On the north edge of Eugene, there's something of a yuppie ghost town, also know as Crescent Village. Of course, Ghost Town implies a town that's been hollowed out, which is not the case with Crescent Village -- this is instead a small "lifestyle enclave" that was built in anticipation of a flood of upscale shops and cafés and, oh yeah, residents. It had the misfortune to open in the middle of the recession, and now its single street (lined with empty store fronts) makes it seem like something that needs only a Wild West pistols-at-dawn meet up to be the most bizarre movie set ever.
What's survived so far in Ghost Town are a few small restaurants, probably supported in part by the people who can afford to pay $1,000 a month to live in the spacious apartments just above them. At the entrance to this tiny main street, there's a restaurant called The Cornerstone Café, which serves upscale café fare at upscale café prices, and has done so for about two years. We brunched there recently.
The thing to understand about a café like this is that you must go expecting to pay more for less. It's a café, so they're going to offer food you could make at home in a casual atmosphere. Part of the charm of high-end cafés is supposed to be that the prices are higher because -- well, because you're paying to sit in a place where the rent is probably enough to make a grown yuppie cowboy weep into his softly poached eggs, instead of at your living room table. You're also paying to have someone else do the cooking, which assumes that someone else can do it better, faster, or in some way that you can't, or that you're simply too tired to try. I'm an easy sell for cafés like this, because I am very lazy about doing dishes.
The menu we sampled had many dishes I'd both expect and love to try: three kinds of eggs benedict (traditional with Canadian bacon; Florentine with wilted spinach; and Avocado and Tomato), a bagel with lox, omelets with a lengthy list of add-your-own ingredients, pancakes, and, most promising, challah French toast. All of those are dishes I could make at home, but it would be a pain to do it -- so if Cornerstone's chef is willing to keep 4 kinds of cheese on hand, I am willing to pay a premium ($.50 per omelet ingredient) for it.
C had four slices of Challah French Toast. It was good -- very thick slices cooked to just shy of toasted, so there was still a good amount of gooeyness to the center and a lot of bread at the edges, but nothing dry about it. I went with one of the few non-breakfast entrees, because I'd heard Cornerstone bragging about it: the White Cheddar Mac & Cheese. At $13, I had to admit I was expecting quite a show.
I was a little disappointed. The dish came with a salad -- mesclun lettuce with some halved cherry tomatoes and a few artfully skinned cucumber slices -- in a pretty big bowl. The dressing that came with it, a mildly garlicky buttermilk ranch, was thin but fantastic -- it made the salad that I was looking at as filler a real feature (not a bug) of the order.
The salad actually dwarfed the macaroni and cheese, which came in a small oval baking dish. The cheese was congealed at the edges; I would guess they keep a large pan of the pasta with cheese sauce just waiting somewhere, and when the order is placed, they throw it in a baking dish, dust it with breadcrumbs, and bake the whole thing to warm it. The result, at first, was that the bread crumbs (which had a hint of garlic) were tastier than the mac and cheese.
Toward the center, the sauce was better: It was warmer, more sauce-like and less crust-like, and it had infiltrated the center of the penne. A thin sheen of cheese grease clung to everything -- not necessarily a bad thing, as I think this added some needed flavor at times. It was a pretty simple mac and cheese: white cheddar (I'd guess one of the Tillamook varieties, though I don't know why you wouldn't mention that on your menu) cooked at one time with some milk or cream and maybe a dash of garlic, though if it was there it cooked down to nothing. No texture other than pasta and cheese and breadcrumbs was present in the dish. Normally, I think that's exactly how mac and cheese should be, but here -- it felt a little too bland. It wasn't quite rich enough to survive on one cheese alone.
Most of the menu items ranged from $9 to $15 -- the French Toast (which came unaccompanied) was $8. I had a cappuccino that came with a satisfying dollop of foam in a 20oz cup that looked more like a bowl. Every dish that walked by us looked well-presented and pretty generously served, and the kids at the next table, contra me, loved the mac and cheese; their mom loved the blueberry pancakes, too.
Service was quick and friendly. The place is small but not noisy, with plenty of room between tables (and seating for parties of up to six easily in the front room). It is the perfect brunch place for your reading group, if your reading group is mostly comprised of ladies-who-lunch. As of last month, the Cornerstone Café is only open for dinner and weekend brunch, making what looked to be a much more reasonably-priced lunch menu now forever out of reach.
Location: 2729 Shadowview Road / Crescent Village
Hours: Tuesday - Saturday: 5 p.m. - 9 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday brunch, 11 a.m. - 2 p.m.