The art deco vibe, the hip color palette of sage green, turquoise and bright red, the second-story arched patio overlooking the hustle and bustle of Cary Street — everything about Xtras Café says “Carytown.” Well, except for one very important aspect — the prices.
Serving a multifaceted menu that includes flatbread pizzas, sandwiches, pasta and entrees boasting an array of global influences, Xtras Café is the wallet-friendly reprieve in Carytown’s sea of trendy boutiques, high-end furniture stores and upscale eateries.
Located above Bangles & Beads and open for only a few months, this bright cafe has already generated quite a fan club, no doubt a result of fabulous nightly specials. Where else can you get a bottle of champagne for only $10? Xtras offers this deal every Wednesday night.
The large bar begs for libation lovers to sip the night away, and the row of banquette-style seating lining one wall provides a suitable spot for a leisurely lunch or dinner. Even though the space is somewhat small, Xtras manages to straddle the line between hip hangout and a spot where you’d want to take your family, as I did the day before Thanksgiving.
We arrived about 7 p.m. to a rather empty dining room, but within 20 minutes the place was packed. Too bad it wasn’t warm enough to sit on the covered patio. When summer comes, this elevated outdoor spot will surely be one of the hottest tickets in town.
Xtras’ appetizers range from Poutine Americaine ($8), fries covered in mozzarella and chicken gravy, to fish taquitos ($7). We decided to try the Best Bruschetta and savory crème brûlée (both $7).
The bruschetta’s thin, garlic oil-rubbed crostini were topped with a flavor-packed combination of rich avocado butter, tomato, capers and sweet basil. The toppings could have been more plentiful, but the interplay of flavors intrigued.
Served with the same garlic crostini, the crème brûlée — cheddar fondue topped with a caramelized layer of sugar — was more subdued, but accompanying slices of Granny Smith apple added an interesting tartness.
Despite its undeniably addictive atmosphere, certain aspects of Xtras do have some kinks. Most of its varied menu is creative enough to tickle the tastebuds, but a few items still need some work, mainly the pizzas.
The flatbread-based pies come with a choice of chicken, shrimp, steak, portobellos or grilled tofu. Options range from the Thai Special ($9), topped with peanut sauce, red onions and sweet basil, to our choice, the Greek Isles ($9), topped with house-made pesto, feta, kalamata olives and artichoke hearts.
The Greek’s toppings were generous and packed plenty of pungency, but the crust reminded me of a microwave pizza. With all the wood-fired pizza places battling it out all over town, Xtras isn’t the place to go if you’re looking for wow-worthy pie.
However, there’s plenty more on the menu to keep your palate entertained. Pastas are served with the same choice of protein as the pizzas. I recommend the pesto cream with chicken ($12). Sun-dried tomatoes and huge artichoke hearts cut the sauce’s creaminess, enhancing the already nicely seasoned chicken.
Shrimp Creole ($14) gained complexity from the gentle aroma of jasmine rice. The sauce was just spicy enough but still let the flavor of the shrimp come through.
Most of Xtras’ sandwiches aren’t huge, but what they lack in size they make up in flavor. For example, the roasted turkey, Genoa salami, roast beef, cheddar and Gruyere piled in between ciabatta on the mini muffuletta ($9) is a taste adventure in itself, but olive-studded relish spices things up even more with a tangy jolt.
Xtras’ menu might not be flawless, but it is reasonably priced. When you throw a friendly staff and hip vibe on top of low prices, there’s no reason this little café won’t be a long-running hit.
by Dana Craig
December 16, 2010