It only takes a moment to realize that the pint-sized Marigold Café (2800 Euclid Avenue, in the Interbelt Building) isn't your usual dreary downtown coffee shop. The fragrance of freshly baked scones, simmering soups, and specials like Salisbury steak quickly signal that, simple though it may be, this food is prepared by people who care. The room's whimsical decor -- a garden-like landscape of faux paintings and live plants-- reinforces that impression, making the spot a sunny escape from the workaday world. So it's less surprising than one might think to find respected Cleveland chef Donna Chriszt in the Marigold kitchen, turning out carefully crafted versions of meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and navy bean soup. No, there's no Voodoo Chicken or seared foie gras on the café menu (not yet, at least), but Chriszt, along with longtime colleagues like pastry chef Laura Powell (Chriszt's GM at OZ, J Café, and Jeso) and sous chef Dawn Gillespie, makes a mean pesto-kissed portobello ravioli and lemon-scented tuna salad. Portions are generous, flavors are fresh, and prices are rock-bottom, with nothing going for more than $4.95, and an impressive portion of Powell's perfect peach cobbler, for instance, set at a mere dollar.
But the café is just part of the story -- the most visible face of Marigold Catering, an up-and-coming catering company presided over by foodservice pro Joan Rosenthal.
"Having Donna come on board has really helped us turn the corner," says Rosenthal, who credits Chriszt's background as both a chef and a business owner with nudging the operation to new heights. "Right now, we have an unbelievable group of talent here, and we're ready to tug on the socks of the catering big guys like Elan, Heck's, and Sammy's."
And while Chriszt admits that whipping up Jell-O ambrosia or cranking out Salisbury steak may not be glamorous, she calls the work "intensely satisfying." Plus, the catering menus give her ample opportunity to show off with dishes like balsamic-cured duck canapés and her famous pulled-pork sandwiches, here on mini-cornbread muffins.
"We want to bring true restaurant-quality food into the catering arena," she says. "The love I would put into the food in my restaurants, I'm putting into this."
Marigold Café is open weekdays for dine-in or carryout from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.; to place an order for pickup, call 216-574-9095. For more information on the company's social or corporate catering services, call 216-566-5400, between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.