ALTAMONT — The cozy, time-traveling Home Front Cafe wasn’t here in World War II, but it sure feels stuck in time there and that’s just how they like it. Step over the Howitzer-shelled shrapnel on the doorstep and into the past.
You’re in a cluttered coffee shop with vintage kitchen furniture, shelves piled with Life magazines and books with titles like, “Faith In America.” We thought the unstaffed counter looked packed up for good and the place devoid of life until we heard noise coming from the back. We followed the sound and found the rest of the place, a sunny room in the building next door, fronting on Main Street. We took a seat in the window beneath faded copies of Norman Rockwell’s “Four Freedoms” and proceed to read the table.
Home Front Cafe
WHERE: 192 Main Street, Altamont. 861-6452, thehomefrontcafe.webs.com
WHEN: 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Thursday; 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday; 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday; 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday; 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday.
HOW MUCH: $34.72
MORE INFO: Cash or personal check from a local bank only. Children’s menu. Wheelchair accessible. Parking in public lot across the street.
The tables are covered with a variety of charming printed tablecloths and clear plastic, but what’s in between is truly arresting. Along with a ration book, airmail envelopes, discharge papers, and other memorabilia was a letter from a customer: “All of a sudden I was back in the early 1940s” it read in part. So you can see The Home Front Cafe has brought the era to life.
The cafe is open for breakfast and lunch seven days and serves dinner from 5 to 8 p.m. on Tuesday and Friday. The menu we had featured breakfast, sandwiches and burgers. A separate menu offers “crock pot meals” like chili. And a meal at the Home Front won’t break the bank.
We started with cups of homemade soup ($2.75 each) served in thick white china cups. The chicken with rice had big chunks of carrot and celery, some sliced onion and pieces of chicken with rice that was mostly broken apart in small bits. It tasted homemade, and it did the job. Lisa enjoyed the tomato-based pasta fagioli, which was full of medium-sized ditalini pasta and red beans, but found it ordinary. We both liked the bags of oyster crackers.
Lisa had a special, baked macaroni and cheese, ($7.95) which came with a buttered roll. “That looks like a good roll,” Lisa said, picking it up, in all its puffy, freshly baked goodness. But it wasn’t buttered, it was margarined. Too bad.
The mac and cheese, with its crisp browned topping, was made with spiral pasta. “It’s not dry,” Lisa told me, “but it doesn’t have a lot of sauce, either.” She said it was good, and added salt liberally and often. She finished about half and packed the rest to go.
It was comfort food day. I had grilled cheddar on rye ($6.95), a special, which came with a small handful of rippled potato chips and two bread and butter pickle chips. The cheese had oozed out agreeably, hardening where it hit the pan. The rye bread was right on, nice and sour, with caraway seeds. It was lovely, although the sandwich tasted like it was grilled with margarine, and I missed the salty butter taste.
We split a plate of fries, golden brown ones that had some skin on them and tasted like baked potato. They came to us right out of the fryer, glossy and golden, a bit wiggly, but tasty.
Dessert was the highlight of the meal. Home Front buys desserts from a vendor who is a respectable baker, judging from the Boston cream pie ($5.50) Lisa enjoyed. This tender yellow cake was sliced and layered with cooked custard and the chocolate ganache, generously applied, was just right. It was an outstanding, authentic specimen.
I had the carrot cake ($5.50), tasty and clearly homemade, but I wish the frosting had been straight-up cream cheese instead of the fluffier stuff, and that there was more of it. Carrot cake pretends to be virtuous so you can justify the frosting, and there should be plenty of it. The baker gets points for delicious coconut-crunchy stuff on the sides of the cake and the cute carrot decoration. It wasn’t overly sweet, and it had lots of finely shredded carrot, a hint of cinnamon, chopped walnuts and a few plump raisins.
The tab for our meal, with two sodas, tax, without tip came to $34.72. Our friendly server took good care of us.
In the summer the Home Front serves ice cream and gelato at the unstaffed counter we had first encountered.
The Home Front Cafe is history lesson as well as restaurant. Take your time over the much-loved memorabilia to get a feel for what is was really like to live in the 1940s, and remember to leave room for dessert.