by Mike Corrigan

As far as put-downs go, "bite me" isn't very antagonistic, really. This catch-all retort -- derived from its antecedent, "eat me," and popularized by those robotic rapscallions, Tom and Crow, of Mystery Science Theater 3000 -- is certainly truer to the spirit of good-natured ribbing than are some of its more aggressive and profane cousins. Yes, "bite me" is a firm yet friendly way of letting someone know, in no uncertain terms, that their opinions stink and should be immediately placed where the sun never shines. Funny as it is, it was only a matter of time, I suppose, before some wiseacre restaurateur would seize the day and pounce upon the phrase as a fitting name for a dining establishment. That's pretty much what happened here at the Bite Me Caf & eacute;, which sports a moniker that, I'm sure, has more than some of its competition smacking their heads with shoes and lamenting, "Now why didn't we think of that?"

According to the Bite Me Caf & eacute; owner and head chef, Erni Hodgen, the name came to him in a place where so many great ideas seem to arise: in a bar. "There was a girl in there with a T-shirt that had a red pepper on it and the words 'bite me,'" he explains. "We thought it was great at first but then we had to hash it over a little bit. You know, do we really want to call our restaurant that? But then, a week or two later, we decided."

Hodgen and his wife, Nanette, opened the caf & eacute; (on Indiana just a couple blocks west of Division) in February. It used to be a donut shop and before that, an office space. The Spartan, randomly appointed d & eacute;cor is (perhaps) unintentionally amusing. It's a world of plastic: The red and white tablecloths, red drapes and tableside flowers all made of the same shiny, easy-to-clean, low-maintenance, petroleum-based material. The white cinder block and red brick walls are adorned with odd bits of thrift store art -- and a festive sombrero. Yet the humble, slightly goofy ambience is more charming than alarming.

The menu is diverse -- with a noticeable south-of-the-border influence -- offering breakfasts (served all day), burgers, sandwiches, fish and chicken baskets, burritos, tacos, sides and appetizers such as Jalapeno poppers and "cheese stix." The homemade salsa is served free with any meal (and can be purchased to go at $1.50 a pint). Burgers are served deluxe and come -- as do the sandwiches -- with a side of homemade hash browns, fries, soup, salad, potato salad, potato chips or tortilla chips and salsa. They run the gamut from the "old basic" at $4 to the impressive signature "Bite Me Burger," an 8-oz. patty stuffed with diced onions, green peppers, garlic and barbecue sauce and topped with pepper jack, ham, bacon, green chilies, lettuce, tomato and pickle on a monster-sized bun (whew!) -- with side -- for $6.25.

On the day we visited, it was rainy and cold outside -- it was also 8:30 am -- mandating an excursion into breakfast. There were several tempting choices. Finally, we decided on the highly touted breakfast burrito (a large grilled flour tortilla stuffed with eggs, cheddar cheese, hash browns and ham, bacon or sausage for $4) along with a pancake two-stack ($2), the #2 sausage and gravy meal (with one biscuit, hash browns and two eggs for $4), and the bacon & amp; eggs breakfast (2 eggs, browns, toast and 4 bacon strips for $6).

The food arrived swiftly via our courteous, attentive and conscientious server. And very soon, we unanimously declared the food itself to be most excellent. The burrito was bursting with quality, tasty ingredients and was rendered even better with the addition of the winning homemade salsa, which was finely chopped and exhibited medium fire. The pancakes were massive, thick slabs -- yet I've rarely experienced cakes so fluffy. The biscuits and gravy meal was quite filling, with eggs that were actually "over medium" as requested (also a rare thing). The gravy was thick, incredibly flavorful and filled with bits of sausage. The biscuits weren't too doughy (as they can be) and the homemade hash browns were awesome. And the basic bacon and eggs breakfast was done right, with the eggs to order and lots of crisp bacon. The coffee, in case you're wondering, was of your typical diner variety but serviceable.

In the final portion vs. price analysis, our meals represented a terrific value. Even better, the two-egg breakfast sans meat (with hash browns and toast only) at $3.75 is a home run, representing one of the better breakfast deals in town.

The caf & eacute;'s proximity to North Central High School might have something to do with its daily influx of young people. Then there's that name, a name that rings funny to both kids and adults.

"We do get a lot of kids in here," says Hodgen, "though I'm not sure where everybody's coming from. But it's been going pretty well so far. And the name's been bringing them in."

The Bite Me Caf & eacute; takes call-in orders to go or for dining in.

Publication date: 06/10/04

Thursday Night Live (TNL) @ Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture

Third Thursday of every month. Continues through Sept. 16
  • or