By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Alice Laussade
By City of Ate
By Scott Reitz
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Alice Laussade
Modern lunch is a problematic meal, at best. For a white-collar working person, it's an artificial respite--you're just moving from desk to table. If you really lunch well, really "do" lunch, then that's it--the day is done, too, because lunch will be the end of it. A good lunch renders you unfit for anything to follow, unless you're in love. But if you dutifully try to fit the meal into the so-called "lunch hour," you usually end up having a rushed, unpleasant, and undigestible experience. Nevertheless, there are places that only do lunch, or mostly lunch. There are restaurants, in fact, that survive on lunch--people can't do that. This week, I tried.
Lunch business is usually based on volume--lunch customers are in a hurry, so the tables turn faster, so the restaurant can sell more food. At lunch, slow service does not give the restaurant the dinnertime advantage of allowing the customer more time to run up his bar tab--it just means his iced tea glass will be refilled more often. At the restaurant's mild expense. That means a successful lunch depends, even more than other restaurant meals, on streamlined service. Slow lunchtime service not only frustrates the customers who have to get back to their desks, it impedes the cash flow.
So our first lunch at the unfortunately named Loaf & Ladle was particularly mysterious. Loaf & Ladle has replaced the straightforward-sounding Fairmount Street Bakery with the same concept, less well done.
Open a month now, Loaf & Ladle ostensibly serves breakfast and lunch, but when you ask about it, the staff tends to downplay the breakfast opportunity. Only a row of single-sized cereal boxes gives the morning menu away.
No wonder, if the lunches we ate were any indication of the restaurant's efficiency. We arrived at 11:30 one day, a little early for lunch, but not outrageously so, and we were not the first customers there. Two women were already waiting in vain for their meal before we placed our order with the friendly, if inept, young man behind the quaint, meaning non-functional, cafeteria line. The women had ordered pesto chicken, one of the two specials listed on the blackboard, and had been told the kitchen was still preparing it. Of course, they hadn't been told it was a hot entree--they were under the impression it was a salad and would fill out the trio plate they wanted, since only four of the eight listed salads were available. We ordered the same as-yet-unavailable entree, willing to wait a few minutes, and decided to order the other one, salmon, as well, only to be told that it wasn't ready yet, either. In fact, the same young man confessed, under the pressure of being told we were willing to wait for salmon too, that not only was it not exactly ready, the fish had not yet been delivered. Perhaps it was the look on our faces that prompted him to turn around and erase "salmon" off the blackboard.
We decided to have the tortilla soup (with all the garnishes) instead, and a spinach salad with raspberry vinaigrette, to go with the pesto chicken, which was finally brought out triumphantly from the kitchen. Of course, the "pesto" part of the dish wasn't ready yet--it was still technically just "chicken"--but, whatever. We picked out some rolls (baked on the premises) for a dollar apiece, skipped dessert, since none was available, and carried our scantily laden tray to a table, passing the women who were still mired in a hot-cold dispute with the server. There was a side table loaded with complimentary baskets of (stale) chips, salsa, croutons, bread, pickles, and rolls, a nice touch, but it did make you wonder why you'd just been charged a buck for a seemingly identical roll.
At this point, we were hardly surprised when the tortilla soup turned out to be unpleasantly viscous, like a cornstarch-thickened Chinese broth, or when the raspberry vinaigrette was sweet enough to top a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
What do you do? As we left the charming (really, it is) little house on Fairmount, the owner, obviously just arriving in his apron (From picking up the fish? One hopes.) paused to greet us effusively. "Hello, hello!" he exclaimed, instead of the perhaps more appropriate "Goodbye, goodbye!" "Please come back--wait! I have a rose for the lady!" And he rushed in and out to present me with a lovely pink long-stemmed rose--the perfect peace offering, no matter what the offense, hard for me to resist, but then, not to hold a grudge--stale potato chips, two out of two entrees unavailable...
We returned and the next lunch was slightly better--both blackboard hot entrees were available, though the one we tried, penne with chicken, was not, technically speaking, hot. The tomato basil soup was a puree of fresh tomatoes, a watery sludge with a salty flavor. Mixed greens with balsamic vinegar were exactly that, and the individual margherita pizza garnished with a sprig of mint was delivered to the table after everything else I just mentioned (plus a piece of carrot cake and a chocolate eclair, strangely flecked with something green, both made in house) had been eaten.