Everyone who works in downtown Buffalo could use a nearby low-key oasis: a park, a favorite restaurant, a bar.
Mon Ami Cafe & Bakery is that oasis; a little French-themed getaway tucked into the Cathedral Building on Main Street. TBH, it won’t exactly whisk you away to Paris, but the cafe does offer a much-needed respite from the daily grind, a bit of sunlight cleaving through grey skies.
Owner Greg Grigorian told us this stretch of Main Street, between the Main Place Mall and the ballpark, had been crying out for a breakfast-lunch spot that offered sit-down quality food.
“When we were developing this concept and the construction was taking place, we would go (downtown) around 7 a.m. in the morning and there’s really nowhere to get a nice breakfast,” Grigorian told us in a phone interview. “A lot of people that have meetings in the morning have nowhere to go. So, they’re either stuck in their office or they have to go to a coffee shop where they can’t get a meal. Now, we take a lot of orders where people come in and have a breakfast meeting. We even have people do interviews here, over a cup of coffee and an omelet or a crepe.”
Grigorian said he developed the cafe with his business partner Armen Pogosyan, and the concept behind the cafe is an emerging one called ‘fast fine dining’. Guests order their food and pay at a counter, then they take a number and their food is run out to them when it is ready. The cafe also takes call-in orders for nearby offices and workers.
“Our prices are affordable, but at the same time you get that high-end experience,” Grigorian explained. “You feel like you’re in a sit-down restaurant, but you don’t have to tip a server because there is no server. When you order your food, food runners bring it to you. You order at the counter and pay at the counter. We’re just trying to make it as easy and simple as possible for people.”
The food is French-inspired, with a Buffalo twist. For a bit of ooh-la-la, you can get a crepe, a quiche lorraine or a croque monsieur. You can also get standard American eggs-bacon-and-toast breakfast, steel cut oatmeal or a Buffalo quiche — with spicy chicken, bleu cheese and celery.
We tried the Buffalo quiche, for obvious reasons, and found it to be a spicy, tangy and crunchy melange. The tomato basil soup we tried wasn’t the creamed pasta sauce you often get; it was hearty and coarsely-pureed to give it a crunchy texture. Housemade chips were perfectly fried and salted, while the lemon macarons were tangy, spongy, delicious pillows.
The decor at the cafe is stark, but in a good way: It could easily pass as an art gallery. Outside the large bay windows looms the towering St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, offering a strong contrast to the cafe’s ultra-modern feel.
Grigorian said he and his partner Pogosyan have ambitions to make Cafe Mon Ami into a franchise, and if the initial response to their concept is any indication, the partners may have hit onto a winning formula that can be replicated again and again.
“In the first two or three weeks (after opening), people started spreading the word,” Grigorian said, “and all of a sudden we’re super busy. So we’re like, ‘Ok so the word is slowly spreading.’”
298 Main Street, Suite 100, Buffalo, New York 14202
Hours: Monday to Friday 7 a.m. – 3 p.m.