Restaurant News & Reviews

Liberty Café in SLO is fresh and fast to grab and go

Downtown diners have a lot more freedom in their fresh food fare now that Liberty Café has arrived in San Luis Obispo.

Tucked in the walkway adjacent to the County Government Center between Higuera and Monterey streets, the café quietly opened its doors at the beginning of August. Before that, the space was completely reimagined by owner Linda Derks, who also operates Lincoln Market and Deli on Broad Street.

“There’s really not a square inch of surface that’s the same,” said Derks. “My entire focus for the remodel was to tear down the walls to let in the natural light from the Higuera Street windows. I wanted to open the space up and give it warmth with the natural sage paint color and wood accents throughout.”

Indeed, even a cold concrete support pillar in the middle of the room was transformed into a unique blackboard surface showcasing the breakfast and lunch menus.

Inside, the overall feel of the café is smooth and sleek, but warm and inviting, a good match for the style of the Government Center itself.

In developing the menu, Derks wanted to offer a healthy mix of hearty and easy-to-grab items.

To do that, she not only brought the hot and cold deli sandwich concept from Lincoln, but also enlisted the talents of manager Jeanne-Marie Stel to create Liberty’s salads, panini and daily specials.

Trained at Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Pasadena, Stel’s considerable experience runs the gamut from caterer, to private chef, to executive sous chef of a major league hockey arena.

Most of Liberty’s breakfast menu is tucked away by 11 a.m., but you can always find breakfast burritos and pastries in the grab-and- go case, which is kept freshly stocked throughout the day. (For your morning java fix, enjoy a certified organic, free-trade cup of coffee from Joebella Coffee Roasters.)

Liberty’s lunch items are available all day, “which is nice for people who want to pick up lunch on their way to work,” Derks said.

Among the most popular sandwiches adapted from the Lincoln menu include classics such as a BLT and a Reuben, plus signature items like the Buffalo Bleu Chicken, the Ortega with turkey or beef and pepper Jack cheese, and the “Strand’wich” with roast beef, turkey and bacon.

Add to that panini selections ranging from Pesto Primo chicken to ham and Swiss, and even peanut butter and banana, and you’ve got a sandwich lineup of almost 30 choices.

Liberty’s 11 generous salads offer considerable variety as well.

Choose from a Cali Cobb or a California Mission with figs and goat cheese, an albacore tuna or an Athenian with Kalamata olives and chickpeas, a Chophouse with house-made champagne vinaigrette or a Summer Berry with bleu cheese and glazed pecans. In addition, you may add chicken, turkey or roast beef to any salad, or have any as a wrap.

“Overall, we’re trying to take what already works at Lincoln and make it fit this environment,” said Stel.

Though the nature of the downtown café dictates that most of the dishes are served in easy-to-grab plasticware, “we’re still really paying attention to preparation and presentation,” she said.

For example, soups are made from scratch, hummus for the Eggplant and Roasted Red Pepper Panino is house-made daily, corn for the Coyote Sun Salad is fresh roasted, and locally baked breads are delivered every morning.

“We’re really one of the only places downtown where you can get fresh, house-made, grab-and-go foods,” said Derks. “We’re definitely geared for people on the go, but hopefully we’ve also created a place where they can relax and leisurely enjoy their food.”

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