FORT WORTH Look to the left, and there’s a smoke shop. Look to the right and you’ll find a psychic-reading establishment.
Wedged right in the middle is a place called the Clean Slate Cafe.
Open since November, the family-owned place seeks to obliterate any preconceived notions you might have about curious locations or independent coffee shops.
Owners Cara Lovern and her son Adam do a pretty convincing job on both counts.
The duo, originally from Indiana, are starting their own clean slate with the business, serving scratch-made pastries, sandwiches and soups to a southwest Fort Worth crowd hungry for an offbeat offering in a miasmal sea of chains.
On a recent Friday afternoon, we were pleasantly greeted from behind the counter, as we gazed up at the chalkboard menu, scrawled with an extensive list of tea and coffee drinks. Clean Slate serves Oak Cliff Coffee Roasters, and its tea is loose leaf, hot or cold.
There was a small selection of sandwiches, from chicken salad ($7) to grilled cheese ($8, with chips) to an intriguing-sounding Cubano ($7.50) and a Sriracha-laced BLT ($11.50, with soup).
We perched on wooden stools and waited an impressively short period before the sandwiches were ready, despite the fact the small space was full of hospital workers on lunch break, plus baseball moms and a motley crew of regulars, and the staff behind the counter looked to comprise just two people.
The grilled cheese was simple but flavorful for two reasons: its cheddar cheese, melty and sharp, and the fragrant bread, crispy toasted slices of La Brea Bakery’s rosemary olive-oil loaf.
The BLT — which I ordered with a fried egg, making it a “BELT” — had a surplus of crisp bacon, abundant slices of tomatoes and leafy bibb lettuce. It needed more Sriracha (story of my life), so I asked for the bottle. I wished for a little more mayo, too, but that might just be preference.
The real star of the menu, however, was the chicken-salad sandwich. Studded with red grapes, almonds and celery, it had plenty of mayo, which melded with the chicken — and a healthy glug of curry seasoning. This excellent iteration is worth seeking out.
Slightly less successful was the Cubano, which had thick-sliced pork shoulder, ham and Swiss sharing space with bread-and-butter pickles and a pungent whole-grain mustard. I found the pork a little dry and the mustard overpowering.
An array of pastries taunts you when you order and as you leave. The apple-spiced cake, moist and ideal with a dirty chai latte, is an outstanding choice. As we left, my colleague Terrence tore into his blueberry scone with such vigor I almost turned around and bought one for myself.
Owner Lovern doesn’t have a microwave or a freezer, meaning everything is fresh — not to mention organic as well. Saturdays, challah French toast and sausage egg casseroles are available.
It’s certainly an innovative spot much needed in this crowded quadrant of lackluster, er, joints.