Café Mundo • Nye Beach
Restaurant celebrates a decade
of arts, culture and international cuisine
By Niki Price
OREGON COAST TODAY
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Café Mundo’s front gate is tall, wooden and weathered, like the entrance to a secret garden of delights. For lovers of international cuisine, sustainable living and cultural community, that’s exactly what it is, and has been, for the past 10 years.
This restaurant and performing arts venue, on Coast Street in the heart of Newport’s historic Nye Beach district, began as a seasonal food cart surrounded by picnic tables and hay bales. Today, it’s a spacious restaurant complete with an indoor stage and art-filled dining area with outdoor seating. But while Café Mundo has grown, one thing hasn’t changed. Open the gate, and you’ll find a destination that reflects the worldview, and the circle of friends, possessed by owners Laurie and Greg Card.
Café Mundo (in Spanish, “world café”) began to evolve in 1998. Back then, Laurie was working at her own certified home kitchen, making sushi for the Oceana Natural Foods Co-op, while caring for their infant son. Greg, a classically trained dancer, was working as a landscaper for the City of Newport. They decided that together they could manage a bare-bones café and catering business.
The couple bought a 30-year-old camper that had been used for a Rastafarian street café in Portland, and painted over the red, green and black décor. They found an empty lot in Nye Beach and, with the blessing of the landlord, opened for business on July 4.
The 12-foot trailer was small but mighty. In its tight quarters, Laurie learned how to bake bread, roll great quantities of sushi and create a long menu of desserts. Meanwhile, Greg cultivated the outdoor atmosphere. He camouflaged the fence with yards of netting, found objects and donated art, and created an awning with an abandoned, painted satellite dish. He planted the oft-admired Mundo garden, hung light strings and placed woodstoves about the yard to help warm the coastal air. Through the summer, the people came: teenagers, grown-ups, families with children, older couples, all enjoying the long summer days and live local music.
The Cards and their children (one son, plus Laurie’s three daughters) moved to the house next door to the café; they spent their summers running the restaurant and their winters catering. Eventually, with support from the property owners and members of the community, they bought the land that holds both café and home, and broke ground on the restaurant’s first permanent home.
In 2007, Café Mundo moved into a vaulted two-story space with indoor seating for 60 — and the world has noticed. Directed by online input from readers, Oregonian writer Terry Richards came to call last summer as part of his “Tell Terry Where to Go” series. At summer’s end, Richards named Café Mundo one of his top 10 places to visit on the Oregon coast.
The key to their success, said Laurie, is gourmet food you can feel good about: world cuisine made with local ingredients, which contribute to the region’s economy while reducing the café’s carbon footprint.
“It’s healthy to eat what’s in season, and we like using what’s available locally. But it has to taste really good,” said Laurie. “We make fresh, whole, seasonal food, international recipes made from local ingredients. It’s true world fusion cooking.”
The Mundo menu ranges from pan-seared jumbo scallops with roasted red pepper sauce to international grilled cheese, and from red lentil stew to Thai ahi tuna salad. They offer Middle Eastern foods, including a renowned mezze plate, and three kinds of tacos: mesquite grilled fish, marinated tempeh and grilled steak and onions. Dinner specials change weekly to whatever tickles their fancy, from chicken mole to spanakopita. The salads are made with mostly organic, locally grown vegetables with a dressing that might have magical powers.
“Our poppy seed dressing makes kids eat salad. It’s been our dressing for the past 10 years, and teenagers eat bottles of it,” the chef said. “It works, even for adults that normally don’t eat salad.”
Laurie is famous for desserts, especially a creamy, non-baked cheesecake that she transforms with seasonal fruit and rich add-ins. Pineapple-coconut, lemon-vanilla, strawberry coulis, mascarpone peach and toffee are just a few from her cheesecake hall of fame. Fruit crisps and crème brulee are always on the menu, along with short-term delights like German Chocolate Baby Cakes with Cream.
The Cards’ café has become a favorite place for those with special diets, including vegan, dairy-free or gluten free. But they also proudly offer top sirloin steaks, with caramelized onions and compound butter, as well as hamburgers and barbecued ribs, grilled with live fire mesquite. Their beef supplier is McK Ranch, in Dallas, which is not only tasty, but hormone-free and responsibly raised, Greg said.
“We’ve been buying this beef for the last year, and we feel really good about it,” he said. All the animals are grass fed, and the owners compost the manure and spread it out on the fields again. It takes extra effort, but it means that the waste isn’t draining down into the water table.”
“We make our sushi with smoked salmon and teriyaki albacore tuna, and we get our oysters from the cleanest source, Winchester Bay,” said Laurie. “We recycle. We compost. We use passive solar power and cloth napkins. These are new ideas to a lot of people, but it’s the way we’ve always done things because it’s the right thing to do.”
Cuisine is just part of the Café Mundo experience. From Greg’s drawn chalk marquee on the street to the hand-painted tables, beautiful plants and artfully mismatched chairs inside, there’s much to appreciate.
“People are sometimes confused when they walk in, and it’s kind of unconventional, I guess,” Greg said. “It’s pretty simple once you figure it out. I think we have gourmet food in a casual atmosphere. It’s a place you can bring your kids, and they can run around and play while you have a beer.”
Open after 4 p.m. five nights a week (and on Sundays, starting July 20), it’s an all-ages venue that hosts everything from belly dancing and haiku competitions to acoustic music and fire dancing. In August, the in-house Teatro Mundo will present Shakespeare’s “Cymbelline.” Rhythm bluesman and artist Rick Bartow, whose work is found at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian as well as on the walls of Café Mundo, has played Saturday nights there from the beginning.
It’s a community hub, home to open mike nights, political gatherings and weddings. On Friday, July 4, they’ll be hosting their own wingding: a 10th anniversary celebration with their favorite reggae band, Irie Impressions. They invite everyone in their world — friends, neighbors, musicians, fans — to drop by.
“I think it’s a beautiful place,” said Laurie. “It’s like visiting someone’s house, where the people are nice and you can meet new friends. It feels good.”
Cafe Mundo is located at the corner of Northwest Second Court and Coast Street in the Nye Beach area of Newport. They offer a varying menu from 4 to 10 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, and from 4 p.m. to midnight on Friday and Saturday. For details, call 541-574-8134 or visit www.myspace.com/cafemundo.
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