If you're like me, you might have always intended to try out Max's Positive Vibe Café. The restaurant opened six years ago this month, helping people with cognitive and/or physical disabilities to train for food-service jobs. But I haven't been by the south-of-the-river location in Stratford Hills Shopping Center. Then over the summer, Positive Vibe Express opened at the Library of Virginia, offering breakfast, lunch and snack items. Almost half of the small staff is made up of graduates of the culinary training program founded by Garth Larcen, whose son, Max, has muscular dystrophy and is the inspiration behind Positive Vibe (and also its assistant manager).
The highlight was discovering that I could get a cup of locally roasted Blanchard's Coffee. This partnership is consistent with the overall feeling of this small, to-go café, where dessert was a cupcake (shown) from newbie bakery Pearl's Cupcake Shoppe; it was chock-full of freshly grated carrot and golden raisins and piped with a generous swirl of cream-cheese frosting. On a recent midday visit, I opted for a cup of chili and half a sandwich. The chili, with minimal beans, was not too spicy and was substantial enough that it hit the spot on a nippy winter day. Made with lean, hormone-free buffalo, it had a cleaner and sweeter taste than beef. My curried-chicken-salad wrap was loaded with goodies, including dried apricots. I ordered a side of pasta salad tossed in a light vinaigrette and thought it was spectacular — lots of extras, including minced kalamata olives, sun-dried tomatoes, fresh parsley and red onion.
If Positive Vibe's new satellite location is any indication of food quality and customer service, I not only have a new favorite downtown lunch spot, but a really good reason to visit home base.
800 E. Broad St., 692-3808
Prices: Soup $2.50 to $4.50; salads and sandwiches $4.95 to $7.95; box lunches $9.95.
Hours: 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday to Friday; 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday.