Cafe opens for 'midtown' market

Metro Market Cafe co-owners chef Robert Freitag (left) and Jason Devinney enjoy talking with cafe customers visiting their newly opened establishment, serving coffee, lunch and snacks inside the Meridian condominum complex. - JULIE BUSCH photo
Metro Market Cafe co-owners chef Robert Freitag (left) and Jason Devinney enjoy talking with cafe customers visiting their newly opened establishment, serving coffee, lunch and snacks inside the Meridian condominum complex.
— image credit: JULIE BUSCH photo

Robert Freitag and Jason Devinney set up shop at the Meridian.

For those weary of trekking uptown to the Village or downtown to Winslow for lunch, now there’s a “midtown” option.

Chef Robert Freitag and co-owner Jason Devinney have opened the Metro Market Cafe on the first floor of the Meridian condominum complex on Knechtel Way, between Madison and Ericksen avenues.

“We’d like this to be a gathering place to meet people or grab a quick bite,” Freitag said. “It’s designed so people who work in the area can pick up things. We’re trying to service midtown Winslow that’s undiscovered and developing.”

The cafe’s service counter, to the left of the building’s main entrance, compactly fills a corner of the main lobby.

By contrast, the small tables and chairs are spaciously arranged, while comfortable sofas and chairs gather around a fireplace and piano on the right.

For Freitag and Devinney, the cafe was a natural extension of their catering business, Metro Market Catering, which keeps its kitchens on Miller Road.

They were familiar faces selling hot and frozen quarts of soup at last summer’s farmers market.

The cafe features two soups a day from a distinctive seasonal repertoire of about 14 recipes, ranging from Italian white bean with lemon and rosemary to tomatillo corn chowder and West African yam peanut.

A selection of sandwiches on baguette, as grilled panini or wraps are available. They are priced from $3.50 for a half sandwich to $7.50, and include a vegan option. Salads and pastries round out the menu. Some items are freshly baked at the cafe, but other components are prepped daily at the catering kitchen and assembled on site.

Devinney has traditionally been a “front of the house” man; he has waited tables for more than 25 years in San Francisco restaurants and catering venues, and on the island at Cafe Nola, Four Swallows and Winslow Way Cafe. He says the duo’s approach is very much customer driven.

The focus comes from catering, Freitag said. He sees being a catering chef as a more personal approach to food than being chef at a restaurant.

Instead of “coming down from the mountains with tablets” engraved with what diners shall eat, Freitag likes having to design menus to suit each event.

“I like working with people on what they need,” he said, whether it’s satisfying a mainstream palate or concocting a paella with local shellfish for a Spanish groom’s wedding party.

He got into cooking to put himself through college. His creative art major turned out to be good training for catering as they are both project-based, Freitag said. His degree emphasized photography and sound.

“I find that the emphasis on the visual really plays into (food) because the first thing you eat is with your eyes and then smell, so I try to appeal to all the senses.”

Freitag expects the cafe menu to change seasonally. Once their license goes through, they plan to serve beer and wine and extend their hours with outdoor seating in the summer. Single diners are made welcome, Devinney said, with the casual atmosphere, magazines and newspapers and electrical jacks at each wall side table for laptop users.

The complex is also amenable to catering to the building’s tenants in the large lounge on the top floor or rooftop terrace, which Freitag said was another appeal of the space.

Similar to catering, Freitag says the plan is to serve a range of customers from those just in for a cup of coffee to a snack to a full meal.

Most of all, Devinney said, it’s “a place where you’re comfortable to stay as long as you like.”

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Meet me at the Met

Metro Market Cafe is located at 360 Knechtel Way. Hours are 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on weekends. For more information or to place an order for pickup, call 842-4114. For catering information, call 842-8524.

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