Cheap Eats: A warm welcome makes customers feel at home in the Gourmet Store - The Buffalo News

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Cheap Eats: A warm welcome makes customers feel at home in the Gourmet Store

With the chime of a gong, the announcement of “new customer” and a free homemade cookie, patrons are made to feel at home from their first visit to the Gourmet Store.

The café anchors the bottom floor of downtown’s Olympic Towers. It is difficult to see the restaurant’s sign inside from the street, but you’ll know the place by the huge “Leasing” sign that adorns the outside.

The aroma of freshly brewed coffees draws diners toward the counter. The sandwich board behind the cashier offers several options of meats (ham, turkey, tuna and roasted veggies), breads (Italian, French, whole wheat, herbed tortilla and “health nut”), cheeses (Swiss, Colby-jack, provolone, cheddar and pepper-jack) and fillings (lettuce, tomato, onion, pepper, etc.). As a first-timer, the ordering process is somewhat confusing, but the staff is kind and helpful. And once learning that a person is new to the café, the staff is quick to strike the gong that hangs behind the counter, yell out a welcome and pull out a selection of cookies from which to choose.

After ordering, patrons are given fun toys to take to their tables so an employee can bring the order to the correct person. With a blue spirally dog in hand, I filled my 20-ounce cup full of one of the four freshly ground and brewed coffees ($1.42 small to $2.10 large). The house blend was perfectly strong – nice kick but not too heavy. As I sipped, I wandered into the expansive first-floor dining area, which is brightly lit and offers window-side tables facing Pearl Street or more private seating closer to the restaurant.

My whole tuna with lettuce and tomato on a wheat pita ($6.96 whole/$5.65 half) with garden pasta salad ($1.85 regular/$1 upgrade with the sandwich) arrived within 10 minutes. The pita was so full that some tuna couldn’t help but to escape onto my plate. The pasta salad was lightly dressed and had a nice zip, and the carrots, pepper, celery and squash slices gave it a fresh, healthy flavor. My free cookie (normally $1.25 each or $12.75 per dozen), white chocolate with macadamia nuts, had a crunchy outer ring and soft, melty center.

So much of the menu changes daily, from the four soups and specials offered to the cookies that are baked. The Gourmet Store also serves breakfast, including yogurt parfait ($2.95 for 8 ounces or $3.55 for 16 ounces), freshly baked bagels ($1.55) and breakfast sandwiches and burritos ($2.99).

Daily themes include “Crabby Monday” Gumbo, Tuesday/Thursday “Contradiction” Chili (beef and vegan), Artisan Pizza Wednesdays and Friday “Mac-N-5 Cheeses.” Specialty sandwiches include the Buffaletto and the Granny Cranny ($7.77 whole, $6.06 half; chicken and bacon extra). The Buffaletto is baked and features Italian bread, ham, olive tapenade, tomato pesto, herbed vinaigrette, provolone cheese and lettuce. The Granny Cranny boasts a locally produced whole wheat pita layered with Granny Smith apples, smoked turkey breast, cranberry aioli, lettuce and cheddar.

Whether you work or have business downtown, the Gourmet Store offers a relaxing, casual atmosphere to enjoy breakfast, lunch or a quick cup of coffee. The cheerful first-timer welcome will turn you into a repeat customer.

The Gourmet Store

Where: Olympic Towers, 300 Pearl St. (855-1970).

Hours: 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday to Friday; lunch service begins at 11:30 a.m.

Wheelchair accessible: Yes.

Extras: Drop-off and full event catering, vegan and gluten-free options.

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