kale salad at colleen's in university city photo by david kovaluk

Review: Colleen's in University City

Known for indulgent baked goods, Colleen’s is also one of University City’s best-kept lunch secrets. The cafe has a loyal following of locals who came for the coffee and sugary stuff, but lingered for scratch-made soups, inventive salads and simple but delicious sandwiches. Crystal chandeliers, a long marble-topped bar and a plush tufted couch set an elegant coffeehouse vibe, but there isn’t a hint of pretension from the attentive staff. Here’s what to order at the counter.

bowl of green // photo by david kovaluk

1. Bowl Of Green
It doesn’t look green, but this Denver-style bowl is packed with green chilies. It has a light and smooth consistency and a lovely flavor akin to zesty tortilla soup. A pork shoulder is slow-cooked six hours before coming together with spicy Anaheim chilies, tomatoes, fresh garlic and cilantro. The savory concoction has a pleasant kick offset by the accompanying flour tortilla – ideal for sopping up every last bite.

caprese sandwich // photo by david kovaluk

2. Caprese Sandwich
Made with thick heirloom tomato slices and silky, smooth buffalo mozzarella, this sandwich manages to be crispy and moist all at once. While not a panini in the strictest sense (it’s toasted in butter on a flattop, not pressed), Colleen’s version is a fabulously gooey mess of cheese and garden-fresh flavors. It utilizes crusty slices of Fazio’s Bakery sourdough and a creamy, garlicky house-made pesto and eats like a folded slice of insanely good Margherita pizza.

colleen's in university city // photo by david kovaluk

3. Kale Salad
The rare trademark of a great salad is the perfect dressing-to-vegetable ratio. This hits that mark with an understated drizzle of zesty lemon-shallot vinaigrette that clings to crunchy shaved kale and roasted Brussels sprouts. The salad is finished with salty, delicate pecorino and a healthy sprinkle of oven-crisped prosciutto for a savory undercurrent.

turkey avocado blt // photo by david kovaluk

4. Turkey Avocado BLT
Generously thick cuts of roasted turkey are as juicy and succulent as Thanksgiving leftovers. Hearty slices of crunchy, smoked Daily’s Premium Meats bacon are tucked under the tasty bird, along with juicy heirloom tomato, generous avocado slices and a slathering of roasted garlic mayo for a double wallop of creaminess. Fazio’s ciabatta, warm and soft on the inside and crisped on a flattop grill, is the perfect delivery vehicle for this satisfying sandwich. 

The Downside
There were a handful of disappointments, including the Colombiano – a braised beef sandwich that made promises of espresso-rubbed greatness. While tender and moist, the meat lacked flavor and was easily overwhelmed by dominant roasted red peppers. 

Instead of the Buffalo cauliflower (a side dish of perfectly good roasted cauliflower that was smothered to death by hot sauce and ranch dressing), opt instead for the mixed greens side, which featured a zingy sweet onion vinaigrette with subtle hits of poppy seeds and Dijon.

Matt Berkley is a longtime contributor and critic for Sauce Magazine.