Café Eclectic on the Highland Strip near the University of Memphis is the third location of this cheery spot. The original location is on McLean, and a second is in Harbor Town.
Like the Harbor Town location, the new Highland café has a smaller menu than the mother store, mostly because little cooking is done on site. Although all sandwiches and salads are freshly prepared, the baked goods, soups and side items are prepared at McLean and sent out fresh every morning.
On our first visit, a friend and I both ordered salads. Mine, the Mediterranean tuna salad, comprised mixed spring greens topped with a generous scoop of a very tasty tuna salad. Made with a lemon vinaigrette rather than mayonnaise, it was complemented by a scattering of chickpeas and slices of cucumber and tomato. There was an additional little ramekin of lemon vinaigrette on the side. Of all the items I tried, this was my favorite.
My friend chose the Chicken Club Salad. Again on a bed of mixed greens, the chicken breast was warmed a bit, and was topped with shredded cheddar, tomato and lots of crumbled bacon. All the dressings are homemade, and she pronounced the honey-mustard to be the perfect match. Her dressing was also served on the side, a practice I approve of.
There are the usual coffee and hot tea drinks with several interesting-sounding specialties. My favorite-sounding coffee drink was the “Karamel Sutra,” steamed and frothed milk with vanilla, two shots of espresso, topped with caramel sauce.
I ordered a chai tea latte instead of dessert on my first visit, and it was one of the better renditions I’ve had. It was highly spiced, topped with a nice layer of froth and sprinkled with nutmeg. Other options are hot spiced cider (with optional whipped cream topping) and hot cocoa.
If you want iced tea, you have a choice of several variations of bottled tea, since they do not brew tea onsite. There are also fountain drinks, and the drink case includes smoothies, bottled water and Mexican Cokes in bottles.
On a second visit, a friend and I shared two sandwiches. The first was the BLT&A. Three slices of very good bacon were layered with lettuce, tomato, mayo and avocado on ciabatta bread and warmed in the panini press. A good example of a BLT, but there was so little avocado on the sandwich that it really didn’t make it different from a regular BLT.
The second sandwich was the Chicken Melt. Grilled chicken breast was listed as topped with provolone, caramelized onion and spicy mayo. (I do wish restaurants would stop calling simple sautéed onion “caramelized.”) I asked for the spicy mayo on the side, and I’m glad. It was very spicy, and I’m sort of a wimp with it comes to hot foods. However, my companion pronounced it the perfect condiment for the sandwich.
All sandwiches come with your choice of a side salad or chips in several flavors. For $2 extra, you can choose either a cup of soup or a fruit cup. I chose the soup on the first visit. It was a very flavorful sweet potato soup, although a little thick in consistency for my taste. On another visit I chose the fruit cup, which came with several kinds of fruit, including pineapple, blueberries, strawberries and several orange slices, all fresh.
On a third visit with my husband, I ordered the BEC quesadilla: bacon, egg and cheese. It was served on a large tortilla, and was more than I could eat. All egg dishes are made with hard-cooked egg, again since little actual cooking is done in-house. I was a little dubious about how that would turn out, but the applewood smoked bacon, lots of melted cheese and sides of sour cream and fresh pico made for a very good breakfast.
My husband ordered the roast beef panini. Listed as “rare,” the roast beef was standard deli roast beef, and not rare. Although the arugula, roasted red onion chunks and lemon basil mayo gave it flavor, it was still not really outstanding as roast beef sandwiches go.
Other sandwiches include hot dogs, black bean or tofu wraps and a Brie-and-fresh-pear panini.
There is no lack of choices for something sweet. There are lots of ice cream treats, from cones, to sundaes of all kinds, to banana splits and a long list of shakes. We didn’t sample any of those, but a milk shake came to a neighboring table, topped generously with whipped cream, and it was very tempting. There are also floats, including the standard root beer or ones made with any of the fountain drinks.
There are baked options as well: lemon bars, cupcakes, cookies, croissants (both regular and chocolate filled), bagels, doughnuts and muffins.
On one visit, we shared a caramel-topped brownie, which our server offered to warm for us. It was big enough for both of us to be happy. I had a blueberry-lemon scone another time, also warmed and drizzled with lemon icing. I loved it. I ate part and had the rest put into a box to take home. It didn’t make it. The empty box went into our recycling bin.
Café Eclectic is a certified Project Green Fork restaurant. To be certified involves several steps, including composting food scraps, using environmentally safe cleaning products and using compostable or recyclable disposable items. So my carryout box was made of recycled paper.
Service is comparable to similar establishments. You order at a counter and take a number to set on the table. Water and flatware (wrapped in real napkins) are brought to the table, and even when the place is fairly crowded, food service is prompt.
Parking is an issue. Street parking is hard to come by during the day, although there is a pay-to-park garage to the rear of the same building. The management is trying to negotiate nearby parking, so you might call before you go.
Location: 510 S. Highland
Hours: Monday-Saturday, 6:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Sunday 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Reviewer’s choice: Mediterranean tuna salad ($8.95), BEC quesadilla ($6.25), caramel brownie ($2.75), blueberry lemon scone ($2.75), chai tea latte ($2.65)
Poor: Zero stars
Good: One star
Very Good: Two stars
Excellent: Three stars
Extraordinary: Four stars