Cafe Society

Family Values

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Although our waiter was unflappable in the face of toddlers, we frightened him by ordering a full-sized Caesar. "You're going to have a lot of food," he warned, convincing us to instead split a half ($5.50). He was right: Half was still a big salad, and a good one, with a thick, sharp dressing and a generous amount of grated parmesan. We were even more grateful for his advice when the rest of our food came. A full order of Southern-fried chicken ($14.95) brought a bird and a half of darkly browned, crunchy-skinned, virtually greaseless pieces of tender, juicy meat. And a full order of trout Provencal ($16.95) turned out to be a whole, fairly large fish split down the middle, its damp, flaky flesh covered with capers, tomatoes, butter and garlic. We wound up taking half of each dish home.

Since we'd gone with half-sized sides, we were able to polish off all of the freshly sauteed balsamic spinach ($3.50), a tangy, inspired preparation. And the garlic-infused skin-on "smashed" potatoes ($3.50) contained so much butter that they were moist and flavorful even without gravy. The steamed veggies ($3.50) were our only disappointment, but only because we're not huge fans of plain celery, which made up the bulk of a dish that also included yellow squash, carrots and broccoli.

Why we felt the need for dessert, I don't know. Maybe it was to see if those portions, too, were oversized--and of course they were, which gave us something to chase our other leftovers the next day. The chocolate cake ($4.50) was so dense and rich that it was almost a cross between a grandmother's traditional scratch and an updated flourless cake; the icing on top was fantastically heavy and stiff, not too sweet and very chocolatey. The exemplary cranberry bread pudding ($4.50) looked as though it had been made from a cranberry-studded quick bread, but it was wet and very heavy with cranberries.

I felt as though I should take along a few starving people on my second visit, so I invited another couple and their kids, all of whom claimed to have been living on macaroni and cheese for several weeks. Although that didn't stop the kids from ordering macaroni and cheese ($4.50 for a full), Uncle Sam's version was far superior to anything that ever came out of a box. The gooey cheddar had formed that great crust that real cheese gets when it's set under the broiler for a few minutes, and the portion was large enough for two of the kids to share as an entree. The other three helped the adults polish off a platter of lemon-pepper catfish ($16.95)--another whole fish, this one redolent with lemon juice sparked by black pepper--and a platter of angel hair with grilled chicken and poblano pesto ($14.95), with shredded parmesan showered over the pungent pesto that coated big chunks of nicely grilled fowl. We also worked our way through a side of beautifully french-fried sweet potatoes ($3.50 for half) and thick hunks of medium-soft polenta studded with sun-dried tomato bits ($3.50 for half).

While we skipped dessert this time, we still wanted to sit and savor that great meal for a while, so the kids hooked up with a group of their peers in the bar area, which can be seen from the dining room. The bartender let them take charge of the remote control, and they sat happily ogling some sort of bodybuilding competition while sipping Cokes and playing with the toys an employee had given them. Meanwhile, another employee cheerfully got down on his hands and knees beside the table next to us and picked up the crumbs thrown there by kids who weren't ours (I swear).

Later I asked Herz if the staff gets tired of cleaning up after the younger diners. "Really, most of the families are good about that," he answered, adding that he's sometimes surprised by the way parents let their kids act in public. "Oh, we do get those once in a while, the ones who threaten to destroy the place. But if you're going to make a commitment to something, you have to go all the way, and we just grin and bear it--and luckily, I have a staff that's pretty good-natured. So I don't mind if we become known as a place to take your kids. In fact, I'm delighted."

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Kyle Wagner
Contact: Kyle Wagner