Xenia’s Tables Of Contents Café begins
a new chapter

The day’s special was Cajun chicken and Rice with green salad, but the entire menu changes from day to day.

By Paula Johnson

It’s Still On The Table

I really hate it when I have to change things up right in the middle of something. The original title for my review of Tables Of Contents Cafe, located inside Xenia’s Blue Jacket Bookstore, was “Sandwiches And Salinger.” Pretty good, right? Then I talked about a book about unusual bookshops, and how Tables Of Contents and Blue Jacket should be included. And now I don’t get to say any of that because the book selling part of the operation is no longer. Plans to sell off the bulk of the inventory are underway, but, food lovers need not despair. Tables Of Contents is not just remaining, but is looking to expand. And, books will still be involved. But first, my review:

Owned by Lawrence Hammar and wife Cassandra Lee, who is also part of the culinary team along with James Luckett, the business has been open in its current location since 2013. The focus is organic and fresh with a menu that changes daily, featuring what’s locally available. Everything is made in house, including the breads for sandwiches, desserts, and dressings. I had long heard about this place, and finally made a lunch visit with a book-loving friend. We found an array of tables in the book-lined room, many already filled, and selected one in the corner. We were immediately and warmly greeted, and presented with a daily menu sheet outlining the day’s offerings. It’s a small operation, and the menu reflects that. The day’s menu was limited to a few grilled sandwiches, a salad plate, two soups, a dessert, and a daily special. Though the menu was limited, what we ate and drank speaks to doing a few things, but doing them very well.

Literary Libation

“We’ve got a special drink today. We made some last week when the weather got a little warmer and people keep asking for it even though it’s gotten cold again” our server, who turned out to be co-owner Lawrence Hammar, told us. “Ever try switchel?” he asked. We hadn’t, so he went on to explain that switchel is a drink made of water mixed with apple cider vinegar, fresh ginger, honey, and club soda. (Think colonial soda pop, quite possibly the Founding Fathers’ drink of choice.) It was delicious (and I am NOT a pop drinker) – refreshing and slightly zingy with ginger, and most definitely not excessively sweet with just the slightest touch of honey.

Because I am a book nerd and can’t help myself, here are a few literary mentions of switchel: “I will give a traveler a cup of switchel, if he want it; but am I bound to supply him with a sweet taste?” a line from Herman Melville, and from Laura Ingalls Wilder “Ma had sent them ginger-water. She had sweetened the cool well-water with sugar, flavored it with vinegar, and put in plenty of ginger to warm their stomachs so they could drink till they were not thirsty. Ginger-water would not make them sick, as plain cold water would when they were so hot.”

We sipped our switchel and made our lunch choices. selecting the daily special, a Cajun chicken and rice dish with smoked sausage served with a green salad ($9.50), a half salad plate (We were warned about the size of the plate, even the small version) ($7.25), and the Tuna Melt with Tillamook cheddar on a wonderful fresh baked dill bread ($8.75). We added a cup of creamy tomato soup. The special was homey and homemade tasting, with large hunks of chicken and smokey sausage, the vinegary green salad a good foil. The salad plate was a riotous festival of colors, textures, and flavors, including deviled egg, greens, sweet potato quinoa, matchstick carrots, lentils with walnuts, pasta salad, shredded beets with apple and ginger, and a kale Caesar mixture. Not your average tuna melt to be sure was the sandwich. The grilled dill bread and gooey cheddar with the herby tomato soup made for one satisfying combination on a cold day. Everything we tasted was excellent – well prepared, made with high quality ingredients.

The Sweet Hereafter

We finished with a blood orange chocolate cake with whipped cream ($6.50), dense and more than moist – almost the texture of a tres leches cake, deeply chocolatey and just barely sweet. A generous dollop of mild whipped cream was a perfect sweetening enhancement, softening the slight bitterness of the chocolate.

The Next Chapter

So what will happen now that the bookstore is closing? “Cafe hours will start at 11 instead of 10, but we are excited to say that things are going to continue as they have been. We are going to remodel and open the space up to showcase local art, and we of course will still have books in the space, though on a much smaller scale,” says co-owner Cassandra Lee. She reflected on the way the business has grown organically through the years. “We started this business not having a regular set menu, and I really love that freedom to change – to switch it up. I don’t want to do the same thing every day. Our plans for the future are to consider doing dinners and adding wine. I’m playing with the idea of doing things like a Tamale Week, with a different one every day. If we were a regular restaurant we couldn’t do that,” she says. I am glad they aren’t a “regular restaurant,” as Lee puts it. I look forward to the continued surprises she dreams up as the story of Tables Of Contents unfolds.

Tables Of Contents Café is at 30 S. Detroit St. in downtown Xenia. For more information, call 937-376-3522, or find them on Facebook at https://tinyurl.com/TablesOfContents.

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Paula Johnson
Dayton City Paper Dining Critic Paula Johnson would like every meal to start with a champagne cocktail and end with chocolate soufflé. As long as there’s a greasy burger and fries somewhere in the middle. Talk food with Paula at PaulaJohnson@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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