It occurs to me that some background is necessary before getting into the rankings at the Commerce Café. RSA stands for Retirement Systems of Alabama, and it is the state employees pension fund. Its sort of like CalPERS except it isn’t run by complete morons. One of the RSA’s most visible investments, outside of the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail, is a number of office buildings and hotels in downtown Montgomery. If you look at this picture of the skyline, and a building has a green roof, the RSA built it.
Clumped there in the middle are most of the RSA properties
These buildings house government and private offices of all sorts, and while I don’t know how other states have invested their money, this seems like a best practice. It’s an investment in the future of Montgomery, and without the RSA’s investment, there is no way the city would be on its current upward trajectory.
Now, back to the cafeterias. Today I ate at the Commerce Café, the cafeteria on the second floor of the Commerce Tower.
It's always sunny in RSA promotional photos
The Commerce Center was one of the first RSA buildings, and you can see from its architecture that the full RSA style has not yet fully developed.
Each flag represents a country engaged in commerce in Alabama. Not sure what Jamaica is doing in there.
Wait until later this week and you’ll see the more typical “antebellum meets ancient Egypt” style on full display. Now, on to the review
1.) Food Quality – 5 out of 10
Today I ate a canteloupe stuffed with chicken salad, some sweet tea and a cookie.
It's an attractive presentation
The chicken salad wasn’t bad, but it was very one-dimensional. All I could really taste was mayonnaise, chicken and grapes. The salad could have used some more celery and onion, and it wouldn’t have hurt to throw in a dash or two of red wine vinegar and/or hot sauce. It was just a bit flat.
The canteloupe was a bit under-ripe. Also, I probably have Listeria now, totally forgot about that until after I’d eaten about half of it. Oops.
2.) Décor – 5 out of 10
Like many things from the 90s, its hard to imagine why someone thought this building looked good. Think of Julia Louis-Dreyfus in Seinfeld. She is much better looking today than she was in the 90s, and it’s all because she updated her look. The 90s were just bad. If the RSA spent a little bit of money and removed some of the weird carpeting, bad artwork and tile, the place could look alright. There is a great deck, great windows and generally a good flow to the place, but it looks doubly dated because of its 90s style.
A bit dated... and institutional, no?
3.) Friendliness/lack thereof – 9 out of 10
Brunetta is the queen of this cafeteria, and there is no one friendlier. She knows everyone’s name, usually can guess what you want to eat, and serves it all with a smile. The other folks in there are pretty good too, especially the cashiers.
4.) Ambience – 2 out of 10
This place simply does not feel great. It feels dowdy and old rather than sleek or modern. More hospital cafeteria than student union, you don’t feel like you should linger after finishing your meal. Maybe that is the point – if most of the people eating in the cafeteria are government employees, and a branch of the government owns the place, you would think they would want people to get up and go back to work. Never a good idea to give government employees a place where they feel like lingering. Trust me, they will.
5.) Price/Value 3 out of 10
I ordered an ice tea, a stuffed cantaloupe, a cookie and a packet of oyster crackers and ended up spending around $8.00. That seems like a lot to me for fresh fruit and an ice cream scoop worth of chicken salad. Maybe you Yankees in DC and NYC think that is the best deal you’ve ever heard about, but for Montgomery, that is a bit high. I’m interested in seeing if I’ve been eating in the high-rent cafeteria all this time, tomorrow will tell.
6.) Variety 9 out of 10
This is where the Commerce Café shines. Burgers, chicken salad, tuna salad, chicken fingers, chicken enchiladas, pork chops, greens, butter beans, salads, apple pies, cookies, soups, turkey wraps, chicken livers, chicken gizzards, and potato casserole. The offerings at the Commerce Café are as diverse as the clientele. Soul food, meat and potatoes, and salads for the calorie conscious, Commerce Café meets anyone’s lunchtime demands.
7.) Other – 7 out of 10
Celebrity sighting! Morris Dees, founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center was lunching at the Café when I entered this morning. If you aren’t familiar with his work, hit the link.
You probably won’t believe this, but Corbin Bernsen played Dees in Line of Fire, the made for TV movie about Dees’s life. Don’t remember who Corben Bernson is?
Great line from the movie review: “Line of Fire is elaborately produced and hits all the right emotional buttons, but falls short of perfection thanks to stereotypical villains and excessive melodrama.” I have to imagine that if Corbin Bernsen was the star, there was a little bit more than stereotypical villains and excessive melodrama that prevented the movie from achieving perfection. Also, stereotypical redneck villains are the best kind of villains; the New York Times really is elitist.
I’m glad I created this “Other” category for unexpected moments like these.
Not the greatest score for the Commerce Café, but I’ll still probably eat here once a week. Unless of course I’m blown away by tomorrow’s lunch at Plaza Terrace and Grill. We’ll see.