Nearly half a year into Café Momentum’s opening, it’s safe to say they’ve hit their stride. It’s no easy feat for any restaurant, but Café Momentum isn’t just any restaurant — it’s also a second chance. Here, young men released from the city’s juvenile justice department receive paid job- and life-skills training under the wings of chefs Chad Houser (formerly of Parigi) and Eric Shelton (Green Room, Kitchen LTO). Interns are paid a living wage, so instead of tipping, you can donate to the program. It’s a great concept, and it’d be worth supporting the non-profit restaurant regardless of the quality of food or service.
Even if you find all of that uninspiring (you heartless bastard), you’ve got to go there to check out the candied Fresno pepper ice cream. The luscious scoop arrives at your table perfumed with lime zest on a bed of honey popcorn, accompanied by three squares of pepper-glazed polenta financiers. The heat of the wonderfully chewy Fresno peppers is cut by the milkfat of the ice cream, resulting in a thrilling contrast that threatens to burn your face off but falls just short. You can thank pastry chef Sara Green for adding that bit of excitement to your night.
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An air of gratitude fills the space here. It’s in the effervescent personality of our server/aspiring comedian. It’s in the display of “I’m Thankful” art plates designed by the interns themselves. There’s even a huge thank you note crawling across the restroom wall. Fitting, as Café Momentum rests in the shadow of Thanks-Giving Square. After years of fundraising, pop-up dinners, and volunteers literally taking sledgehammers to the old building to make way for the restaurant’s first permanent space, the gratitude shines through.
You will most assuredly walk away grateful. Perhaps, for having helped fulfill the program’s motto: “Eat. Drink. Change Lives.” Maybe you’re just thankful to have a bellyful of some of the world’s most delicious ice cream. Either way, you’ve accomplished something good.
Cafe Momentum, 1510 Pacific Avenue, http://cafemomentum.org/
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