We never know what we'll find when we dig into a Cheap Eats, and in the case of Michele’s Café we found ourselves unexpectedly getting a little teary-eyed, but in a good way.
The breakfast/lunch restaurant is located in the Clinton-Bailey Market area.
We’ll get to the food part in a minute, but the story here is Michele Tingue, the owner. The café will celebrate a two-year anniversary on St. Patrick’s Day. (Some may remember it as the former Trina’s Family Restaurant.)
Prior to owning the cafe, Tingue worked for 18 years as a waitress at Lovejoy's Neapolis Family Restaurant on Bailey Avenue to support herself and her daughter while she worked to get her LPN degree.
It was after she began working as an LPN that she received a cancer diagnosis. It was Stage 3 colon cancer. “Everything turned out fine. But I had a decision to make,” she said.
Tingue contemplated going back to get her RN, but noted, “Cancer gave me a push.” A push toward her dream of opening up a restaurant.
After battling cancer, Tingue said she wasn't afraid. “Cancer taught me, I’ll be OK no matter what happens.”
She waited for an opportunity and took her chance, buying Trina’s in an auction. “It was stripped. Basically just four walls,” said Tingue.
Today, her darling dream is decorated with nostalgic signs and homey touches. It was also packed on a Saturday when we visited.
In true diner fashion there are breakfasts numbered 1-10, starting with two eggs and toast ($3.25) to an 8-ounce strip steak, two eggs, home fries and toast ($10.95).
Pancakes, French toast and waffles range from a short stack of pancakes or French toast ($4.75) to chicken and waffles ($8.25). Three-egg omelets range $6.95 to $8.95, with home fries and toast. Breakfast sandwiches are super cheap ($3.35-$3.75).
It was three breakfasts for the two of us because we had to try the special caramel apple waffle ($6.50).
The No. 10 breakfast burrito (sausage, cheese, onions, peppers and home fries) was a delicious breakfast in one package. Lots of eggs, cheese and even the potatoes were nice and hot in the wrap. We never had to use our fork.
The solid bacon and cheese omelet arrived and filled half the plate. The other half was loaded with home fries (made with onion as requested) and wheat toast.
Our only complaint - if you call it that - was the large amount of caramel apples on the waffle that was somewhat lost underneath. We appreciated that the tart apples cooked with deep caramel were not mushy. Nor overly sweet. We just needed less of them.
Coffee was good, hot and bottomless for $1.89.
Lunch choices are simple with burgers, sandwiches and wraps ($6.75 to $8.95). Look for the usual suspects: cheeseburger, patty melt, grilled cheese, fried bologna, chicken salad with almonds and grapes.
Soups, chili ($3.50- $4) and a few salads from chef to chicken souvlaki ($4.25- $9.99) round out the menu.
Tingue’s other passion is baking and dessert choices were many. Pies included coconut cream, chocolate cream, pumpkin, apple and pecan. How did we miss the homemade cinnamon rolls and ricotta cheese cookies? Alas, we should have looked closer.
“I’ll have holiday cookies, too,” said Tingue on our phone interview.
In that case we’ll have to go back, because as Tingue noted, her dream has become her journey. And we’d like to keep going on the ride with her.
1373 Clinton St., 821-9400
Hours: 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday.
Price range: $3.25 for two eggs and toast to around $8.95. Good bottomless coffee ($1.89)
Gluten-free: No special menu.