Opened in November 2011, and nestled up against the hillside in Alameda Del Prado, Novato Café offers hearty and healthy classic Californian dishes that are very reasonably priced and made only with fresh ingredients.
Brazil born Marx Charles Passos is the owner, head chef and heart of Novato Café. He brings not only 20 years of cooking experience, but a real passion for food, and a love of feeding people. Beginning in the early nineties in basic food prep at the Marin Country Club, Marx worked his way up the ranks while improving his English by enrolling in classes at the College of Marin. His proudest accomplishment of his early cooking career came in 1994 when he reconnected with his roots and was honored with the role of head chef for the Brazilian National Soccer Team while they were in the Bay Area for the World Cup. For ten weeks he cooked six meals a day for the entire 45 person team and crew. Years of long hours, hard work and dedication, gave Marx the skill and the desire to start a catering company, which he did in 2004 with much success. And when the opportunity arose in autumn of 2011, Marx took a leap of faith, called upon the help of niece Lucianna and her husband Vince, and opened his very own Novato Café.
It is this family trio, Marx, Lucianna and Vince that makes Novato Café so unique, so approachable and so enjoyable. Upon walking through the unassuming swinging front door, customers are sure to be greeted by Lucianna’s genuine hello and Vince’s infectious smile. The young couple fills the café with an irresistible sense of family and conviviality.
And then of course, there is the culinary inspiration of Chef Marx, whose enormous dishes are directly proportional to his love for creating and sharing quality food. He shows the utmost integrity when it comes to making good meals. Influenced by Portuguese and Italian style cooking, Marx is a proponent of simplicity. “Food,” he says “should not be complicated.” A peek into his kitchen, which would surely be greeted with a big smile and handshake from the chef, would reveal that all the dishes are made to order. “I’m definitely not a fast food guy,” Marx says. He proudly proclaims to be committed to three simple rules of culinary creation: Fresh Ingredients. Big Portions. Fair Prices. And Novato Café gloriously delivers on all three of these. The dishes are notoriously large, the prices are unbelievably low, and Marx himself insists on produce delivery six day a week.
It is Marx’s love for this free style of cooking, and for feeding friends, family and newcomers alike, that has kept him rooted to Northern California. Though his stint with the Brazilian National Soccer Team gave him a taste of the celebrity chef life Marx puts it simply “I wanted to be in Marin County. And especially in my little Novato.”
The simple and pleasing décor, designed by Lucianna herself, is comfortable, unpretentious and modern. The same can be said of the menu, which (with the addition of a few classic Brazilian dishes) faithfully includes all the American staples – big burgers, BLTs, Eggs Benedict. So what is it that makes us pick one restaurant over another? When we find a spot that we like, what is it that draws us in and compels us to return over and over? Well I there is the obvious answer. The food of course. Good food is an unquestionably important aspect of the dining experience. And in this era of ever-proliferating fast-food chains, cookie-cutter coffee shops, and microwavable meals, it seems increasingly difficult to find a good meal, made with real ingredients, on real equipment, by real people.
But there something unique about Novato Café. Aside from the delectable dishes of course, which really speak for themselves. There is a nearly imperceptible energy that permeates the place, reminiscent perhaps of that funky old diner you used to frequent as a child, or of that little mom n’ pop staple down the street from where you once lived. It is a certain charisma, found in so few places, fueled by the comforting clatter of dishes in the kitchen, the amiable shouts from chef to cook to waiter, the chatter of “the regulars”, ordering “the usual”, sitting at “their” tables, all delighting in easy conversation and a shared meal. There is an undeniable and inexplicable feeling that Novato Café has been here for a long time, and is here to stay.
By: Jen Listug
Marin Scope Newspaper Review on Novato Café, Check it out: