It's a snug, unlikely little spot, Pam's Corner.
Off a parking lot and down a short flight of stairs, the interior is a celebration of color. Purple, blue, and chartreuse rule the walls, the dozen tables, chairs, and even the upholstered seats. The staff sometimes wears aprons tie-dyed in the same colors. The message: you've entered a space that's individualistic, proud, and lighthearted.
Frequented by downtown library staff, attorneys, and cops, Pam's deserves to have more bustle than it does. But as it is, in the back of the Davis Building (which faces Michigan Street between Jefferson Avenue and Monroe Street; Pam's faces a parking lot on 10th Street), there might be a four-handed card game going on, a customer fixed on a crossword puzzle, or a guitarist picking in a corner.
Food is prepared in the open, behind the ordering counter which usually bears a vase of fresh flowers and a covered plate of homemade cookies. Iced tea is brewed and in the tidy fridge.
Soups (two a day plus chili) are also homemade. A variety of salads can be jazzed with 35 possible ingredients. There's also a dozen or so sandwiches, not one of them a burger.
I love piping hot soups ($2.39 cup/$3.39 bowl) and tried two: Italian wedding with meatballs, perfect chicken, and tortellini in a lovely broth, and a lightly creamed broccoli/cauliflower/carrot melange. It was so veg-virtuous that I counted it as three of my five servings of vegetables for the day.
The chili was simple and soupy kidney beans and a bit of ground beef in a tomato-ey sauce. I'd like to have tasted something more inspired, but given that the chili also tops the taco salad, the restraint might be deliberate, or perhaps the server didn't dip the ladle deep enough in the pot.
Salads here are made with green and red lettuces, (none of them, blessedly, iceburg lettuce).
You can add anything from soup (chili) to nuts (cashews, sliced almonds, peanuts); meat (ham, turkey, chicken, chicken strips, bacon, salami, pepperoni), to fruit (mandarin oranges and dried cranberries), and 10 fresh vegetables.
A small tossed salad with tomato and cuke is $2.95; the next size up, with ham, garbanzo and kidney beans, green onions, and olives is $6.95. A jumbo salad with six items is $39.95 and will serve 11 to 15 people. Pam's also caters private parties and prepares boxed lunches.
Outside the box, there's a frequent special that's the type of surprise one hopes for at a place such as this. Small pieces of fresh, sweet pears play nicely with chunks of brie, walnuts, and dried cranberries on mixed greens (the poppy-seed dressing is good). It's served with a wheat roll and butter.
We were pleased with the three sandwiches (in the $4 to $6 range) we ordered. A chicken breast with basil pesto on a grilled kaiser roll is rounded out with provolone, tomato, and mayo.
Grilled muffuletta is meaty-salty with salami, ham, provolone, olive tapenade, and Italian vinaigrette on a grilled kaiser.
The tuna melt oozes creamy tuna salad between toast glued with American cheese on both slices. All are accompanied by pickles and more chips than we should consume (but do) at one sitting.
Sides include mac and cheese, fries, and sweet potato fries, chicken strips, chili cheese fries, and clam strips.
Food is prepped and served quickly by a friendly, experienced staff that understands the time constraints of a downtown lunch crowd, and congenial owner Pam Weirauch is usually around, cooking and visiting with customers. She's also often spotted, as are several other owner-operator restaurateurs, shopping at the Farmer's Market for fresh and local ingredients.
At this location for a few years, Pam's Corner was previously in the ever-struggling Erie Street Market. Open five hours on weekdays and four on Saturdays, it embodies the best of an owner-operated business, from welcoming atmosphere and providing a few jobs, to quality control and gastronomic innovation.
Contact Bill of Fare at: firstname.lastname@example.org