Sometimes I need something a little stronger than caffeine to jump-start my day. Fortunately, right across the street from the Wooden Spoon Bakery & Cafe is the Gallop Cafe, which serves a great Bloody Mary: a goblet full of peppery tomato juice and vodka garnished with a long toothpick loaded with pickles, peppers, olives and onions, as well as a celery stick and a short pour of PBR in case you like your pick-me-up a little fizzy.
I was craving a Bloody last week, so I stopped by Gallop for a late breakfast, nabbing a seat on the narrow patio along Zuni Street and enjoying the table service (the Wooden Spoon lacks that, as well as alcohol). After consulting with my server, I supplemented my drink with the Sherpa's Sunrise Bowl, a wholesome and hearty mess of cooked oats, sweet squash, julienned zucchini and slices of green pepper under a couple of fat poached eggs; I also added a supplement of pork (because everything's better with pig, duh), which gave it a crunchy textural element as well as plenty of flavor. Although my server had told me that the creamy saffron sauce on the side was optional, I dumped it vigorously over my breakfast; without it, the dish would have been under-seasoned. Once I'd scraped the bowl clean, I felt invigorated — even with the mind-dulling effects of the booze.
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Glen Baker and David Grafke picked up the lease on this corner spot in a circa 1886 building and turned it into the Gallop Cafe back in 2004, before the block became a hotbed of trendier — and, dare I say it, bougier — concepts. They wanted to create a cafe with an old-world feel, a community gathering spot that would attract regulars for breakfast, lunch, dinner and drinks, and they gave the interior of the space a decidedly casual, neighborly ambience. Despite the large windows that line two walls, the place is perpetually dark, lined with a chocolate-hued bar and littered with tables that have a care-worn, coffee-shop feel. The chalkboard list of drinks — a big draw here — is supplemented by laminated menus outlining bistro fare.
Those menus might be the only ordering help you get. When I stopped by with a friend for lunch another day and asked our server's advice, she told us that "Everything's good" — which did nothing to aid our choices. And we needed aid, because not everything was good. Our worst choice was the Moroccan chicken salad, a pile of greens topped with a pasty blend of chicken, saffron aioli and fruits — apricots and figs, according to the menu, grapes in reality. I didn't mind the substitution, and a sprinkling of slivered almonds on top was a pleasant surprise, but I had to vigorously salt the bland mush to give it any taste. The Vietnamese roasted-pork baguette was better, but still sad compared to an actual banh mi sandwich you could find for a fraction of the price on Federal. Crisp shreds of daikon radish and carrot did their best to liven up the thick shavings of dry, tasteless pork, but the task was hopeless. And the side of what was advertised as "fish sauce" was little more than vinegar. The chicken pesto fresca baguette was much better. The combination of oven-roasted tomatoes, basil-based pesto, provolone and grilled chicken has probably been done a million times, but with good reason: It works. And it worked well at Gallop, which used the right ratio of ingredients to highlight every flavor.
2401 West 32nd Avenue
The cafe also bakes its own desserts, and we ended lunch with a brick of carrot cake from the pastry case. The raisin-studded hunk was short on spice, but more nutmeg wasn't the only adjustment this confection needed. The slab of frosting on top was as thick as the base; if I wanted to eat that much cream cheese, I'd cut to the chase and consume it straight from the silver Philadelphia foil — which would probably be healthier than what was on the cake. But when I stopped in later to grab something from Gallop's to-go case, the pastry program redeemed itself with a freshly baked treasure bar, really a fat block of chocolate chip cookie with nuts that was nostalgic, indulgent and delicious.
I wonder how it would go with a Bloody Mary.