Walking into Kickback Pinball Cafe in Central Lawrenceville is like walking into a pinball machine.
A ramp leads into the restaurant and coffee shop, where simple red-and-white tables and stools are set up like bumpers in pinball machines. Exposed brick walls -- a standard feature in Lawrenceville eateries and businesses -- seem almost out of place amid the brightly colored floor and clanging pinball machines.
A gleaming red espresso machine sits behind the long, clean counter. The menu, neatly printed on large chalkboards, consists of lunch fare and coffeehouse staples -- drip coffee, lattes, hot tea.
My husband, Joshua, and I stopped by for a quick lunch and a bit of pinball over the weekend.
Joshua glanced at the menu, announced he would have the grilled cheese, and then inquired about tokens to play pinball.
We ordered $2 worth of tokens; the "almost famous" grilled cheese with sun-dried tomato, cream cheese, mozzarella and Swiss ($6.50); and a caprese sandwich with tomato, mozzarella, pesto aioli and a balsamic reduction ($7.50).
The barista passed a stack of tokens across the counter, and Joshua immediately selected a machine and started playing. The dings and clangs from the pinball machines make conversation a bit challenging, but that's part of this coffee shop's charm.
I asked for an iced tea and was told it wasn't on the menu, but the barista offered to make some for me ($2). I grabbed my tea and Joshua's iced coffee ($2) and sat at a table next to a pinball machine.
"It's your turn," he said.
Despite being horrible with anything involving hand-eye coordination and having no real strategy for playing pinball, I beat my husband twice at a game called "Silver Bullet." Expletives were uttered and he wandered off to play pinball by himself. He selected an Addams Family-themed game.
He exhausted his supply of tokens just as our food arrived. Tomatoes were secondary to cheese on both of our sandwiches, but we didn't mind a bit, and Joshua was pleased with the hefty slabs of mozzarella holding the cream cheese in place.
We enjoyed the meal, but I figured I wouldn't be doing my due diligence as a reviewer if I didn't test the mood at Kickback in the morning as well.
When we stopped by on a weekday morning on our way to work, the pinball machines were silent. I was disappointed to see a small pastry case containing only one sad cookie; I'd hoped for a croissant. We ordered a latte ($2.50) and a mocha ($3.50).
Joshua said his latte was a little too foamy, but my mocha was good -- not too sweet or chalky.
Kickback has been open since May, and while a breakfast menu would be a welcome addition, the cafe already seems at home among other nostalgic spots -- Arsenal Bowling Lanes, Rather Ripped Records and Tender Bar and Kitchen -- in the 4300 block of Butler Street.
Kickback Pinball Cafe is at 4326 Butler St., Lawrenceville; 412-682-3200.
Annie Siebert: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1613. Twitter: @AnnieSiebert.