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Banquette Continues to Find Its Place

By Pamela Rouse
Published: Monday, August 30, 2010, at 02:26PM
Melina May-Kline Pamela Rouse [Flickr]

Melina May-Kline stands behind the counter of Banquette Cafe, which she recently returned to managing.

A lot has changed in the Historic Core since Banquette opened in November 2004 near the corner of 4th and Main. New residents have moved in and new dining options have opened, but the little eatery and wine bar still seems to find its place in an ever-more-crowded list of options.

"Every place has its own thing," explains manager Melina May-Kline. "What we like to offer is a place to go to have a glass of wine with your omelet at 9 o'clock at night."

May-Kline just returned to Banquette's management in July, taking charge of the eatery her mother, the Nickel Diner's Monica May, opened six years ago. Her father, Ricki Kline, is also a well-known Downtown figure as the interior designer for Cedd Moses' bars.

Despite being just under 24 years old, May-Kline has had more than three years experience as manager. She says that in the early days coffee and sandwiches surpassed wine sales. "We were just emerging. Nobody had heard about us and the neighborhood wasn't like it is now. .. There weren't a lot of people.. They lived down here but went somewhere else to work, or they went to Pete's... We were fledgling. Nobody had heard of my mother. We were certainly something new."

The focus remains on being a part of the community. "We pride ourselves on being very neighborhood, always having what you want and always being there.. offering a glass of wine and a friendly conversation," she says.

Extending that neighborhood feeling online, May-Kline has recently taken over administration of Banquette's Facebook page and will soon be taking over the eatery's Twitter account. New to Twitter, May-Kline laughs and says self-deprecatingly, "Please forgive me if I can't use the Twitter."

Despite its diminutive size, Banquette also acts as a performance venue for the weekly Saturday open mic night hosted by Julie Anderson. While most of the evening is devoted to open mic, Anderson says she'd like to book more scheduled music acts. That particular evening event starts around 8pm and ends when, as May-Kline puts it, "people stop laughing."

New are a new sandwich called "the Bomb" (a prosciutto, fig jam and goat cheese sandwich on toasted panini served with a mixed green salad) and a bar menu.

"The bar menu is designed for sharing. Every item features an amount that is perfect for between 2 and 4 people." Small plates like grilled cheese sliders, the cheese plate or the bruscetta are served from six 'til close (and are discounted during happy hour.)

"Happy Hour is from 6-9 and the bar menu is available from 6pm 'til we close the kitchen (which is about 10:30 PM.) Our bar menu is smaller dishes that a table can eat while enjoying beer, wine, sangria."

Banquette's pastries are made fresh every day. Sharlena Fong, former pastry chef at the Nickel Diner, is still providing many offerings like the chocolate banana bread, butterscotch corn flake cookies, and brownies. While Mikey the cook is known for his macaroons, May-Kline makes the cranberry orange scones.

If you've been missing the maple bacon donut holes, you won't find them at Banquette. "You will never see Nickel products cross paths," May-Kline explains. "We won't get their pastries and they won't get ours."

Another freshly made item is their seasonal white Sangria. "No one wants heavy Sangria when it's hot," May-Kline says. "When it's Winter time we'll return to the red Sangria. It's all about consistency."

May-Kline explains that consistency is one of her top priorities, extending from product availability to hours and customer service. In an ever-evolving Downtown, that's a good thing.

Banquette Cafe / 400 S. Main / (213) 626-2768

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