More coffee shop than café, Gutenberg misses the mark.

But a large part of this package is the restaurant, and some solid attention to detail needs to take place in the kitchen, especially considering that prices are higher than those of the average coffee bar. They’re trying to accomplish too much in one bite here.

Lighter fare and entrees are served from 11 a.m. until one hour before closing and they run the gamut of salads, daily soups, sandwiches, and dinner platters featuring bratwurst, crab cakes and tapas. Prices are in the $8 range for sandwiches and up to $15 for dinner platters with sides.

The grilled salmon salad is substantial, with mixed mesculun greens, slices of fresh mozzarella, hearts of palm and a light raspberry vinaigrette. The salmon arrived properly grilled and nicely seasoned, but was unfortunately well past its prime — it had an overwhelming “fishy” smell and tasted characteristically “off.”

Café Gutenberg gives a nod to a Richmond landmark, the Main Street Grill, formerly located within the same building with a re-creation of the bean Paco. Described on the menu as a pita filled with refried beans, cheese, sour cream, corn relish, cilantro and tomato slices, it arrived as something completely different. A large mound of refried beans and sour cream was served atop two slices of soggy pita. The refried beans tasted burnt and bitter, and no fresh cilantro or tomato slices were to be seen.

A cup of vegetarian gumbo fared better with plenty of minced garlic, baby tomatoes and tangy seasonings. A standout was the panini Monte Cristo, which overflowed with salami, ham, turkey and melted provolone. It was grilled to a nice, buttery crispness. A cupful of homemade tabbouleh served as its side-mate had a nice lemony flavor, but was oozing olive oil.

The tapas carnivoros pays loose homage to these Spanish “little plates” and despite its name can be ordered as vegetarian or with seafood and meat. The concept behind tapas is sharing, but when the platter arrived with only one of each item (one medium shrimp, one mushroom empanada and one chicken salad bruschetta) it seemed silly to cut each in half with a knife and fork. In addition, most items were fashioned from undercooked frozen puff pastry, and I never figured out how the chicken salad fit in.

A dessert case offers an array of sweet treats including cakes, pies and custards. A standard cheesecake topped with cherries tasted dry and store-bought with canned cherry pie filling. Several desserts listed on the menu were also unavailable.

Café Gutenberg is a great place to sip a latte and read some William Carlos Williams, but without consistent presentation of food, this downtown hangout is more bookstore with coffee than a great escape. S

Café Gutenberg, Books, Coffee & Wine Lounge
1700 E. Main St.
Breakfast, lunch and dinner: Tuesday through Wednesday 8 a.m. – 8 p.m. Thursday through Sunday 8 a.m. – midnight. Closed Mondays.

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