Unexpected bonus

Cafe 450 has had a long life measured in restaurant years; the restaurant is a bit of vestigial bohemianism dating from the days when Lower Greenville was to Dallas what Deep Ellum is now. Basically a concrete box hung with bad art and populated with young, black-clad young waitresses and with couples languishing seriously in the banquettes, it's not the sort of place I frequent now that I have a marriage instead of a "relationship." The menu aims broadly to encompass the restaurant's hours of operation; Cafe 450 never closes before midnight and is open till 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday. So the menu lists lots of one-dish meals and snack foods, and there are nearly as many cutely named sandwiches as entrees on the dinner menu.

You never know. Sometimes you find one little gem, one great thing about an otherwise run-of-the-mill restaurant, something serendipitous, unexpected, a lagniappe that justifies the meal. For instance, we had a piece of chocolate cake at Cafe 450 that was possibly the best I've had in town (barring, as being in a class by itself, Highland Park Cafeteria's square of devil's food). Cafe 450 doesn't even make this cake, and our overworked waitress had no idea where the kitchen bought it, but this was real American chocolate cake--not liqueur soaked or butter topped, not oversweet and not austerely dry, just cake that tastes the way it looks in commercials. It came as the final bonus to a rather unexpectedly good meal at this little cafe on the tail end of Greenville Avenue.

There was just a single server for the room on a Monday evening, and she was kept busy enough without knowing where every piece of cake in the kitchen came from. She brought us terrible bread--one of those overinflated loaves that could be compressed into about 2 cubic inches of real bread--with the appetizer of roasted garlic, walnuts, and crumbled goat cheese swimming in oil, and a good salad of cool greens in a tart dressing, but it was awhile before she came back to take our entree order. Not a problem, since it takes awhile to discern one everything-but-the-kitchen-sink pasta from another. How to choose: Spinach Fettuccini with shrimp, red pepper, walnuts, purple onion, basil, and Parmesan Cream Sauce; or Penne Pasta with bacon, tomato, purple onion, snow peas, red pepper, mushrooms, black olives, and Spicy Garlic Olive Oil? Would you please repeat the question? Distracted by sauces capitalized as randomly as an Emily Dickinson poem, my attention wanders halfway through reading lists like these, but when I received my Spinach Tortellini with chicken, mushrooms, yellow squash, red pepper strips, and Sun-dried Tomato Pesto, I paid it proper attention. The filled pasta curls were nicely al dente, and the robust and spicy red sauce was clinging in the crevices. Swordfish--finished smartly with tomatillos and peppers--was excellent, too, though it was a special, and it's even more difficult to read those ingredient lists in chalk. Of course, I'm pretty old in restaurant years, too, and that could have something to do with it.

--Mary Brown Malouf

Cafe 450, 1802 Greenville Ave., 826-6229. Open Monday-Wednesday, 11:30 a.m.-midnight; Thursday, 11:30 a.m.-1 a.m.; Friday-Saturday, 11:30 a.m.-2 a.m.; Sunday, 10:30 a.m.-midnight.

Cafe 450:
Roasted Garlic $7.95
Pollo Loco $9.95
Jody's Got Yo Po' Boy and Gone $6.50

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