Par Avion has been a beloved gourmet mecca from the days of its old north location on Oro Blanco Drive. The opening of the Par Avion Caf this spring provided yet another facet to the new store at the Broadmoor Towne Center, where the grocery was compacted and the middle of the building converted to a dining area.
The menu is simple: Given over mainly to sandwiches and salads, it's friendly lunchtime fare that, while diverse, doesn't require a great deal of cooking. This isn't a bad thing, necessarily. The caf offers good food fairly quickly, the uptown version of your neighborhood deli, with Serrano instead of cold cuts and pesto instead of Miracle Whip.
The massive Orchard Salad ($5.99) is a pretty safe bet. With field greens, Anjou pear, candied walnuts, Stilton and a spiced apple dressing, what's not to like? The dressing is hugely pungent, slightly sweet and intricately spiced. And the croutons -- homemade, as the menu says -- are transcendent, big ovoid chunks, liberally seasoned and flat-out glorious.
Par Avion offers a few soups daily. Both the lentil vegetable and the jerk soup are perfectly serviceable, the first competently rendered and its stock flavorful. The jerk could use a bit more spice, but it's nicely textured, with generous portions of chicken, rice and vegetables.
Most of the menu, however, is comprised of sandwiches. The Modena ($5.99), a "true Italian" sandwich, is done up with actual Bolognese bologna -- called mortadella -- dry salami and a Parmesan spread. The meat, typical of Par Avion, is fantastic; the soft and mild mortadella works well with the relative spice of the salami.
The Parma mozzarella sandwich ($6.99) -- thin-cut Parma ham, basil, tomato and slabs of fresh mozzarella, also with Parmesan spread -- is the equivalent of what my wife eats every day for lunch, so I wasn't surprised that she enjoyed it.
Even in the heat, a hot panini-style concoction of thick-cut maple roasted ham, avocado and French Brie, on grilled focaccia slathered with an agreeably sharp honey Dijon dressing ($7.99), is their best sandwich by far. Hello, salty goodness.
Each sandwich comes with a choice of side dish: red potato salad, tabouleh, or pineapple coleslaw. Most potato salads cause my late grandmother to spin noisily in her grave, but she would be proud of Par Avion's. The potatoes are beautifully done, firm but not undercooked, tender without being mealy.
Without exception, each sandwich contains great, lovingly prepared rations of meat. Par Avion would do well to pay as much attention to their corollary ingredients.
While the meat is primarily what you pay for, the bread is unexciting and the tomato, while undeniably fresh, falls a bit flat. The lettuce is more of an aesthetic addition than a true ingredient. I'd pay a couple bucks more for a crusty boul or squishy, buttery brioche, baby spinach or frise, and some of that amazing cheese that takes up so much of the store.
Despite my bread whining, Par Avion Caf's menu is a nice addition to the store -- and to the area, known more for its Noodles and Wing Stop than, say, Reblochon. With a nod to their truly well-informed staff, here's hoping they thrive.
-- Aaron Retka
Par Avion Finer Foods Emporium
1872 Southgate Road, 636-2328
Hours: Monday-Friday, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.