The Bacon Dippers with peppercorn maple syrup at the MTO Cafe, 500 S. Main St., Thursday, Oct. 24, 2013.
Hello friends. I’m not going to pretend I’m any good at introductions, and I’m probably the most biased person to be giving this one, considering the subject (me). If you want the banal minutia on the various comings, goings, and social faux-pas of food writers, there are websites for that. “You say this like we care or something!” you say.
I’m just terrifically honored to be taking up the post of Mr. Mancini, and I hope to bring the same level of honesty and personality that he brought all these years. That said, I’m sure we’ll all get along juuuuust fine.
Seemingly perfectly suited to the steadily rising power of the downtown scene, MTO Café (which means “Made To Order” and “place that serves coffee”) opened in the past week after a period of anticipation for those “in the know.” The initial skinny on the concept was that it was a breakfast/lunch spot, nestled right on Main Street across from City Hall, beneath a parking garage of all things.
Their menu was touting a term beloved by advertisers but outworn to the advertised-to, “comfort food.” For the many, many restaurants that have come out of the gate with this term, it leads one to anticipate anything from lazily executed pot roast to downright schizophrenic combinations of cheese/meat/veg/sauce shamelessly calling themselves a grilled cheese (“Oh but our cute little tomato soup on the side!” JUST STOP).
It a good sign for our dining scene and for MTO Café when we can accurately call their menu “comfort food” in earnest. Things like lemon poppy seed pancakes ($12), topped with a blueberry-ginger compote, show a great dedication to “comfort.” Where so many end up like the thick, gummy disks you can get at any 24- hour drunk tank, these flapjacks have been fiddled with by the adroit hands of partner and chef Johnny Church (RM Seafood, Rx Boiler Room) to not only be fluffy and light, but also somehow… creamy? There’s a certain something to these pancakes have that I haven’t seen mirrored in others before, and I like what I’m seeing.
On the note of pancakes, the bacon dippers (a bit steep at $11) are an overlooked piece of Americana. Something I’ve only ever seen in a Mad Men-era Aunt Jemima bacon pancake advertisement (Google it), but kicked right in the jimmies with a peppercorn infused maple.
As lovely as the bacon dippers were, all kneel in the shadow of what may have taken the title of “Favorite Sandwich Ever”: their Grilled Cheese (a good use of $11). Crispy brioche, creamy brie, local Pahrump honey, toasted walnuts; done and done. The honey is far from the only local item. Almost all of the produce they use, you can get right from the Downtown 3rd in a perfect little tomato or a house citrus cured Skuna Bay salmon.
You may ask, “Ok, I can cotton to this food, but is it HIP enough to hang with the cool kids downtown?” You’d be right to question it, even food this good couldn’t survive if it was being served on a quilted paper towel out the back of a disabled box truck. Actually, that sounds exactly like the kind of place some guy with a beard would live-tweet and singlehandedly create the “Post-proto-deconstructed food truck” trend.
MTO Café caters to the new crowd of food-savvy downtown pilgrims who have been clamoring for this exact place. They’ve got Banksy pieces up on the wall, a semi-industrial theme, and an absolutely beautiful handmade table. This one-ton behemoth is made primarily from a 1930 Detroit-steel lathe base and wood from one owner’s tree at his childhood farmhouse. If you listen carefully, the table softly emits a constant loop of instrumental pluckings from the Beatles dirge “Yesterday.”
With the crazy talent behind the counter, I’m looking forward to seeing what gets reworked, what gets 86’d, and exactly how big MTO Café can get. Not everything can stick around. The mashed potato stuffed hash browns and vegan carrot pancakes are in a sink-or-swim situation. They need to get perfected before they start turning people away.
Some items may be a little “out there” even for downtown - a corned buffalo Reuben ($13) can be a polarizing item - but there is no question about MTO’s message. Big talent is seeing downtown as an opportunity, not a risk, and the future is looking brighter and brighter.
MTO CAFE, 500 S. Main St., 702-380-8229. Read more about the Las Vegas dining and bar scene at mitchellwilburn.com.