Today, I’m continuing my series on hidden gem restaurants – little cafes tucked inside office buildings, scrunched between bigger businesses, or operating out of other businesses. The common theme is they’re difficult to find and seem to operate just under the South Sound culinary radar.
Today’s featured cafe – Enoteca in Tacoma’s Stadium neighborhood.
This tip came from my TNT Diner Facebook page. A reader urged me to try “the stylish sandwiches” at Enoteca, a handsome cafe in the Stadium District serving panini sandwiches, cheese plates, soups and salads. Enoteca operates adjacent to its mother ship, Tacoma Wine Merchants. While the wine shop has a street presence with a noticeable sign, only a small placard announces Enoteca – if you happen by at night, you might see the lit-up sign that’s a more vibrant marker. Just look below the eaves for your invitation inside.
A benefit of being part of a wine shop? A jaw-dropping, by-the-glass wine selection ($3-$7 and up) of more than two dozen reds and whites listed on a chalkboard menu that changes about monthly.
Enoteca is the one-man show of wine shop and cafe owner Bill Bonnie, who opened Tacoma Wine Merchants in 2003; Enoteca followed in 2006.
Bonnie’s food wowed, considering the economical cost – most everything on the menu is less than $10, with panini sandwiches at $6-$7. Enoteca offers one of the most impressive cheese plates in town; check the chalkboard for the selection of 20-something cheeses. Bonnie said he’s working on whittling the cheese selection, he wants to concentrate his offerings a bit. It’s an accordion menu – heavier fare for bigger dinners, or a soup and sandwich for lunch. It’s livelier at night, but a touch sleepy in the daytime.
Bonnie favors complicated ingredients translated into simple packages, flavor-drenched soups and crisp salads that come perfectly dressed, paninis squished flat on the press, flavor popping between thin layers of bread.
In a pressed panini sandwich ($6), spicy coppa was a peppery match for a nutty cheddar sweetened with caramelized onions that tasted as if they had slow cooked on the stovetop for hours, not minutes. A smoked salmon sandwich ($10) was an interesting study in texture – crusty bread broke to layers of sweet smoked salmon, while dressed greens with red onions and tomato gave bite. A walnut and pear salad ($8) showcased ingredients at their prime – barely soft pears, sturdy greens and snappy walnuts all topped with a Spanish blue cheese served near room temperature, just the way the cheese gods intended. A tomato soup was thumped with basil and I couldn’t resist a dunk with the sandwich.
Bonnie recently tweaked the menu, adding beer-friendly items to pair with his newly added craft beer selection on tap and in bottles (that can be enjoyed there for a modest corkage fee). He now offers seating inside the wine shop, too.
Service can be slow, a result of Bonnie’s one-man show, but well worth the wait.
Where: 21 Tacoma Ave. N., Tacoma; 253-779-8258, tacomawinemerchants.com
Hours: 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays, 11:30 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturdays, closed Sundays-Mondays
Our pledge to diners: Sue Kidd dines anonymously and The News Tribune pays for all meals.