The last time I’d stepped into 157 E. Main St. in New Albany, it was a bakery — I had no idea how much the interior of the place might have changed in the last two years since it had become Café 157.
Turns out, it hasn’t changed much. The same quaint, homey atmosphere awaits, with furniture plucked from an antique store, exposed brick and cozy decor. The difference this time is that the space also serves as an art gallery, with framed works covering the long wall all the way to the back of the place; the gallery, called Chestnuts and Pearls, formerly was in Jeffersonville.
Take a stroll up the staircase that greets you just inside the door of the corner cafe and you’ll find an antique shop on the second floor and additional space on the third. But I was there for the food, not the shopping.
Owner Linda Williams greeted me as I walked in and told me to sit wherever I liked, then she went back to helping another customer.
I pored over the menu, which featured not only breakfast (which is available anytime Café 157 is open) but a variety of sandwiches and paninis with names like the Monet, the Van Gogh and the Raphael.
Williams walked over to help me out, and I told her I would start with a cup of vegetable beef soup, which was the soup of the day. Moments later, I asked what her favorite selection was, and she said, “These are all things I like.” Makes sense, given she created the menu.
She eventually steered me toward the Michelangelo, which is the house club sandwich made with either turkey or ham, or — for an extra $2 — both. I decided to double down on both meats with a side of Veggie Straws (chips were the other option, but you can get those anywhere).
My soup came out quickly, and it was piping hot to the point that each spoonful involved blowing. It reminded me of when my grandmother would make me soup when I was a kid.
But one taste of the soup, and I was transported even more into homestyle nostalgia. The soup had an absolutely beautiful and rich flavor, and it was packed with tender beef, potatoes, carrots, okra, celery, green beans and tomatoes.
For a moment, I wondered why I didn’t get a full bowl of the soup and simply call it a lunch.
Then the sandwich arrived, and I was glad I diversified. The Michelangelo came out in quarters, a pile of the Veggie Straws between the two halves. I had expected a basic club sandwich, something solid and reliable with thick tomatoes, lots of lettuce and a fair portion of deli meat.
Instead, my sandwich was extremely meat-centric — thick, crisp bacon, an ample layer of country ham, thick roasted turkey breast, mixed greens and only a thin slice of tomato, with mayonnaise. All this was presented on toasted wheat bread. Williams said she eschews deli meat in favor of fresh meat that doesn’t have preservatives, for health reasons.
The ultra-thick sandwich wasn’t easy to get my mouth around, but I managed to finagle a first bite and was beyond happy with the freshness and flavor of the sandwich. I ended up eating it in layers because of the size of the thing, which was something of a masterpiece, giving me alternating experiences with the tasty ham and the tender turkey.
The bacon was off the charts, which made me think I need to return for breakfast sooner rather than later.
And, as a bonus, it was my first experience with Veggie Straws — crispy, orange, yellow and green sticks that don’t have much in the way of overt flavor, but make a healthful, crunchy accompaniment to a sandwich or soup. I was surprised I ended up liking them so much, actually.
Anyway, I got only halfway through the sandwich before I asked for a box. Williams wrapped the sandwich for me to ensure it would be fresh for lunch the next day. Turns out, it wasn’t necessary, as I had the leftover sandwich and straws for dinner that night.
Café 157 is open Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Daily specials and desserts rotate, with tacos on Wednesday. The cafe also claims to have the best Reuben around, made with coleslaw instead of sauerkraut, according to the menu.