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Cheap Eats

Fables Cafe in Buffalo’s Central Library is a popular lunch spot with downtown office workers, and not just because of its central location. “It feels naughty to eat in the library,” my dining companion mock-whispered, as we entered. And if only for the thrill of breaking the (imagined) rules and enjoying tasty food in a beautiful, quiet place, Fables is worth a try.

The menu boasts a selection of soups, sandwiches and salads, including a number of vegetarian selections, as well as a case of pastries and baked goodies. Everything is under $10, with most items coming in at between $6.50 to 9.50. Breakfast is also served, with a handful of pastries available all day.

On a recent visit, we tried the chicken gumbo ($3.50 a cup), a Mediterranean plate ($7) which came with a large portion of hummus, warm pita points and a fatoush salad and a Cobb salad ($9). Each came within minutes of our order, despite a full dining area, and the tables were all bused promptly and thoroughly, although the staff was clearly running hard in the lunch rush.

The chicken gumbo came steaming hot, with small, square pieces of chicken that had a tender bite, but not much else. The broth tasted slightly fishy, with an Old Bay spice and some shreds of that same chicken. Some vegetables would have been nice, but the flavor profile was strong. More than anything else, the gumbo made a tasty dip for the toasted baguette that accompanied it.

The cup of hummus on the Mediterranean plate was creamy and thick, with a pool of spiced oil in the center. Once stirred in, that gave it a delicious, garam masala kick. Warming the pita points was a nice touch, and there was far too much hummus for one person to eat in a sitting. The fatoush salad, a spring mix with toasted, Zatar-seasoned pita chips, cucumber, warm Kalamata olives, tomato chunks and red onion was a refreshing taste of Greece. It came with a fluorescent yellow honey mustard dressing with a hint of curry, a tangy accompaniment to the rich hummus and pita.

The Cobb salad was a heap of Romaine lettuce with crumbly blue cheese, strips of grilled chicken, bacon and a few hard-boiled egg crumbles. Everything was heaped on top as in a traditional tossed salad, rather than arranged in the strips we typically see in a Cobb. While a Cobb is usually served with a vinaigrette, this one had a ranch dressing. It would have been nice to see some avocado, black olives, onion or tomato to round out the flavor profile. It was less of a Cobb and more of a salad with chicken, bacon and blue, but the taste was there.

Fables’ food is perfectly serviceable for the breakfast and lunch crowd. It may not be worth a special trip, but for those who work downtown and want something outside the usual deli sandwich, stop into the library for a book and a bite.

Fables Cafe, inside the Buffalo Central Library; 1 Lafayette Square, Buffalo; 858-7217; 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays; fablescafe.com; handicapped accessible.