Worth the Drive: Amsterdam Café
A new type of college hangout
By Lori Quiller
If dining in a college town brings to mind burgers, fries and hot wings, then think again. Nestled among the fast food joints and greasy spoons are the hidden gems of quaint cafés serving culinary delights. All you have to do is know where to look.
In Auburn, the place to look is The Amsterdam Café on South Gay Street, just a stone’s throw from the Auburn University campus. It opened in the early 1990s when the college scene consisted of bars featuring great music, some table games and some light bar food. Back then, the Amsterdam Café featured handmade Shulbok game tables and was a cool place to hang out for the college crowd.
When the Cleveland family bought the café in 1998, it was time to shake things up. But a few items from the previous owners simply had to stay.
The walls of the quirky eatery are adorned with paintings in the style of Dutch post-Impressionist master Vincent van Gogh – variations of “Self Portrait” and “Starry Night” – with distinctive twists.
“I love these!” restaurant manager Nick Ciza says, laughing. “Our current owners traveled a lot in Europe, and they have a love of art. They commissioned art students from the university and local artists to make these pieces special, and we get a lot of great comments on them. The van Gogh ‘Self Portrait’ as an Auburn football player is a favorite, but mine is ‘Starry Night’ with Samford Hall. If you aren’t paying attention, though, you’ll miss them.”
Changing the décor was only the beginning. The Amsterdam Café is an eclectic mix of casual hangout by day, upscale dining by night. Once the new décor was in place, which included a renovation of additional space downstairs for special events and a revitalized outdoor patio, the decision was made to renovate the menu and include Sunday brunch.
According to Ciza, loyal patrons had been asking for Sunday brunch for quite some time, and it has turned out to be very popular. With standard brunch offerings such as shrimp and grits, quiches and omelets, Chef Walter Brown makes sure “standard” doesn’t mean “boring.”
One signature brunch item is the smoked brisket hash with diced potatoes, peppers and onions, served with a fried egg and sourdough toast. Brunch is only served on Sundays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and the menu is a perfect complement to the eclectic atmosphere of the café.
Ciza, who began his career with the café in May 2009 as a server and worked his way up to manager, said the family-friendly atmosphere is perhaps one thing that has allowed the café to thrive all these years.
“This is a great place to come, hang out for lunch and even to bring your special someone out for a date,” Ciza says. “And, our food is great. We have a wonderful chef who truly loves what he does, and it shows on every plate that comes out of the kitchen.”
Here’s a tip: Try the lobster egg rolls – chunk lobster with smoked Gouda, zucchini and carrots served with a Sriracha and orange-horseradish dipping sauce. Follow The Amsterdam Café on Facebook for the day’s specials.