Diner: The Mrs. Dash of Clifton

Cody's relaxed cafe atmosphere offers variety and broad appeal

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I never know what to expect anymore when I go to Clifton. I'm well past my college years, but I like to think I'm still relatively with it. Yet Clifton never ceases to amaze me. I guess I should expect, as times change and trends come and go, establishments surrounding a college campus will evolve. Fortunately, Cody's Café somehow caters to a variety of our senses and makes it work.

If variety is the spice of life then Cody's Café is the Mrs. Dash of Clifton. In fact, I struggle to define the place. Cyber cafe? Coffee house? Smoothie bar? Restau-rant?

Talk about multiple personalities. The entrance you choose determines whether you walk into a war zone or a poetry reading.

From McMillan Street you come to a small, deli-style counter featuring Power bars, bagels and cold drinks. Next, a small room with about a dozen, networked computers ... the war zone. Imagine the noise (and smell) of six 19-year-old guys, crammed in a small, windowless room, battling one another at DOOM. Although they were wearing headphones, they still were yelling threats and commands as the battle raged. For some reason (our khaki pants or age wrinkles?), the deli-counter guy assumed we were there for dinner — not death and destruction — and directed us upstairs.

There we found a room furnished "coffee house style," with sofas, stuffed chairs and coffee tables scattered among small tables and chairs for dining. This "living room" and dining area is more what I had pictured: dimly lit, original hardwood floors and comfy seating, accented by various artwork, most likely from student patrons. Tabletop flyers noted upcoming activities, including acoustic performers and poetry readings. Seeing a vast collection of classic board games for guests, I wondered why there weren't places like this when I went to college.

Our friendly (and pierced) server greeted us and shared the extensive list of smoothies and coffee drinks. I had my eye on several smoothies ($2.95 each), each made with low-fat vanilla yogurt or "freeze" style without the yogurt and extra ice. Unfortunately, the Funky Monkey (banana, coffee, chocolate, non-fat milk) — not to mention the Chunky Monkey, Blue Monkey and Monkey Joe — was unavailable: No bananas! What's a Monkey without a banana?

Our server recommended "Espresso Chill" instead. I tried the Mocha Chill ($2.95), made with espresso, non-fat milk, vanilla malt, ice and cocoa, like a Starbucks Frappaccino, but less bitter. The menu also offers several "spikes" for 25—50 cents: bee pollen, ginseng, Vita-soy and "brain storm" all sounded pretty tempting. But I didn't want to take on too much at once.

We were pleasantly surprised at the menu's variety. For our carb fix, we ordered "Private Idahos" ($4.25) as a quick appetizer: hand-cut potato rounds, topped with melted cheddar, sour cream and salsa, for nacho-style dipping. I opted for a veggie burger, "Reckless Roma" style ($5.25) with caramelized onions, sautéed mushrooms, mozzarella and Roma tomatoes. It was by far one of the best veggie burgers I've had. Accompanied by a side of red beans and brown rice, the meal was far more than I could finish in one sitting. My husband's Danny Boy ($4.95) — Cajun turkey, Can-adian bacon, Swiss, caramelized onions and honey Dijon grilled on sliced Italian bread — made for an unforgettable sandwich.

We both raved about the daily soup: a potato, corn and curry chowder that was filling but not overpowering. With several salads, many specialty pizzas and a few entrées on the menu, Cody's offers plenty of options to keep us happy for future visits.

Our server was pleasantly patient. Perhaps it was the relaxed atmosphere that led me to believe that she was how all servers should be: laid-back but attentive, nice but not gushy. She convinced us to split a piece of raspberry white chocolate cheesecake ($2.25) with our coffee before hitting us with the final bill. (It's amazing how cheaply two adults can dine when there's no alcohol around.)

Considering the short drive for us, we might return some Saturday for brunch. Or on a weekday evening for a game of Yahtzee! to pretend we're avoiding studying for midterms.

Either way, Cody's relaxed atmosphere offers enough variety and broad appeal for most tastes, even a couple of white-bread-khaki-pants-wearing-thirtysomethings just trying not to be noticed. ©

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