Now Served at Café à la C’Art: Dinner!

August 1, 2012

By Teya Vitu

Dinner is served at Café à la C’Art, 150 N. Main Ave.

A power lunch in the Alice Roder Room at Cafe a la C’Art.

Mother-and-son owners Judy Michelet and Mark Jorbin have wanted to say those words for a good 10 years.

And now they do, from 5 to 9 p.m. Thursday to Sunday with Wednesday likely added in September.

Dinner service started June 28.

Long just a week-day lunch favorite in its French café setting on the grounds of the Tucson Museum of Art, Café à la C’Art in the past year or two expanded into one room of the historic Hiram Stevens House and added breakfast in early 2011.

More recently, Michelet and Jorbin have taken over the entire 1865 Stevens House to fill the same space once made famous when Janos Wilder served up his Southwest delicacies here in the 1990s.

Breakfast and lunch are now seven days a week from 7 to 10:30 a.m. Monday to Friday and from 8 to 11:30 a.m. Saturday and Sunday for breakfast, and from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. for lunch every day, extended to 3 p.m. starting in September.

“Very quickly we found out that weekends was our busiest breakfast,” Jorbin said. “It’s been exciting. We’re constantly evolving and shifting. It’s exciting to see the response from businesses and neighborhoods around us.”

If you like the Café à la C’Art lunch, you’ll like dinner, too. It’s the same menu – plus four added dinner entrées and four added appetizers.

Cafe a la C’Art co-owner Mark Jorbin takes a break in the Green Room.

Don’t think you can have “the usual” off the dinner entrées menu. Jorbin plans to change the dinner entrées every week and the appetizers every month.

One recent dinner entrée was pan roasted sea bass with crawfish and herbed cheese stuffing, tomato vinaigrette, shiitake risotto and seasonal vegetables.

Dinner also comes with a new wine and beer license.

“I’ll tell you, the beer and wine sales are very good. Lunch, too,” Jorbin said.

Café à la C’Art has matured into three restaurants in one. There’s the original white-and-windows French café space.

Through the interior doorways, though, you enter into a whole different world: a series of 19th century rooms with original wood floors, 14-foot ceiling with their original wood vigas and saguaro ribs.

Each room has a name: Board, Green, Snake, Butterfly, and Alice Roder, named for the artist whose art fills that room and who also painted the art on all the doorways. The rooms are named after the color, function, or art from local artists (and one room with prints from the Tucson Museum of Art).

These rooms just evoke a more hushed tone. Two rooms have seats built into the windows. Three rooms have chimneys.

“To me, the main dining room with the big windows has a French café look to it,” Jorbin said while in the Green Room. “These are more historic, rustic Tucson. The main dining room is more noisy and has more activity. These are quieter.”

Café à la C’Art also has its patio dining for those who don’t mind the warmth or the couple months of briskness.

“Guests can pick and choose to sit wherever they want,” he said.

These rooms in no way remind you of the strip mall.

“That is more of a sterile environment,” Jorbin said. “This is more like a home. It gives things more a feeling of comfort. You feel like you’re part of Tucson’s past.”

Jorbin took the “home” aspect quite to heart. Take a look at the chairs. Maybe you’ll find some that match. Likely you won’t.

“I collected chairs for three or four months from swap meets and friends houses,” Jorbin said.

Jorbin threads quite the small needle hole to characterize the evolved Café à la C’Art.

“We want it to be a more refined experience but I don’t ever foresee us becoming fine dining,” he said. “We do classic American with a heavy emphasis on Southwestern ingredients. One of my favorites is the achiote pork sandwich.”

(Achiote pork: slow roasted pork topped with avocado, melted pepperjack and crispy onions on toasted focaccia).

Michelet and Jorbin opened Café à la C’Art in 1998 after starting a catering business earlier in the 1990s. Much of that catering was to TMA, which owns the space occupied by the café. They never saw themselves as a lunch-only place.

“We needed the space 10 years ago,” Michelet said. “This has just opened up so many more opportunities.”

One power lunch with prominent Arizona Board of Regents, University of Arizona and Downtown lawyer figures recently filled a table in the Alice Roder Room. Neighborhood associations and other boards like the long and narrow Board Room.

“We had Sandra Day O’Connor the other week,” Jorbin said. “We’ve booked events and we’re able to handle rehearsal dinners and showers.”

Before opening all the Stevens House rooms, the café could seat about 50 inside and another 50 outside.

“We picked up about another 100 seats inside, and we’re filling up,” Jorbin said.

Three years ago, the café had 10 full-time and three or four part-time employees. Now the count is up to 16 full-time and another 15 part-time.