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Cafè ’36

January 11, 2018

  • 2965 Oakland Drive
  • Kalamazoo, MI 49008
  • (269) 501-3399
  • Website
  • Menu

It seems like we don’t go out to eat for a while then all of a sudden, there’s a dozen new restaurants that we need to get to.  That’s kind of the situation we’ve been in for a while.  Going out to a nice sit down restaurant hasn’t been feasible lately.  We’ve been busy on weekends and the kids would rather do take out or pizza.

Since it had been a while, I asked J if she wanted to go out to lunch last weekend.  J and I have always enjoyed new dining experiences and it’s one thing we really wanted to try hard not to give up on once we had kids.  When they were little, it was easy, but now that they’re both at an age where they want to be entertained, sometimes giving in and just going to Chili’s because they have iPads on the table is what we have to do.

We had a few options because, as I mentioned, there are a couple places that have opened recently that we haven’t been to yet.  The first one we picked isn’t open for lunch on Saturday.  Option number two was the new restaurant inside the health food store on Oakland.

Cafè ’36 opened late last year as part of Sawall Health Foods four thousand square foot expansion that added a second floor mezzaine level as well as expanded the deli as part of the health food grocers renovation last year.  The grocery store is in the Oakwood Plaza Shopping Center on the corner of Oakland and Whites in the Oakland/Winchell Neighborhood of Kalamazoo.  The renovations took the store from this…..

…to this.

Cafè ’36 takes up the second floor mezzanine in the expansion part of the building.  There’s a staircase just inside the door as well as an elevator that leads to the second floor.

The stairs lead to a big open space that is the dining room with brick walls, a fireplace, and sleek, modern white chairs that are accented with low lighting from can lights in the ceiling and fixtures strategically  placed throughout.

We asked if we could be seated in a booth which overlooks the supermarket part of the space.  It’s easier to wrangle the kids when there’s no place for them to go.

As long as you don’t actively try to notice that you’re in a grocery store, you really don’t notice.  The space would feel the same if it were in any downtown building in any city.  The grocery store is there, but it’s kind of out of sight, out of mind while you’re eating.

There’s a bar that is separated from the dining room by the elevator shaft.  It wasn’t open for lunch but our waitress said she could get us something from the bar if we’d like.

As we were being seated, the waitress asked if we wanted water.  We said yes thinking water is water and most fancy places give you water to go along with your meal.  The waitress gave J a couple of choices and J picked the spring water.  The waitress brought a big bottle of Saratoga Spring Water and four glasses.  She didn’t offer any kind of plastic cups for the kids.  I ran to the bar to get a straw and we had to very carefully hold the glass for the two year old.

Now, normally I wouldn’t write about the water, but I figured it was kind of important this time.  You see, that bottle of water cost us $4.50.  It was never communicated to us that we would be charged for it and it doesn’t say anymore on the menu that I saw about charging for water.  Granted, we’re more of sports bar or brewery kind of people so it was a little bit of a shock to see that on the bill at the end of the meal.  I’m sure it’s normal at higher end restaurants and this certainly fits that bill.

We passed on the bar drinks.  I stuck with a Cola but instead of a Coke or a Pepsi, they have Blue Sky Soda.

J was super excited for the Kumbacha.  I have no idea what Kumbacha but J didn’t even hesitate ordering the GingerBerry.

L wanted to try Kumbacha but we really didn’t know what she’d like.  The waitress brought us three little shot glasses so she could try all three.  She liked the GingerBerry the best so J gave her the rest of her glass and ordered another for herself.

The menu at Cafè ’36 focuses on healthier food.  They have vegan and gluten-free dishes, but there is also a good variety of meats so you can’t pigeon hole the restaurant as something specific.

The head chef at Cafè 36 is Jason Tilmann who had a pretty good run as a chef in New York.  He even appeared on Iron Chef America as sous chef for David Burke and in a Season 3 episode of Chopped.  Even besides that, he has a pretty impressive resume and is a heckuva get for Sawall’s to run this kitchen.

There was a burger on the menu, so, of course, I pounced on it.  This was not a typical burger though.  The Dry-Aged Hamburger is a smaller than a typical sports bar hamburger but it so. full. of flavor.  I was hestitant becuase there was no option to add cheese, or bacon, or a fried egg, or any of the other things I usually get on a burger.  It was just a hamburger topped with lettuce, tomato, and onion and served on a toasted English muffin.  The meat was so perfectly cooked with a slightly pink center and it had so much flavor.  The English muffin was no match for the juices that were pouring from the center of this burger, but that just made the sandwich better.  Since this is a restaurant that focuses on healthier entrees, there were no fries with this sandwich.  It was served with Linda’s Broccoli Salad.  I took a couple of bites and thought it was alright, but I’m not much of a veggie guy.  J ended up taking a lot of this off my plate because she liked it so much.  The sandwich also came with a pickle spear and what I believe was a house made steak sauce.  I dipped a little piece of bread in to try it.  It had a taste similar to a commercial steak sauce, but a little more bitter.  It was good but I don’t like steak sauce on my burger so I passed on it.

J did the 1/2 lunch combo which gave her a half the Classic Grilled Cheese Sandwich and a cup of the Classic Tomato Bisque.  The grilled cheese sandwich was stellar.  Like the burger, it wasn’t very big, but it was packed with flavor.  The sandwich uses a toasted Foccacia bread that has a very buttery brown crust.  The sandwich comes with Michigan cheddar cheese and the option added hardwood smoked bacon for $4 extra which J did.  She gave me a bite before she dug in and I could taste was the toasty, buttery bread.  The cheese and the bacon sort of melted into bread and just combined into a cheesy, buttery, salty, gooey mess of a sandwich that was so good.  J used the Tomato Bisque to dip her sandwich in, but she didn’t eat much of it after that.  She said it was a good dip, but it was a little too bitter to eat on her own.

We always look to see if a place has a kids’ menu or at the very least, a pizza our kids will eat before going.  There isn’t a kids’ menu on their Facebook page, but we found one at  That site did a blog post about eating with kids there so we thought we were good.  When we asked for the kids’ menu, our waitress said they only do that for dinner and there wasn’t a kids’ menu for lunch.  Huh?  We almost never bring our kids to dinner.  We’re 100x more likely to take our kids out to eat for lunch.  The waitress said they would do their best to find something for the kids, but our back-up, a pizza, was good enough for them.

Picture Courtesy:

We picked a Create-Your-Own Pizza with red sauce and fresh mozzarella.  The pizzas are 12″ brick oven pizzas. They also have a gluten-free crush option for an extra $4.

The pizza, like our other entrees was amazingly fresh and bursting at the seams with flavor.  The thin crust was crunchy around the edges but doughy in the middle.  The sauce was amazing.  It tasted like the tomatoes were picked off the vine just before being served.  Our kids are a little boring so they just wanted plain cheese so we didn’t get to try any of the toppings.  The kitchen went an extra step here and plated the kids separately giving each of them half of the pizza on their own plate.  That made things a heckuva lot easier for us once the food was served.

Our bill, before tip, was right around $57….so…not a cheap lunch.  BUT, I really think you get what you pay for here.  The menu is all high quality, fresh food.  Obviously, at almost $60, this isn’t a place we’re going to be able to eat at often, but it is a great way to treat ourselves to something delicious.

Cafè ’36 isn’t the kind of place you usually find in a grocery store.  Cafè ’36 is easily a high end restaurant in a city like Kalamazoo.  You’re going to find a lot of inspired dishes that would feel right at home on a menu in places like New York and Chicago, but they’re served up in a comfortable, relaxing atmosphere

Cafè '36 Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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