It’s a beautiful Saturday afternoon in Deep Ellum. Groups of friends are gathered at the Anvil Pub, where brunch cocktails with ridiculous garnishes are considered prerequisite weekend libations. A line of hungry looking diners stretches out the door at Pecan Lodge. And then there is Café Salsera. It’s the new kid on the block and it shows.
At noon, Salsera’s cavernous interior — the place is probably four or five times bigger than your average Deep Ellum retail space — is empty. Despite billing itself as more of a late-night spot to grab a cocktail, a Cuban and maybe cut a rug, Café Salsera opens at 7 a.m. on weekdays and 10 a.m. on weekends to serve coffee and pastries. On Saturday and Sunday, “brunch service” runs from noon until four. Please note the strategic use of quotation marks in the preceding sentence, as they hint at the fact that Salsera’s brunch is as wanting of dishes — there are four — and a professional staff as the restaurant is of daytime customers.
Some place top priority on the service they receive at restaurants. I am not one of those people. To me, hospitality has wiggle room: The better the food is, the less I care how professional the servers are. If the food is good and so are the staff, more’s the better. So when the waitress’ greeting consisted of “I got two hours of sleep last night” I tucked in and hoped that the food/service relationship was inverse.
Even the iced coffee was bad. Iced coffee! As in, you make coffee and then you put ice in it. Café Salsera’s bar, with its shiny, Italian espresso maker, appears fully equipped to turn out caffeinated beverages of superior quality. And yet, the consensus at our table was that the iced coffee was made from instant coffee. If it wasn’t, something must have crawled into whatever contraption was used for brewing and died. Our waitress said nothing regarding the fact that the coffee sat on the table, melting and untouched. It is experiences like these that drive consumers into the corporate, sterilized and reliable hands of Starbucks.
Then there were the chilaquiles. “Here are the nachos,” said our server upon delivering the plate of food that did, in fact, appear to be nachos. Confused, I surveyed my surroundings. Had I somehow fallen into an alternate dimension where chilaquiles morph into bowling-alley snack food? A query about the identity of the dish before us was lost on both the server and the waitress, neither of whom knew what chilaquiles were or how they differ from nachos. This is an understandable gap in knowledge, as being able to identify and describe food that is listed on the menu of the restaurant where one works is beyond the wheelhouse of wait staff. The waitress did seem eager to learn, however, and so I acquiesced when she asked what chilaquiles were. Satisfied, she departed by expressing her hope that our table enjoyed whatever it was that we had ordered.
The nachos were tasty in that stoner food kind of way. Café Salsera somehow managed to perfectly capture the essence of Taco Bell ground beef and distributed this essence across dry tortilla chips along with some cheese, shredded pork, lettuce, pico de gallo and fried eggs. Had they been billed as nachos from the get-go, and had they cost $7 instead of $13, they would have garnered an apathetic thumb of approval. Being the Armani label tacked onto the Target dress that they were, however, they get passionately hostile thumbs down.
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The banana bread French toast ($13) fared better than the chilaquilesnachos. For one thing, they were delivered as advertised. Four pieces of banana bread, dipped in egg custard and pan-fried, served with candied bacon. The French toast aspect was somewhat lost on the banana bread, as it failed to add any depth of flavor or texture. And while the concept was better than the execution, the banana bread was enjoyable and had a pleasant, authentic banana flavor.
During my visit, one other couple darkened the door. They got coffee. What I got was that particular brand of regret which can only be acquired through spending money on food that can be had elsewhere for less and for higher quality. Dallas is a big place with lots of good brunch options: Café Salsera, unfortunately, is not one of them.
2610 Elm St.