Healthy and contemporary, those are the two best adjectives to describe the newest Magpie Cafe.
The downtown restaurant opened last fall on the corner of Third and Laurel streets. Like its predecessor on Perkins Road, Magpie Cafe downtown serves healthy salads, sandwiches and snacks. But the new location has a much more upscale and contemporary look and feel.
It reminded me of cafes in San Francisco and looked like it was decorated by Pottery Barn (even if its clientele might think the design and interior is hipper than that store). Just like so many restaurants on the West Coast, there are some outdoor bistro-style tables beside planters filled with greenery. But when we stopped by, it was rainy, so we ate indoors.
The daily menu is on a chalkboard as you enter. The majority of what we ordered was delicious, but a few items leave a little room for improvement, flavor-wise.
We chose Magpie's version of a Croque Monsieur ($9.75), ham and Gruyère with a creamy béchamel sauce and Dijon on ciabatta bread. The bread was perfect for this hearty and delicious sandwich, and the sauce took it over the top. Served with a good green salad, this was a satisfying lunch. Try the flavored iced tea while you're there. I had the lemon-grass, and it was refreshing.
The soup of the day was butternut squash, and we enjoyed a cup ($4.50) of the velvety slightly sweet dish, perfect on a rainy cold day. Though rich tasting, it was gluten-free and vegan. Another plus for Magpie Cafe is that it is one of the few local restaurants that considers gluten-free and vegan options. And even those options are delicious.
Along with the soup, we tried a daily salad special — orzo with baby greens, roasted beets, blue cheese and walnuts ($6.50). The beets gave the salad a beautiful color. If you got a bite of the pasta with the other ingredients, it was flavorful. Unfortunately, if you had a bite of just orzo, it didn't pack as much flavor as we would've liked. We felt some citrus would have brightened it up and gone nicely with the beets.
We also tried the gluten-free paleo turkey open-face sandwich with pesto, spinach and tomato ($8.99). Overall, this was a hearty sandwich, but we couldn't taste the pesto.
After our main dishes, we had to try a dessert. The pastries and sweets are often a highlight at the Perkins Road location. Here, it's no different. We tried the blueberry-banana bread with walnuts, and it was just right. Moist and sweet and just dense enough, and we loved the fruit combo.
Like its Perkins Road location, Magpie Cafe downtown has an excellent selection of food and drinks and style to spare. If it's not already a hit, which we suspect it is, it will take no time at all for the cafe to catch on in the area.
333 Laurel St., Baton Rouge
HOURS: 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday-Wednesday, 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Thursday-Saturday
INFO: magpiecafe-brla.com or (225) 960-3400
PROS: Contemporary design of building is thoughtful, beautiful; healthy, different food choices; Croque monsieur.
CONS: Some items could use a little more zest.