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Dining review: Eclectic Three Cats delights

Molly Abraham
The Detroit News

The vintage Clawson Theatre marquee still marks the facade, but what’s going on inside the revamped movie palace is not what that seems to indicate. Yes, there’s an old black-and-white film playing silently on a screen at the back of the room, as a sort of tribute to the building’s origin, but the aroma of fresh coffee, long-simmered soup and creative lunch dishes is in the air rather than popcorn.

Three Cats Cafe is the source. It’s a small kitchen and a counter just inside the entrance where lunchers order from the menu posted on the wall, and it is part of the store called the Show at Leon & Lulu.

Leon & Lulu — separated from the theater by a parking lot — came first. It was carved out of an old roller rink to house a lifestyle store. Then, when the theater went on the auction block, L & L owners Mary Liz Curtin and Stephen Scannell decided to revamp it, as well. They opened the Show in October with its stock of Michigan products, vintage items, a framing department and a wall of distinctive greeting cards, and added Three Cats Café in December of last year.

It’s a winner.

Yvonne Belletini runs the kitchen, in her first restaurant job after years as an avid home cook, and she is relishing the experience.

The menu changes every day and it is not a standard one. Even the grilled cheese sandwich — listed as “Not your mama’s grilled cheese” — has individual touches, on rustic bread with three cheeses, including a touch of Brie.

Soups range from dill pickle and sweet potato chipotle to French onion and what Belletini calls family heirloom black bean, and they are served in tea cups.

Sandwiches and salads arrive on vintage china. The menu, based as much as possible on local products, changes daily and is refreshingly one of a kind, as befits the Leon & Lulu philosophy, and the portions are a little larger than small plates.

Typical dishes include “flights” of sandwiches, like the combination of tuna, chicken and egg salad, and salads might be smoked salmon on mixed greens or poached pear, baby spinach and mandarin orange, all from pristinely fresh ingredients.

Originally, the cafe had just four tables, but the number has more than tripled and there are now seating arrangements that include perches in the window looking out on 14 Mile Road and several tables interspersed with the merchandise in the store.

Actually, the entire space is available for seating. Patrons may sit on any of the furniture while enjoying lunch. No worries if a little salad dressing or a splash of coffee falls on the merchandise. It’s all stain-protected and fair game, the proprietors say.

The cafe includes two baristas who preside over a range of coffee drinks that include affogato (espresso, ice cream and a drizzle of chocolate), which is sometimes one of the desserts on the day’s menu.

Belletini doesn’t want to take credit for the cafe. She firmly believes “It takes a village.” And in that spirit, the tips are shared.

Those who appreciate the offbeat will enjoy this one-of-a-kind cafe.

Three Cats Café

at the Show

116 W. 14 Mile Road, Clawson

Call: (248) 629-6499


Hours: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. for coffee, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. lunch menu daily.

Prices: Soups $3.50-$5, sandwiches $6.50-$8, salads $6.50-$8.50, desserts $3-$5.

Credit cards: All major

Liquor: No

Noise level: Low

Parking: Attached lot

Wheelchair access: No barriers

What the ratings mean

★ — routine ★★ — good ★★ 1/2 — very good ★★★ — excellent ★★★★ — outstanding