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I didn't see a tomato in the grocery half of the store, but customers can get a slice of the red fruit on sandwiches made to order in the open kitchen that the partners built in the center of the room. (The name comes from the 1937 George Gershwin tune "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off," which contains the famous lyrics You like to-may-to and I like to-mah-to ... )
There's a lot to like about this comfortable and appealing place, which serves quiche and breakfast sandwiches and cinnamon rolls in the morning and soup, sandwiches and more quiche right up until closing at 7 p.m. All that and snow cones, too, which have been a big hit with the neighborhood kids. Until recently, most of You Say Tomato's customers have come from the surrounding 'hood (including a few Hallmark employees who ventured over from their Crown Center offices). "We don't have any money to advertise yet," Pouncil says, but word is getting out, and business is now brisk on weekend mornings, when Parks adds biscuits and gravy to the menu written on a big white board.
I prefer going on more quiet weekday mornings, because the kitchen isn't really snappy even on slow days. But things should go more smoothly now that Wingard is there full time (he finally left his longtime job as a waiter at Webster House) and Parks, who admits he's more of a visual artist than a chef, is developing his own rhythm in the kitchen. Pouncil is still a part-time manager at Waldo Pizza, but he's spending more time at the Tomato, too.
I've now eaten a handful of variations on Wingard's quiche du jour; he always offers at least two choices, and I have a particular fondness for a featured combination of mild chorizo, roasted red peppers, onion and pepperjack cheese. Debbie prefers the mushroom-and-leek version. Diners can order the quiche "naked" or sided with fresh fruit or one of the best pasta salads I've tasted in a long time: doughy fusilli noodles tossed in a light vinaigrette with bits of feta cheese and salty kalamata olives.
Debbie was happily surprised by all of the unexpected attention to detail here. Her organic iced tea, for example, came in a small pitcher alongside a glass of ice adorned with an orange wedge. Plus, all the meals are served on heavy china plates. "It's like eating in someone's house," she said.
Parks makes the fine-crumb bread for the sandwiches and the sugar-iced cinnamon rolls (using a yeast dough that's too heavy for my taste). Wingard bakes, too, including a damned good coconut cake.
One evening, I stopped in on my way home from work and ate a casual dinner of quiche, pasta salad and a generous bowl of hummus with a big pile of warm pita wedges. Only one other customer was in the place, a stocky bearded guy wearing work boots and, I swear, a skirt. That was the same night I ordered a carry-out sandwich a spicy barbecued beef on bun for a sick friend and thoughtlessly ate half of it on my way to deliver it to his house. Terribly rude of me, but as it turned out, he liked the mocha brownie better than the barbecue anyway.
The next time I rolled into You Say Tomato, I wished I could transport myself back to 1979, when I had the kind of metabolism that let me eat anything I wanted without gaining an ounce. Instead, I sat at one of the 1940s-vintage kitchenette tables and downed a fattening chicken-salad sandwich (made with lots of mayonnaise, sliced red grapes and celery) on a buttery croissant and a bag of chips. I'd brought along my friend Bob, because he's old enough to remember shopping at Annello's market in the late 1970s, when he was living in one of those old apartments on Gillham.