BEREA — Main Street Café has a mission statement, something reassuring in an industry so often unfocused and in disarray. In that statement, you will find phrases such as, "Each customer can rely on consistently good food and excellent service with a friendly staff and a welcoming atmosphere."
Owner Sune Frederiksen recently received a prize from The Rebild National Park Society, a Danish-American friendship association, for his successful efforts in building positive relations between Denmark and the United States. At his restaurant, he has certainly accomplished this by creating a cozy ambience, the highest compliment, I think, that one can pay a Dane — or so my brother-in-law's family from Copenhagen tells me.
This coziness derives partly from lighting that sets a relaxing mood, top-notch live music and the eclectic menu emphasizing global inclusiveness, but largely from the student feel, low-key and casual, that permeates everything from service (friendly) to food (simple, mostly home-cooked and far from the exacting standards of high-end dining).
Although located in the pretty green heart of Berea, Main Street Café, with its exposed brick walls and hardwood floors, would belong in any college town from Santa Cruz, Calif., to Ithaca, N.Y.
Dinner began with a pretty appetizer sampler, a choice of three starters for $8.99, served on a sumptuous bed of bright lettuce leaves. The falafel were a bit dense and sticky, but they were served with a fabulous sour cream- cucumber dip. The spring rolls, a smaller version of those found in Chinese restaurants, were fairly standard. I suggest skipping these two and getting a whole order of the fried green tomatoes, light and sweet, served with a chipotle mayonnaise dip that has just the right amount of jalapeño heat.
Lunchtime burgers, sandwiches and wraps are always available ($7 to $8), but frikadeller, Danish meat patties ($9.99), are served only at dinner. They were my true reason for the 45-minute drive. These were plump and tender but surprisingly underseasoned. The presentation, in contrast to the appetizer and the environment, seemed surprisingly austere: a small cup with the meatballs and gravy on a stark white plate, save the scoop of rice on lettuce garnished with two small strips of roasted red peppers. The promised red beets were missing.
I preferred the café's fish and chips ($9.99), a hearty and generous portion of piping hot cod in a crunchy, crisp batter with fries. They were served with a mild remoulade.
From this single experience, factoring in the green tomatoes, my guess is the kitchen staff feels most comfortable with batter and the deep-fryer.
Each entrée included one side. The basic salad of mixed lettuces, red onions and cucumbers with a thick balsamic vinaigrette was a simple complement to the meat, and the fruit salad, equally basic with melon and tropical fruit, served as a refreshing counterpoint to the fish.
If you want really sweet and sugary, there is an array of desserts, many homemade, and all about $4. The hummingbird cake, with pineapple and banana, was stunning to look at — sticky white frosting with a cap of a big dried red flower. Chocolate cake with buttercream frosting, sprinkled with mini chocolate chips, was what a milk chocolate bar would be if it morphed into an upside-down cupcake.
Berea is a fun town to explore, and when I return, my visit will include lunch at Main Street Café to enjoy the vibe and to sample burgers and wraps, food that seems most in sync with the easygoing style of Frederiksen's cozy hangout.
Wendy Miller is a Lexington-based food and spirits writer and critic.