For as long as I've lived in Dallas -- off and on for five years now -- I've put off going to the Dream Cafe because the name strikes me as powerfully lame. The whole "eclectic" and "global" shtick sounds like the kind of thing that Ian guy would be into. Plus, it's in Uptown, and it's also the kind of place you bring your kids to. I mean, there's a freaking playground in the yard. Uptown and children are probably the two things in this world that I despise most before noon and after a lot of alcohol.
But Saturday, I was neither hungover nor in a particularly surly state of mind, despite the holiday. I also had recruited two of my favorite Dallas ladyfriends to join me for a meal. Armed with good friends and good cheer, then, we were seated just after 11 a.m. at a warm table on the Dream Cafe's cozy Uptown patio. Our server, who admitted to being hungover thanks to late night celebrating his anniversary (adorbels!) told us he would be drinking vicariously through us. Off to an excellent start, then.
Part of the fun of the Dream Cafe, I learned, is watching other people get their food, which is a good thing considering how long it took our own orders to come out, and a bad thing considering how hungry we were when we sat down. The restaurant's "popovers" are massive, blown-up pastry vessels occasionally filled with egg scrambles, and it's wonderful to watch the faces of fellow patrons as they're delivered their food boats. I watched a scrambled eggs Benedict find its way to the table across from us, and it was all I could do not to run into the kitchen and change my order. Turns out, though, I'm glad I didn't.
The 20-year-old Dream Cafe specializes in brunch and breakfast, which it serves seven days a week. Despite this, our table found the overall meal to be uneven. Will you be surprised if I tell you the drinks were lacking?
My friend M.B. has an aversion to tomato juice -- she expressed it as more of a phobia, actually, which is weird, but whatever, she has a lot of really fabulous qualities too -- and so opted for the mimosa, which came in a filled-to-the-brim wine glass, garnished with a fresh orange slice. Even for a Bloody Mary enthusiast such as myself, it looked delicious. M.B. reported otherwise. She later told me it was "not in the 50th percentile of best mimosas. The ratio seemed off."
On the legally-a-vegetable-but-botanically-a-fruit front, myself and dear friend M.M. ordered Bloody Marys, which came in large pint glasses, garnished with lime and celery. At first sip, bland. Once we stirred up the pepper in the bottom of the glass, things got a little more exciting. Despite this, they seemed watery and insubstantial, and I later learned why. They're made with the Tabasco brand mix, which is by far the worst of all store-bought Bloody mixes. It's easy to make a 'Mary spicy, but difficult to achieve a satisfying thickness. So, if you're not going to use Zing Zang mix, at least opt for Mr. and Mrs. T's, which is thick, if bland, and add in your own pepper. I digress. The Dream Cafe Bloodies were $5.50, which is alright by me considering they came in pint glasses.
The food was more heartening -- and heartier. M.M. ordered the "Way To Condition" meal (the title of which makes me want to die much in the way the name "Dream Cafe" makes me want to die, but anyway...) and found herself tucking into a variety plate of breakfast goodness: steel-cut oatmeal, sliced tomatoes, scrambled egg whites and toast.
M.B. chose the "strap hanger" breakfast, an all-encompassing plate of eggs, hash browns, toast and sausage. But at the end of the meal, while M.M. and I had cleaned our plates or close to it, M.B. was still poking around at a half-eaten portion. "I found my brunch meal to be kinda lackluster," she told me later, though she was willing to attribute her disappointment to a hectic graduate school schedule: "I'd go again, but avoid the strap hanger."
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Something's got into me recently -- maybe the weeks of stomach-packing brunches and Bloodies -- causing me to try to eat healthier than usual. It's weird, and I'm not totally comfortable with it, but it did inspire me to order the "Glorified" omelet, which has a heart next to it on the menu that ostensibly means it's a "smart choice," whatever that is. I figured if they could make something healthy taste good, the Dream Cafe was probably a winner. The kitchen didn't disappoint.
My egg white omelet, filled with Swiss cheese, mushrooms and fresh spinach, was fat and flavorful, and the toast came with a side of something called "strawberry butter," but I think is actually made of kitten purrs, consequence-free sex and hundred dollar bills. Not wanting to appear too health-conscious, I opted for the cheese grits on the side, which were a little pasty and bland. Could have been a mean kitchen trick to get me to eat more of my healthy omelet, I guess?
The food was slow to appear, but I'll give the Dream Cafe a pass because they comp'ed us three buttery sides of Hollandaise. After discussing our collective love of the sauce and lamenting the fact that none of us opted for a Benedict, we asked if we could each have just a little side drizzle of the stuff for our eggs, and voila! It made an excellent alternative dip for the toast too -- convenient, considering I slurped up that strawberry butter something quick.
Allow me, then, to chastise myself for discounting the Dream Cafe before giving it a fighting chance. The prices are great -- most everything's under $10 on the brunch menu -- and the food lovingly prepared. The pleasant atmosphere and understated global vibe makes the place a nice little Austin-style outpost in the middle of Uptown. Ohgawd, understated global vibes and Austin in Uptown? Maybe I'm still asleep.