive results. Too bad it’s not open for peak dinner hours.