Cafe Society

King of Tartes

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There are no prepared versions, but the board offers about a dozen suggestions for how you might put together a sandwich from the available ingredients: sun-dried tomatoes, leaves of fresh basil, anchovies, crab, curried chicken salad, dilled tuna salad, chèvre, real French brie so strong it's like licking your hands after a visit to the petting zoo (but in a good way), olive-and-fig spread and black-olive tapenade made in-house, sausage, ham, roast beef, Genoa salami, capicola, herbed turkey and prosciutto that's not Parma but the next best thing, sliced thin as paper.

Collier understands that yellow mustard goes with ham and Swiss and that grilled chicken with brie needs Dijon, so both mustards are offered, along with a honey version and a coarse-grain. He also knows that a proper prosciutto sandwich requires nothing but a drizzle of quality olive oil and a little salt and pepper, so he has those, too. What he doesn't have is enough bread. Only two kinds are available -- a good six-grain baguette and a nasty ciabatta that tends to taste like burnt sawdust toast when made into a panini. I hate to see a perfect sandwich mounted on an inferior frame, but Collier just doesn't have room to make his own bread. So right now he's bringing it in from the bakery at Intrigue.

"This is an artisan shop," Collier says, his Boston accent growing thicker. "We make and bake everything here except the bread. And I know there's enough people out there for me. I know there's enough foodies who want good product at a fair price. Some people, they want to pay a lot of money for good food, so people come in and they say, 'You should really charge more for this!' I tell 'em, okay, I'll charge you double. But that's not the point. Everything we do here is about the food."

That shows in the kitchen, if not in the dining room, where most tables I see during my late-lunch are set with four coffees, four spoons, four saucers and one pastry being nibbled at by four dieting secretaries. But Collier is upbeat. He's doing enough business to hang tight for now, and he truly believes that if people come to A La Tomate once, they'll come back.

When we're done talking, Collier will head back out to the street with his sign. You never know when someone might drive by who doesn't know about the place, he says. So someone has to be out there to tell him.

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Jason Sheehan
Contact: Jason Sheehan

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