It is getting harder and harder not to eat brunch at a Lombardi family restaurant in this town. First, there was Penne Pomodoro. Then there was Cibus. Now, there is Toulouse, the French cafe and bar that borders the Katy Trail crossing on Knox Street. I contend that their series of pseudo-high priced, pseudo-high end specialty restaurants -- and that's what these are, Italian, French, and what-have-you -- make the Lombardis Dallas' finest proprietors of home-grown casual dining.
No doubt this will ruffle a few Olive Garden-hater feathers out there.
Hear me out. I know these all seem like kinda classy places, and certainly they're priced to keep out the riff-raff, but really, each of these restaurants does little more than offer a slightly different ethnic take on an omelet or flavored French toast. I'm not saying it's bad. I'll eat at a Pappasito's or a Pappadeaux any day of the week. I think casual dining gets a bad rap. But let's quit pretending these places are fancy and give the Lombardi family big-ups for fooling us all into thinking we aren't really just eating at themed chain restaurants when we patronize their establishments.
Viewing Toulouse thusly will help us accomplish two things: first, we can lower our expectations; second, we can understand why people wear sweatpants to this place for brunch. Crappy service becomes OK service, greasy potatoes become "flavorful" potatoes. But $118 sweat pants are still sweat pants, y'all. And at a casual dining-in-denial joint, that's cool.
Here's what else is cool: Toulouse's excellent Bloody Marys and French toast. You didn't think I was going to spend the whole blog post crapping on the place, did you? No way. This place's brunch is legit.
It took things several minutes to get rolling once we found a seat on Toulouse's impression of a French patio -- which was a pretty good impression, actually. The tables are ridiculously tiny. When we finally got a waiter's attention (how French!) he joked about playing Jenga with all the plates and glasses. Everything's all dark wood and red accents and flowery script. It's like Provincial Living Quarterly exploded in there.
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The Bloody Marys were the stand-out of the meal. Bright red and thick, they came garnished with celery, olive, lime and fresh tomato. But the best part was the salt rim. Either Toulouse uses lime salt, or they have a very magical way of getting regular sea salt to stick like glue to lime juice around the glass' edge. My mouth is watering just thinking about it this morning. At $6.50 each, I'd happily have ponied up for two if I didn't have some very important napping to get to after the meal.
Said napping was facilitated by a heap of cheese, eggs and veggies called the Omelette Provencal. The classic French peasant dish made famous by a movie about a rat chef, ratatouille, is stuffed alongside gobs of goat cheese into an egg pocket of monumental proportion. The tomatoes were soft but not gooey, and the goat cheese sharp but not overwhelming. Toulouse's roasted potatoes on the side, however, were the stars of the plate. Greasy -- that's right, I said greasy at a French restaurant -- and mushy, each bite came with that stomach-coating feeling that you know guarantees an extra half hour on the nap couch. They were a pleasure.
The Man O' The Hour had been craving French toast all week, which is how we ended up at Toulouse in the first place, and he was vaguely disappointed by the restaurant's orange-flavored version. (Cibus, for example, offers a vanilla French toast.) He said the dish was "good, but not in a surprising way," and preferred the Bloody Marys and my roasted potatoes to anything else. I gobbled up his side of apple wood smoked bacon -- mostly because it was delicious and partly because the faster we ate it the sooner the waiter would come get the extra plate off our tiny table.
Toulouse is a reliable kind of place where you're going to get a decent meal and a tasty drink. Just like Cibus. Just like Penne Pomodoro. You'll get out of there for under $20 even if you order a cocktail, and you will say to your date, that place is pretty good. Because it is.