Andre Mazelin wants The Room, his new cafe in Mount Vernon, to be like a friend's cool basement, where you go for a drink and a bite to eat.
"It's not lunch. It's not dinner," the owner says of the menu. "It's snacky."
The small, subterranean spot, which seats 37, doesn't have space for a full kitchen. Instead, Mazelin, a former operations director at Creative Alliance, fashioned a prep area where he can make the restaurant's salsa, guacamole and pressed sandwiches.
He sources ingredients from such local places as Stone Mill Bakery for the ciabatta and Tortilleria Sinaloa for the thick kettle chips.
On a recent evening, I sat at the beautifully crafted walnut bar, since the tables and chairs were taken by guests participating in a scheduled candlemaking workshop. The mood was buoyant.
"I want The Room to be a space for engagement," Mazelin said in an email. "I consider this part of my mission."
On a nearby shelf, a Buddha statue looked on approvingly. Patrons noshed on various menu items while sipping beer and wine and talking to the gregarious Mazelin. Espresso drinks are also available.
The space, formerly occupied by Red Emma's until it moved to Station North a few years ago, is Mazelin's dream come true.
"I always wanted to have my own place," he said. "Everything came together, and it steamrolled into The Room."
Scene & decor: The bright space with white brick and big windows has a bar and counter, dining tables, and an upholstered sofa and chairs. An abstract mural by local artist Solely Supreme is painted on the ceiling for a dramatic splash of color.
Appetizers: The spinach walnut salad ($10) is a wonderful mound of greens with red onions, feta and walnuts, and tossed with a pleasant raspberry vinaigrette. My husband and I also enjoyed sharing the Sinaloa chips and chunky, house-made salsa ($5). The avocado toast on sourdough bread with black sesame seeds sounded intriguing, but it wasn't available that night. The avocadoes weren't ripe, the owner told us.
Entrees: Several pressed sandwiches made on ciabatta bread or bagels are available. They come with salty kettle chips or fruit and a house-made pickle. The flavorful caprese panini ($9.75) was layered with mozzarella, tomato, basil and pesto. The aptly named four-cheese mash-up ($8.25) — with Swiss, cheddar, mozzarella and feta — was a great sandwich, too.
Drinks: Espresso drinks, coffee, teas and sodas are offered. There are also wines on draft, including a nuanced Montepulciano ($7 by the glass, $18 for a carafe); a handful of other wines, from a sauvignon blanc ($8 by the glass, $26 by the bottle) to a split of Champagne ($10); beer and mead.
Service: Customers order at the bar. The staff delivers the food when it's ready.
Dessert: Not applicable.