By Jon Ortiz
While there's no shortage of coffee and lunch locales around the Capitol, many state buildings are home to additional dining options. This post is part of a weekly series of mini-reviews of some of those spots for downtown denizens looking to try something new.
The spot: The Plaza Café, located on the ground floor of CalPERS' Lincoln Plaza North at Q and 3rd streets, is about a half-mile walk from the Capitol. It features patio seating with a waterfall (left) and a large, multi-level indoor eating area (below at right). Come at peak breakfast or lunch hours, and be prepared to wait in line for the grill. My gastric brothers-in-arms for my recent visit, CalPERS board member J.J. Jelincic and Jim Zamora, SEIU Local 1000 spokesman, both mentioned that Plaza Café draws customers from several buildings nearby including the Board of Equalization HQ, the Crocker Art Museum and the state Department of Social Services. The business is open for breakfast (6:45 a.m. to 10: a.m.), lunch (11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.) and snacks (1 to 3 p.m.). Street parking can be a hassle, especially during the three days in the middle of the month that the fund's board meets in an auditorium just a few steps from the cafeteria. Nearby meters charge 25 cents per 12 minutes. The parking garage across the street runs $2.50 per hour, according to CalPERS' website.
The grub: There must a reason that Plaza Café is taking business from other state cafeterias. Maybe it's the locally harvested and organic produce touted on a blackboard at the cafeteria's entrance. Could it be the $5.99 artisan sandwiches? The regularly rotated "global flavors" like the Japanese teriyaki rice bowl ($6.59)? Maybe it's the Bayou wraps with jerk chicken or pork tenderloin with mashed sweet potatoes, red beans, rice, slaw and pineapple salsa ($6.99)? Or it could be the made-to-order pasta, tacos and salads that all run between $6.59 and $6.99. And I haven't even mentioned the grill that was serving a veggie banh mi -- a Vietnamese sandwich -- plus the usual burger-and-fries fare. Safe to say that this is easily the most diverse menu offered by any state cafeteria reviewed by The Dish.
On our plates: I ordered a veggie calzone. Jim sampled the goat cheese with roasted plums and herbs on crostoni (right). J.J. went for the grilled cheese and short ribs sandwich with curly fries (left).
The bill: The food and two soft drinks (Jim didn't buy a coke) plus tax came to $22.45. Note to the Fair Political Practices Commission: J.J. paid for his meal.
The good: This isn't your dad's old state government chow line. Plaza Café's atmosphere is open and bright, and the food's degree of sophistication is surprising. I heard that the soups are terrific, especially the butternut, corn and coconut chowder. Regulars also raved about the blueberry pancakes with ricotta cheese often offered for breakfast. Our lunches received high marks, too, for the most part. J.J. said the meat in his sandwich was "awesome," tender and tasty. His fries were done to his liking, with a nice exterior crunch and a warm, chewy center. Jim said the plum crostoni had a nice blend of the sweet fruit and the garlicky cheese. My calzone was enormous, nearly covering my 9-inch paper plate.
The bad: J.J. wished the bread on his grilled sandwich had been a little crispier. Jim wanted some crunch on his crostoni, too. He suspected that even though the bread bore panini grill marks from its preparation, that it was softened by the cheese and refrigeration. My calzone was an unadventurous mountain of crust packed with ricotta, asparagus and spinach and an unsatisfying smudge of bland tomato sauce.
Grade: 4.5 sporks out of 5.
Have you been to CalPERS Plaza Café? Share your experiences in the comments field below. Share your experiences in the comments field below. And check out our recent reviews of Griselda's World Café, Gold Rush Grille, Side Bar Café, Cafe 744, Capitol Coffee and Dave's Deli (closing at the end of this month, we hear).