The Spot Café
385 Main Street
Watertown, MA 617-923-2339
Tues - Sun 7 AM - 3 PM
“Breakfast and Lunch, All Day”
Breakfast $4.95 - $7.95. Lunch $5.95 - $7.95, Lunch Special 1/2 sandwich, cup of soup $7.25, Soups, Muffins, and Crumbcakes all made from scratch
Whether a mom and pop operation, a one-man/woman show, or a whole family, there’s something special about an owner operated business. Teeny little Watertown, weighing in at just 4.2 square miles and 32.000 people, is a hotbed of familial entrepreneurship.This is the first story in this series.
Marco Hanna, baseball cap perched on his head, is likely to pop out of the Spot Café’s kitchen anytime what’s on the grill can sizzle for a few minutes without his direct attention. His co-owner wife Suzan is in front, taking orders behind the café’s counter or circulating the tables in the jewel-box sized eatery.
When he strolls out, wiping his hands on his apron and says, “How did you like the food?” he means it. The man’s wide smile says it all. He loves what he does and he wants to be sure you approve of what comes out of his kitchen.
The trail leading to the hot grill in the Spot Café’s kitchen started in Egypt. But if the food wasn’t good, there wouldn’t be a story so let’s start with breakfast.
Eggs, Pancakes, Waffles, and French Toast - all good choices here. The omelets are generously proportioned. Many of the egg dishes come with gently seasoned, well cooked home fries and choice of bacon, ham, or sausage. The bacon is crisply pressed and non-greasy. The three egg Tomato and Feta Omelet Breakfast is a tangy treat.
Want to eat and run? Try the Breakfast Omelet Sandwich (egg and cheese sandwich with choice of ham, bacon, or sausage served on breakfast roll, bagel, croissant, or toast) or the Breakfast Quickie (Swiss cheese and pastrami on your choice of bread). And if you’re with your non meat-eating aunt, there’s the Veggie Omelet.
Got an appetite, do you? The pancakes of the Pancake Breakfast are the size of the plate and come with ham, bacon, or sausage and home fries. The Belgian Waffles have some crunch on the outside and softness inside. If you’re in the mood for Buttermilk Pancakes, fire away.
Half a dozen salad plates are on the lunch menu but the best deal is the soup and half sandwich, the sandwiches ranging from turkey, prosciutto, pastrami, tuna salad, steak and cheese, and mozzarella. What lifts them out of mundane are the roasted red peppers, or baby greens, or fresh basil, or Dijon mustard, or other tasty ingredients.
A look into the pastry case is dangerous. Suzan, who earned a B.A. degree in Art at Cairo University, creates edible beauty in the oven. She makes all the muffins, and, oh yes, three kinds of crumb cake, from scratch. The apple version I tried was covered with a warm layer of light-as-a-cloud whipped cream. The raspberry and blueberry cakes will have to wait till next time.
The bread here is magnifique and requires its own paragraph. Shipped from Au Pain Doré, an exclusive artisanal bakery in Montreal, the dough arrives frozen. The scrumptious bread loafs and baguettes and even the croissants are baked on the premises using doughs from Au Pain Doré.
The Spot Café has an owner/operator pedigree. The Hanna’s bought the restaurant three years ago from the original owner, who had done a splendid job of designing the interior, choosing the furnishings, the art work hanging on the walls, the terrific paint scheme, and finding Au Pain Doré. The closely clustered ten-table, twenty seat café has the feel of the Left Bank.
And the feel of an American Dream that spanned three continents. Teenager Marco headed across the Mediterranean from Egypt to Zurich in 1974 and found work as a dishwasher. His culinary fate may have been sealed when the owner one day asked if he wanted to work in the kitchen. He hasn’t been far from a kitchen ever since.
“There aren’t many things in life you can add to,” Marco says. “ l like to break recipes and with food, you can add something and see the results right away. If you write a book, you have to wait to see how many are sold. With food, you can make your own recipe and see right away on the face of your customer whether you succeeded or not.”
Marco leveraged his 1977 degree in Business Administration from Cairo University to open his first restaurant, a pizzeria in Rome in 1982. In 1990 (“right after the world cup,” he recalled), Marco returned to Egypt to be the camp superintendent for a construction company building a tunnel under the Suez Canal. From 1991 to 1997, he was in charge of the food operation feeding about 60 of the firm's ex-patriots. Imagine the creativity he needed to satisfy the palates of men and women from at least seven countries.
Married in Egypt in 1992, Marco and Suzan gathered their two children and emigrated to America on December 12, 1998.
These days, when Marco isn’t working nights as a cook at Boston College, he’s listening to classical music in the tiny kitchen and making sure he connects with the customers. The good comfort food makes a difference but so does the attention of the two owners, living the American Dream by satisfying the appetites the diners who find their way to this cozy little place on Main Street, USA.
Photos by Paul Tamburello