Where everybody knows your name | May 18, 2012 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

Eating Out - May 18, 2012

Where everybody knows your name

Homemade food and local books are the draw at Main Street Cafe & Books

by Sheila Himmel

Eating at Main Street Cafe & Books is like dropping in at a neighbor's house, more about the friendliness than the food. Many customers are greeted by name, asked about their latest trip or their kid's T-ball game and if they want their usual latte. Solo diners and sippers often sit at the counter and chat with the staff and Jamie Tomaselli, nine-year owner of the cafe at the V-neck end of downtown Los Altos, where Main Street meets State Street.

Even if you're a stranger in town, the staff makes an effort to be nice.

Breakfast is served all afternoon. There's nothing as complicated as omelets or even fried eggs, but you can get scrambled eggs with cheese on a croissant ($6.95) and add bacon, ham or sausage for $1.25.

The granola is made in-house, as are most of the baked goods. The fruit and the orange juice are fresh. Plates, bowls and silverware have heft. A good cup of coffee is $1.55, in a solid china mug if you're staying.

There are plenty of opportunities for vegetarians, as long as they eat eggs and dairy products. Vegetable salads range from spring mix to Caesar to Mediterranean (with olives, artichoke hearts and feta cheese).

Quiche ($6.95) recently came in three varieties: ham, spinach and Mediterranean. Add $3 and you get house salad or a "cup" (that is, small bowl) of soup. The butternut squash soup tasted homemade, if a little sweet. The quiche would have been better if it hadn't been microwaved.

"Le Tuna" ($7.95) is a gigantic croissant sandwiching tuna salad, lettuce and tomatoes. I looked at it and thought, "No way will I eat this whole thing," but then, I did.

Cobb Salad ($9.95) featured chunks of tender grilled chicken breast, ripe avocado, crisp bacon, teensy halved cherry tomatoes, slices of hard-boiled egg and sprinkles of blue cheese. All were laid upon a bed of romaine lettuce, not chopped as Cobbs usually are.

My favorite item came from the bakery: a perfect oatmeal-raisin cookie with slight tooth resistance on the outside, soft and chewy inside.

Kids 10 and under are welcome to a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or turkey breast with cheddar cheese. Both come on white bread, with a cookie, for $5.95.

Tables aren't crammed together, but if you're in the vicinity of crying child or an intense conversation, you're going to hear every word. If you'd rather read, pick a spot in another of the cafe's several venues. In addition to the counter, you can sit out on the sidewalk or in two dining areas in the front and one in the back, called the Chat Room. It can be reserved for groups, with breakfast or lunch served.

When we visited, the cafe's ample walls were devoted to previews of works by Silicon Valley Open Studios artists. Local artists always are featured, as are local authors and local products such as Preston's candies from Burlingame, and Alice's Stick Cookies from Redwood City.

There's a good variety of magazines, from Glamour and People to Cook's Illustrated and Utne Reader. You are invited, sensibly, to buy the magazine and then read it.

As for the book aspect of Main Street Cafe and Books, it's a small and quirky selection of new releases, bestsellers, classics and local authors. On the Local Authors shelf, the only name I recognized was architect Julia Morgan, subject of an historical study of the Asilomar Conference Grounds.

When the cuckoo clock struck the hour, its workings deconstructed and it played the music box version of "Around the World" (Around the world, I searched for you. I traveled on when hope was gone, to keep a rendezvous.) Try getting that out of your head.

Main Street Cafe & Books

134 Main St., Los Altos


Hours: Mon.-Sat. 7:30 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sun. 9:30 a.m-2:30 p.m.

Reservations: yes

Credit cards: yes

Parking: Street and lot

Alcohol: beer and wine

Highchairs: yes

Outdoor dining: yes

Party and banquet facilities: yes

Catering: yes

Takeout: yes

Noise level: low

Bathroom cleanliness: very good


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