Caffe 608, the cafe/coffee shop attached to the Sundance Cinema, seemed like a weird empty space when I was looking at it while standing in line for a movie shortly after the art-plex first opened.
But as someone who has been known to whine about the awkwardness of movie run times w/r/t my preferred dinnertime (too early to eat before, too late to eat after), the logic of grabbing something to eat on the way in or out of the movie did begin to make sense to me.
Caffe 608, which anchors the southern end of the constantly evolving Hilldale Mall, is more than just a theater lobby -- it's open long before the movies start showing, from 9 a.m. on.
The Caffe serves San Francisco-based Peet's coffee, Clasen's baked goods from Middleton, sandwiches, panini, salads and one homemade soup of the day. Amid several folks working on laptops, I sat on a massive distressed leather sofa, which is hugely deep -- if I'd sat all the way back in it my legs would have stuck out in the air like a toddler's -- and perused a copy of Variety (learning that the debut of HBO's headliner series for fall, Tell Me You Love Me, garnered a very poor audience share). Other dailies including the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel are also available.
The salads -- Garden, Derby Cobb, Chinese Chicken, and Caesar -- are large ($6-$9). The Garden, at $6, was based on plenty of fresh greens including lots of radicchio, and it also boasted prodigious portions of shredded carrots, young broccoli, Portobello mushrooms, and both red and orange cherry tomatoes. The small containers of dressing (diners can pick from many available) would cover only about half the salad -- I, who tend to use dressing sparingly, ended up using two. (The Caesar is without much taste; the bleu cheese is quite good.)
I wish that the salads were available at half the size for $3, since salad leftovers are not really something you want to take with you. That aside, I would say that Sundance salads are a good use of your salad dollar.
Steeper prices, though satisfactory taste, from the sandwiches ($8) -- with a choice of turkey, beef, ham, or chicken salad, and panini ($7/$8) with pesto chicken, Cuban, roast veggie, pomodoro, three cheese, and muffaletta. The more interesting combos are on the panini menu; the cold sandwiches are standard lunch fare. Breakfast sandwiches, served until 11 a.m. I believe, come in an assortment of combos: (bacon, egg and cheese; sausage egg and cheese; ham, egg and cheese; tomato, egg and cheese; egg and cheese; or tomato and cheese; all $5.50). A bowl of the homemade soup of the day is $6.
A dense dark chocolate-chocolate chunk cookie and a cup of the Peet's coffee make a good wake-up call if you're feeling a little drowsy on your way in to a film, but as desserts go the cookie was an onslaught of chocolate -- not subtle. The Peet's brew tastes similar to the cups found at a major global coffee chain; that is, better than coffee used to be; not as good as it can be.
Movie popcorn (starting at $3) can also be had -- but no Jujubes.