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Oy Vey! 

Cafe brings new life to the neighborhood

The hostess/server was busy making coffee when a regular customer appeared at the door. After being greeted by all the employees, the customer picked up a newspaper and proceeded to seat himself in one of the many comfortable booths. Soon, a tall glass of orange juice was delivered to him and freshly brewed coffee was poured without his asking.

Izzy's Cafe & Catering is a neighborhood hangout where, after a few visits, customers become welcomed regulars. Among those welcoming the guests is owner Jared Mond, who opened the 86-seat restaurant in May 2005. Mond is a rare breed: a native Charlottean who learned the ropes from stints in some of the area's oldest establishments.

Izzy's is primarily a breakfast and lunch spot, and breakfast is served all day. The interior is lean, clean and devoid of preen, with the exception of a few old-timey fountain signs behind the counter. The main dining area is filled with booths and small tables, while a stack of child seats is off to one side.

Perusing the familiar menu gives you a sense of the Charlotte neighborhoods. Sandwiches are named for some older areas such as Myers Park, Lansdowne, Southpark, Foxcroft and Stonehaven, with a nod to the newer Ballantyne and Southend. The wraps are named for old Charlotte theaters: the Visulite (in Elizabeth and now a music venue), the Thunderbird (once a drive-in) and the Dilworth Theater, which was downtown. But people don't become regulars because of the creative names on the menu -- although I am partial to the Charlotte Douglas airport reference in the club sandwiches called satellite, remote and overflow -- they become regulars because of the food and friendly vibe created by the owner.

While studying business at North Carolina State University in the '80s, Mond worked in Steve and John Balsley's restaurant Arthur's, located in an Ivey's department store in a Raleigh mall. At Arthur's, Mond caught the fever for the restaurant business. He left school and worked full time for the establishment.

Mond returned home to Charlotte and did a short shift at a corporate chain, which he says he "hated, but learned a lot" from. Then, in 1992, he went to work for Phil's Deli, at the time in the Cotswold Mall, and helped Phil open his deli in the Strawberry Hills Shopping Center. But Mond wanted his own place and in the fall of 2004 found his current site at Providence Square Shopping Center.

Providence Square used to be a bustling place with a Harris Teeter, a bank, a Picasso's Pizza and a small interior shopping area with locally owned clothing stores and the only place in town to buy a variety of major national and international publications at the Newsstand International. Recently, the Kosher Mart, now Gleiberman's, relocated to Providence Square as well. But the parking lots that once were crowded are now used by neighborhood kids to play, and the side pond that once had swans now sports visiting Canadian geese.

Opening his restaurant in a place where a number of restaurants have struggled and failed was a concern for Mond, but he noted that he is close to his customer base and has an active catering business.

In the kitchen are two Brazilian cooks who follow Mond's prescribed recipes. Mond is quick to say this is not a kosher restaurant, although some of his items are kosher. The meats are from National Deli, which Mond describes as being "like Hebrew National but without the grocery store recognition." Blintzes are house made, as are the chopped liver and a commanding whitefish salad. Bagels arrive par baked from New York and finished to order. Among the breakfast items are corned beef and eggs, a series of omelets and smoked fish platters.

Mond's chicken salad sandwich on rye is anchored with a steadfast base of generous chunks of white meat. The Philly cheese steak is adequate; however, breakfast items are better. Maple syrup laps at the thickly sliced challah French toast tasting of eggs and cinnamon. Possibly the best breakfast dish in the house, though, is the simple scrambled eggs with smoked salmon and grilled onions. Yet the side of anemic grits is less than sensational.

A newspaper clipping about Mond's father, Izzy, is above the cash register, and his smiling face is on the menu as well. Izzy was a native of Belgium but left as the Nazis invaded. He ended up in New York City where he became a women's accessory rep. Part of his territory was North Carolina and he and his wife eventually decided to move the family here. At first glimpse, you can see that Izzy was a man who, despite life's difficulties and tragedies, had a profound sense of joie d'esprit. His sense of life lived with a distinctive Southern slowness resonates in the restaurant. Prices are inexpensive. Izzy's oy vey (egg with bacon, sausage or ham and two pancakes, waffle or French toast) is $5.49. Deli sandwiches with a side are less than $7. And burgers with a side are $5.25. Dinner specials include meatloaf, Italian spaghetti and roasted half chicken.

Service at Izzy's is personal if less polished. But the feeling of family among staff is palpable and customers seem to be genuinely glad to be there.

Have a restaurant tip, compliment, complaint? Do you know of a restaurant that has opened, closed or should be reviewed? Does your restaurant or shop have news, menu changes, new additions to staff or building, upcoming cuisine or wine events? Note: We need notice of events at least 12 days in advance. Fax information to Eaters' Digest: 704-944-3605, or leave voice mail: 704-522-8334, ext. 136. To contact Tricia via e-mail: tricia.childress@creativeloafing.com.

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