Former gym hangout, Centre Street Cafe
is still going strong
When the TC Gym closed its doors in 1999, Pete Boothroyd refused to go down with the ship. Instead, he saw it as an opportunity to change his snack bar/eatery at the gym into a full-service restaurant.
Thus was born the Centre Street Cafe, located at 1125 Centre Street just east of Garfield in Traverse City. And 14 years l ater, it’s still going strong.
“When we ended up with an empty building (once the gym had closed), we decided to make it a full kitchen with everything – walk-ins, a grill,” said Boothroyd.
“As word got out, people started coming in.”
Boothroyd decided to back away from the gym years hours of 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. to keep a lifestyle where he could still be a family man. With hours now set at 10:30 to 4 (6 in the summer), Boothroyd and his staff focus on the lunchtime trade. The cozy cafe is busy throughout the year as shoppers, workers and a loyal customer base come in for the specialty sandwiches, salads, and weekly specials.
The cafe’s ambience is enhanced by a variety of jazz tunes and paintings and photographs by various local artists which adorn the walls.
Boothroyd and his staff offer a host of creative choices. Popular specials include Ralph’s curried tuna sammi, a creation of veteran chef/restaurateur Ralph Humes, with curried albacore tuna, smoked gouda, peppadew aioli, and radish sprouts on panini-grilled sunflower rye bread.
Another is the autumn veggie lasagna, which has survived the wintry weather, due to its tasty combination of butternut squash, eggplant, sweet potatoes, spinach, sage, and three kinds of cheese.
The regular menu includes three dozen sandwiches, ten salads, and a rotating selection of soups.
If that’s not enough choices, customers can opt to do it themselves. With a choice of seven kinds of meat, including smoked turkey and both turkey and beef pastrami, eight cheeses, a baker’s dozen dressings and several different breads, customer chefs can create their own blockbuster sandwiches.
One of the most popular sandwiches on the menu is the Rabish Radish Pastrami, named for one of the cafe’s loyal customers. The beef pastrami and capicola are further spiced up with the radish sprouts, red onion, pepper jack cheese, pepperoncini and horseradish sauce.
Boothroyd also extolls the virtues of the blue plate, featuring tilapia breaded in blue corn chips and served over seared polenta with avacado, pepper jack, salsa, and fresh lime.
But perhaps the cafe’s signature dish isn’t a dish at all, but two sides: the famous black bean dip, served with tortilla chips, and the swamp soup.
“If we’re out of the dip, people get angry,” said Boothroyd.
As for the soup, “It’s our own recipe for tomato, spinach and (grated) Swiss,” he said. “One of our customers said, ‘It looks like something that came out of the swamp.’ Another customer heard that and thought that was the name. They told someone else, and people started coming in and asking for the swamp soup.”
THE REST OF THE STORY
Boothroyd says he enjoys creating new dishes, but keeps his ego in check. If it’s not popular, he has no problem dropping it.
He also tries to insure that he keeps the prices in check. “Our top end is $13. You don’t want to price yourself out of the market.
“We’re in the business of service. We want to have (customers) have a good experience. It’s not just food, it’s service.”
Boothroyd also says changes in diet have impacted the restaurant business. For example, he tries to offer various gluten-free option. “That’s tough to do at lunch, where you’ve got so many sandwiches.” That’s where options like salads, grouper tacos on corn tacos, and the aforementioned blue plate come in.
Centre Street Cafe also offers catering, featuring items not on the lunch menu, and a Saturday breakfast menu with veggie crepes, poached eggs over grilled polenta, and pumpkin mango pancakes along with typical breakfast fare.
Sandwiches (accompanied by chips and bean dip and a pickle slice) start at $8. Salads start at $9, soup at $3.50/cup.
Boothroyd says he’s currently working on a new website, but online fans can still check out the weekly specials on Facebook.