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Cheap Eats

When the operation of Fables Cafe in the Buffalo & Erie County Central Library was sold to Falafel Bar, an Amherst restaurant, opportunity knocked for owner Oded Rauvenpoor and his Mediterranean cuisine.

If you’ve spent any time at all in the downtown library, you already know it’s people-watching central. A remarkably diverse group of business folk, artists, high schoolers, kids and seniors mill about, browsing for books and doing research. It’s the task of the library restaurant, then, to appeal to as many of them as possible.

The new Fables Cafe already has instituted a few smart changes: Hours are extended to 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays. Like the previous iteration, a surprisingly spacious eating area creates a cafelike atmosphere, where you can comfortably people-watch, unwind after a few hours of work or catch up with a friend without disturbing readers.

The revised menu is health-conscious: soy and almond milk substitutions are available for hot drinks, sandwiches, pitas, salads and soups cover most of the menu, and during our visit, there was no deep-fryer in the kitchen. A daily specials menu, plus the build-your-own sandwich, gives eaters some control beyond the existing menu.

From the items we tried during our visit shortly after ownership changed hands, the hummus plate ($5) stuck out as the best deal. Sure, it’s simple, but the pita pieces weren’t stale and the creamy hummus – trumpeted as homemade – carried a modest zing. Plus, it was the most shareable option on the menu.

The quinoa pita pocket (quinoa, black bean and sweet corn salsa, red onion and spinach, vegan, $7) is like a “Who’s Who?” of superfoods, but, despite its myriad textures, it desperately lacked flavor. Perhaps a little garlic or sweet/hot peppers would give this dish a needed jolt.

The fattoush ($8 on its own, $7 for a smaller portion as part of the Mediterranean Plate) wasn’t an authentic representation, as the anticipated toasted pita triangles arrived as pseudo-croutons, and there was a dearth of peppers, parsley and radish, which made the usual vibrant Lebanese staple more like a garden salad.

The final item ordered was the B&B chicken sandwich (blackened chicken breast, crumbly blue cheese, sweet peppers, caramelized onions and chipotle mayo on a fresh Costanzo’s roll, $8.50). Pros: strong flavors from the blue cheese and chipotle mayo, plus a terrific Costanzo’s roll. Cons: The chicken was small and intensely overcooked, rendering it nearly inedible. Blackened chicken doesn’t have to be dry, tough and flavorless. As the kitchen finds its footing, we anticipate this option will improve.

Like any new restaurant, Fables Cafe deserves a grace period to improve its quality. In the meantime, ordering simply is ordering wisely.