"Don't Hate Yourself — Eat Here!" proclaims Lunchtime Global's banner, reflecting the opinions of co-owner Trish Ziembowicz. "Our biggest selling point," she says of the two-year-old breakfast and lunch spot, "is that it's as quick as getting fast food but not greasy and gross."
That's faint praise, and Lunchtime Global deserves more. In fact, Ziembowicz and partner Ken Karustis have built a loyal clientele of downtown workers, mostly from the First National Building and its neighbors, who are partial to the six soups a day and to the house rules: everything from scratch and made in-house (except bagels). Last winter, an express version of Small Plates opened in the same building but couldn't compete, dying five months later.
Maybe the prices buy loyalty too. The $6.25 soup-and-sandwich combo is a large-enough lunch, and, if you wait till 1:30, everything in the "grab-and-go" cooler — including fruit cup, green salads, sushi, pasta salad, muesli, yogurt parfait, stuffed grape leaves, hummus and tabbouleh — is 20 percent off (remember, it's all house-made). After 3 p.m., it's half-off, and I'm told that certain local bankers and lawyers make a beeline at that moment.
The basic menu is online, but it's supplemented every day with hot entrées, such as quiche, new soups, and panini. The soups always include at least one vegetarian and one vegan, to please the many vegans in the building. (Those bankers and lawyers never cease to surprise.)
My favorite sandwich was roasted sweet potato. It's slathered with pesto cream cheese, which sounds odd but works out great, and includes roasted red peppers and cucumbers, on focaccia or a baguette.
One of the biggest-selling sandwiches is "Michigan cherry chicken." The most important quality of a chicken salad sandwich should be freshness. The chicken chunks should be obvious, and it shouldn't be over-mayoed. Lunchtime Global's fits this bill, but when I tried it, the advertised sun-dried cherries were too few to make a difference.
The Cuban sandwich is way disappointing, if you're looking for the traditional. Lunchtime Global's is cold! And not pressed! And it uses a sophisticated grainy mustard instead of the customary grocery-store yellow. And the pickles are sweet, not dill. I have no problem, in theory, with tampering with traditional recipes, but a cold Cuban sandwich just doesn't hit the spot. The "Tony Sacco," on the other hand, with salami, ham, provolone and Caesar dressing, is fine; you get what you expect.
Other sandwiches are turkey Reuben, normal Reuben and "wild Reuben," with whole-grain mustard and horseradish; jerk chicken; turkey with roasted red pepper sauce; buffalo mozzarella with basil pesto and more; and Mom's tuna, with Miracle Whip.
Popular salads are the loaded Cape Cod Bistro, which includes not only the familiar combo of Mandarin oranges and red onions but also toasted pine nuts, Gorgonzola and cranberries, and Thai Chicken with a ginger dressing.
Soups, which in the summer always include a cold one, such as vegan gazpacho, are inspired. I liked Cuban stew, which includes pork and sweet potatoes but tastes strongly of coconut milk. Tomato-based African peanut isn't too peanut-y but is hearty and smoky, a winner. Spinach-lentil is salty in a good way. And mushroom — best of all — is extraordinarily buttery and rich. The $3.75 bowl size is 16 oz.
For those looking for a hot meal, there's always a special of some kind, often quiche. I took home an inventive linguini-shrimp dish that threw in caper berries. These pickled fruits of the caper bush look like long-stemmed olives and were a welcome surprise.
I'm impressed by the baking operation, which produces not only focaccia and whole-wheat and regular baguettes but a bunch of sweets, such as cookies, pain au chocolat, Danishes and muffins. Scones — seemingly so simple but so often so leaden — are just light enough, with raisins that taste toasted. The secret to the creamy and rich peanut-butter cookies, three for $1.19, says Ziembowicz, is underbaking them slightly.
Though many if not most patrons don't linger, taking their choices back to their desks, the lunchroom is a pleasant spot, with ochre walls and a brick-red ceiling, floor-to-ceiling windows on Congress, and giant chandeliers. Posters, such as one from Casablanca (the city, not the movie), carry out the "global" theme.
Enter on Congress Street a half block east of Woodward Avenue, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday-Friday. See the menu at lunchtimeglobal.com.
Jane Slaughter dines for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.