Picture the quintessential brunch spot. What does it look like? Tucked into the heart of East Dallas' Junius Heights neighborhood, the idyllic Garden Cafe spot fits right in with the surrounding historic homes. Inside, a friendly staff awaits to take customers' orders from the menu written with adoring detail by hand overhead. Out back is the garden and a patio where brunchers can take in their lavender espressos and do a little chicken-watching at the same time. Everything is perfect ... until it isn't.
Before the meal began, Garden Cafe appeared to have it all, from curb appeal to hidden gem status, with just a whiff of casual, farm-to-table gentrification. The menu also suggested that great, albeit simple, things were to come: fresh-egg omelets, biscuits and ham steak smothered in gravy, cheese grits, sweet potato pancakes and house-smoked bacon. Granted, some would call such a menu – particularly one that is served beginning at 7 a.m. — breakfast. But by God, if the patio looks good on Instagram and people are eating hash browns at noon, it's brunch.
Call it brunch or call it breakfast but do not call it perfect. The lavender espresso used locally roasted beans from Oak Cliff Coffee Roasters, but the final product was a sour concoction, unaided by the flotsam from what appeared to be a dusty demitasse cup. The better move is to pull a mug off the wall, Dairy Queen-style, and fill it from the coffee carafe.
A sour espresso isn't enough to spoil brunch; flies, on the other hand, try their best. That chicken, whose Mondrian-inspired coop sits at the end of the garden, is well-mannered and seems content to sit between tables and have its photo taken. Breakfast outside with a chicken is a quaint idea that seems far less appealing once the food arrives and flies swarm.
The upside to dealing with the flies was that they distracted from the fact that the sweet potato pancakes ($7) were undercooked — raw, actually. And what a pity: the periphery of the cakes, which was cooked, proved delicious thanks to a hearty crumb and natural sweetness. The interior was inedible batter.
An omelet ($12) filled with kale, mushrooms, peppers and onion was better, though unremarkable. The interior had a pleasing, slightly runny consistency, what the French refer to as une omelette baveuse. The best part was the cheese grits served to the side. While in need of a shake or two of salt, the grits satisfied with nubby texture bathed in creamy cheddar.
An order of house-smoked bacon, which sets diners back $2 extra compared with the regular commercially prepared bacon, was slightly sweet and quite smoky. Its chewy texture veered toward leathery at the edges, at times giving the mandible a real workout.
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Garden Cafe might have been a great spot to unpack the week with the help of some good pancakes and strong coffee, if it had provided either. Garden Cafe appears to have a following, like the bicyclists who parked their tandems out back and the gentleman who put in his "usual" order. But with memories of batter-filled pancakes and dusty espressos, I won't be joining them.
Garden Cafe, 5310 Junius St. Open 7 a.m.-3 p.m. daily