"This place is good!" gushed a sweetly smiling diner at a table of what might be called "ladies who lunch." The coffee-shop-casual, comfy-enough restaurant inspiring her thumbs-up judgment was the just-opened Passport Cafe, a single room/counter ordering operation with big windows and small prices.

"This place is good!" gushed a sweetly smiling diner at a table of what might be called "ladies who lunch." The coffee-shop-casual, comfy-enough restaurant inspiring her thumbs-up judgment was the just-opened Passport Cafe, a single room/counter ordering operation with big windows and small prices.

After munching through a sampling of Passport's limited inaugural menu, and factoring in Passport's fast-food-rivaling prices (plus its endearingly friendly and infectiously enthusiastic service), I'd agree with the smiling lady's assessment.

Positioned on a restaurant-deprived stretch of Riverside Drive in the Grandview Heights/Marble Cliff area, Passport Cafe's apparent ambition is to provide impressively quick and cheap lunches with some fresh and homemade touches. That might sound modest, but Passport generally succeeds with its full flavors and high speeds, whereas so many others fail miserably.

If the Jamaican Pepperpot soup du jour ($2.50) is offered - and you like spinach - get it. It's zesty, thick with leaves, full-bodied (but not heavy) and emblematic of Passport's enticing Caribbean leanings (an owner/cook here has a strong Jamaican background).

From the same sultry island category came the big, satisfying and spicy empanada-like Jamaican Beef Patty ($2.50). Underneath a flaky and crackly pastry shell was picadillo/taco-ish seasoned stewy/ground beef. You could call it a zingy small meal or sharable snack - either way it's alluringly cheap.

Ditto for the Jerk Chicken sandwich ($6.25), a Passport highlight. A giant, boneless, skinless and grill-marked breast piece was glazed in a fruity, salty and seriously spicy habanero-fueled jerk sauce. The meat was treated to a nice and puffy toasted bun with the full monty of fixins plus a welcome - and cooling - pesto mayo.

The Johnny Burger ($6.25) arrived identically dressed (i.e. handsomely). Ol' Johnny turned out to be pretty damn good too - a handmade, juicy and nicely crusted big-boy flecked (kinda kefta-like) with parsley.

The best deal here is to "make it a combo," where for only $1.25 extra, you can add a bottomless soda plus one of Passport's fine sides to your sandwich order. I especially liked the Caribbean slaw (fresh, crunchy, lightly mayo-ed, brightened by cilantro and scallion), and the unusual, hot-and-cool Tandoori Cucumbers (chilled and tossed with a perky, Indian-ish chili powdered "vinaigrette"), but french fry fanatics should also be sated with Passport's seasoned, crispy but not greasy (if not homemade) version.

Photo by Jodi Miller