Café in the park
I have a Dorothy moment as I approach Payne Park. Walking along the roundabout, circling a fountain spattering on rocks below, I spy a sign with today’s sandwich special, directing me onward toward the incline leading to a red building. When I enter, I think to myself, “I am not in Sarasota anymore.”
Authentic sandwiches, espresso, Nutella, and doors opened to an afternoon breeze, Café in the Park is a diamond destination for relaxation and delicious quick bites. The youthful woman running the counter, with hair a brilliant shade of amber behind a million-dollar smile, was Simone Steiff-Pollux, owner and visionary for the café. It is lunchtime, and a continual flow of men in grey suits and women in blue scrubs files in and out. Steiff-Pollux doesn’t skip a beat. She suggests the Reuben, with fresh fermented sauerkraut from Sarasota’s Fermentlicious, paired with a pickle, and an organic tea from Local Tea Company, before returning to the line of tickets hanging from previous orders, which she will prepare then hand deliver to each customer’s table. No one seems to be in a rush. Billie Holiday radio plays softly overhead, and time seems to not exist.
“Something magic happens here,” Steiff-Pollux says, as her eyes scan the café with pride.
Two years in business, Café in the Park has gained a strong reputation for authenticity and locally supplied ingredients. Steiff-Pollux is selective about whom she purchases from to produce a fresh and high-quality menu, loaded with European flair.
“There is a place where you can get American-based sandwiches with piles of meat. I wanted to show how good a simple sandwich can be,” Steiff-Pollux says, as she sips on the velvet froth of her espresso.
She tells of her years living in Holland, and other European travels with her children, frequenting airport coffee places, that inspired much of the café’s delectable menu. She boasts of “The Zoe,” a reinvented version of her daughter’s favorite sandwich from a deli in the Netherlands. She then brings attention to the sandwiches served on croissants delivered daily from Sarasota’s C’est La Vie bakery. Steiff-Pollux says it was vital for the development of the café to offer authentic croissants and baguettes, made from real butter, baked with a golden finish.
On Friday nights, Payne Park is the venue for a thriving music scene that draws a diverse crowd to the café terrace. Steiff-Pollux is books musicians of all genres. She advertises the event on Facebook, and customers subscribed to the café’s email list receive a short biography of that week’s artist along with a specially created menu. The adjacent skate park and playground offer the perfect Friday night for families of all ages. Steiff-Pollux has modest beer and wine offerings, as well as doggie ice cream topped with a bone, inviting even furry family members flock to the park.
Café in the Park is open seven days a week, and Steiff-Pollux could not be more proud of the home-away-from-home vibe the café organically has developed, and the relationships with customers that continue to bloom.
“Of all the restaurants I have been a part of, never have I received such pleasure from customers. It’s not only because of our staff, it’s the people, happy and never complaining,” she says. “I ask myself, ‘Where do they come from?’ We really do have the most amazing customers here.”