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Crater Cafe serves up meals, coffee and custard

Bringing their beloved St. Louis-style custard to Southern Oregon is the impetus behind the McElroy family’s latest restaurant venture, Crater Cafe.

“For the Crater Good” is the business motto, and it’s easy to see how the McElroys, who co-own The Point Pub & Grill, aim to furnish a community gathering place in Central Point. Crater Cafe’s homey atmosphere accented with cushioned armchairs, side tables, wireless internet, board games and even a lending library invites customers to linger over coffee, their computers or conversation.

The curious are perhaps enticed by the custard and come back to sample from the cafe’s concise breakfast and lunch menus, augmented with smoothies, baked goods and assorted beverages. My husband, Will, had visited the cafe shortly after it opened over the summer and had nothing but praise for it, particularly the custard, which is available for sampling.

But first, some food. Will and I stopped in for a fast breakfast on a recent weekday. The wood-paneled walls and earth-tone surfaces offered a warm welcome on the chilly morning.

We’d had our fill of coffee so skipped over the selection of coffee drinks, but that didn’t keep one from arriving to our table — free of charge. The staff apparently had made an unneeded “Wizard Island,” which surrounds a dollop of frozen custard with fresh-brewed espresso in the manner of an affogato. He and I each enjoyed several spoonsful while waiting a few minutes for our sandwiches.

Among the breakfast burrito, bagel and English muffin sandwiches, I homed in on the grilled croissant variation. This “sammich” ($9.50) layers ham, cheese, eggs, spinach, tomato and onion on the flaky pastry. I can’t understand why more restaurants don’t prepare croissant sandwiches, particularly when the main carbohydrate component can be sourced at Costco. Regardless, Crater Cafe does theirs well and allowed me options for personalizing it with Swiss cheese instead of cheddar and chipotle aioli instead of regular mayonnaise.

By virtue of being an early riser, Will gravitates to lunch items once the clock ticks past 9 a.m. Serving its lunch sandwiches from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., Crater Cafe easily accommodates those of his ilk.

Will also can’t pass up food items with catchy names, so it’s little wonder the Fryin’ Ryan ($9.50), had his number. Boasting ham, salami and pepperoni, this sandwich guilds the grilled-cheese lily with a “skirt” of crispy cheese, juxtaposed with caramelized onions, jalapenos, lettuce, tomato and yet more cheese, specifically provolone.

Other lunch options include a club, Reuben and lunchtime versions of the croissant sandwich. There’s also a veggie wrap and two salads that can be ordered either as a full or half. Prices range from $9.75 for the full “strawberry fields” salad to $5.95 for the half Crater house salad.

Our order came out in about 10 minutes, hot and simply but attractively presented with an orange wedge for the breakfast sandwich and pickle spear for the lunch stack. We polished them off in even less time with room left for a frozen custard chaser.

Frozen custard, the McElroys say, eluded them when they relocated to Southern Oregon from the Midwest almost a decade ago. Long before Crater Cafe was conceived, the family joked they should introduce frozen custard to their new region, where hardly anyone had heard of it. About two years ago, daughter Sarah B, a barista, sparked a more serious move toward building a business for frozen custard, and Crater Cafe became the first on the West Coast selling the sweet treat.

So what’s the shtick? Frozen custard is similar in appearance to frozen yogurt, but the similarity stops there. The quantity of egg yolks — at least 1.4 percent of the mixture — distinguish frozen custard from ice cream. One bite confirms custard really is thicker, richer and creamier than ice cream and light-years away from grainy, overly sweet frozen yogurt.

Custard comes in five sizes — kids to “Bigfoot” — at the cafe, which also features seasonal flavors, “great pumpkin” for fall. I ordered a small, priced at $5.50.

The specials board described the treat as a mixture of custard and pieces of real pumpkin pie. So I imagined it studded with chunks, similar in texture to a Dairy Queen Blizzard. The end result is more homogenous than the cafe’s verbiage suggests but still delicious. And because frozen custard is denser than almost any casual-restaurant counterpart, a small portion is very satisfying.

Highly satisfied with our meal and overall experience, we’ll put Crater Cafe on our regular rotation for fast, friendly service in an environment that encourages guests to stay and enjoy some community-focused hospitality.

Located at 327 E. Pine St., next door to The Point, Crater Cafe is open from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday through Monday. Closed Tuesday. Call 541-727-7044. Seehttps://www.restaurantji.com/or/central-point/crater-cafe-/

The croissant breakfast sandwich is just one of the many breakfast offerings at Crater Cafe in Central Point. Photo by Sarah Lemon