Dining Review: Davis-Kidd's café Brontë must seize ample opportunity

The pear and blue cheese salad, served with a double order of shrimp, at Brontë.

Photo by Dave Darnell // Buy this photo

The pear and blue cheese salad, served with a double order of shrimp, at Brontë.

In Davis-Kidd, certainly a fine bookstore, there are bound to be books of quotations in the reference section. And in those books, surely there are quotations about opportunity.

Plenty of them, including this one from Austrian writer Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach:

"Nothing is so often irretrievably missed as a daily opportunity."

Brontë serves breakfast, lunch and dinner inside Davis-Kidd Booksellers in East Memphis. The café seems to have breakfast figured out, but lunch and dinner suffer from shortcomings in service and food preparation.

Photo by Dave Darnell

Brontë serves breakfast, lunch and dinner inside Davis-Kidd Booksellers in East Memphis. The café seems to have breakfast figured out, but lunch and dinner suffer from shortcomings in service and food preparation.

The pear and blue cheese salad, served with a double order of shrimp, at Brontë.

Photo by Dave Darnell

The pear and blue cheese salad, served with a double order of shrimp, at Brontë.

Ah, Brontë. Is any restaurant in town so blessed with a natural customer base as this bright and happy spot inside the store? None comes right to mind. Yet over the past five years or so, I've left there disappointed more often than not, and we eventually just stopped going. A shame, too, as we were regulars in the early days.

But the past few times I've purchased books, I've gotten a coupon for "buy one breakfast and get a second free" during certain weekday hours. I was intrigued, because frankly, trying to have breakfast there over the years has been something of a comedy of errors. If they're handing out coupons, they must have it right, right?

They do. Breakfast was delivered without a hitch. We ordered the Brontë's Breakfast Burrito and Sarah Foster's Spinach, Tomato and Feta Omelet. Both came with a hash brown casserole and a fruit cup.

The burrito -- so generous that I boxed up half for my lunch -- contained scrambled eggs, cheddar cheese and black beans, and was served with a side of avocado and corn salsa. I asked for tomato salsa, which the friendly, efficient and low-key (very nice touch for an early Monday morning) server delivered without being asked twice. We asked that the tomatoes be served on the side instead of in the omelet; that, too, was done. Coffee cups were filled, creamer delivered as requested.

I mention these small details because lunch and dinner were a bit different, as you'll soon see. Both breakfasts were well-prepared and tasty, too. The omelet was fluffy enough without being overbeaten, the fruit cups were small but fresh and welcomed.

So kudos to Brontë for getting breakfast going, and I hope the service and quality continue. It's a nice place to start your day.

But let's work on lunch and dinner. It's a great idea to put recipes from popular cookbooks on the menu, which Brontë began doing a few years ago. But a recipe is only as good as the cook.

We started dinner with Alton Brown's Spinach Salad with Warm Bacon Dressing, which is the old salad you remember and possibly still love from years past. It's a classic one: spinach, onion, hard-boiled eggs and mushrooms. I adore the salad, and Brontë's was as pretty a version as you'll find, with most of the dressing on the bottom of the plate and the eggs, mushrooms and onions arranged on the spinach.

Unfortunately, this defeats the purpose of the warm dressing, which is meant to slightly wilt the greens. Furthermore, the dressing needed a bit more vinegar to cut through the bacon grease (yes, we have to call it what it is). The recipe calls for a 50/50 ratio, but this was heavier on the fat.

Still, I'd order the salad again. I'd specifically request that the greens be tossed with the dressing, and ask for extra vinegar to add at the table. (By the way, don't take your leftovers home and pick up the salad right out of the fridge to eat. Egad -- what was I thinking? Bacon grease gets solid, and as Alton would say, that is not good eats.)

Besides the menu standards, recipes are prepared from a different cookbook each month. The shrimp tacos from one of the "Cuisine at Home" collections were very nice, definitely the best item we tried. The plump shrimp were dusted with a light pepper mix and sautéed, then tucked in a tortilla and served with pinto beans, guacamole and chips.

The polenta pizza from the same menu was close to inedible, though. The idea is great: A flat round of polenta, covered with cheese and a "vegetarian bolognese," which, yes, sounds confusing as you expect meat in a bolognese. But playing with words is OK. Playing with bad garlic is another story. The sauce was cream based, with bits of red pepper and onion, topped with sliced, cooked mushrooms.

It would've been fine but for an extraordinarily heavy hand with very bitter, green garlic. We ate around the edges, but simply couldn't bear the sauce. When the Margherita salad wasn't delivered, we asked for it and were given a big bowl of pasta containing similar ingredients. When the salad did make it, it was an odd little mix of melted, tasteless mozzarella on the bottom and chopped tomato on the top. A creamy, wet and truly fine tiramisu was our dessert.

The tuna melt is a nice one, made with white albacore and grilled -- perfectly, in this case -- with cheddar and tomato inside. A cup of the signature tomato blue cheese soup makes a perfect side.

At lunch I had to send back the ham and brie sandwich because it wasn't grilled properly (you could still see yellow spots from the butter). A food runner brought it back to me with the yellow spots still on one side and black spots on the other. My server never came to check on me. We split one half of the sandwich, and I explained, when the check was delivered, that it still hadn't been grilled properly after I sent it back. The response was to ask me if I wanted a to-go box.

I'd love to become a regular again, but it won't happen until the folks at Brontë seize this golden opportunity instead of playing hit or miss with it.

Brontë

Food:

Service:

Atmosphere:

Address: 387 Perkins Ext.

Telephone: (901) 374-0881

Hours: Monday through Thursday, 7:30 a.m.-8:30 p.m.; Friday and Saturday 7:30 a.m.- 9:30 p.m.; Sunday, 9 a.m.-7:30 p.m. Dessert and drinks available for 30 minutes after listed closing time daily.

Reviewer's choices: Breakfast burrito ($7.95), spinach salad ($9.50), tomato blue cheese soup ($4.80 per bowl), tuna melt ($7.95), tiramisu ($5)

Alcohol: Wine and beer

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Comments » 1

Mary writes:

Sorry, I just don't like the concept of a restaurant, no matter how good it might be, inside another business or venue, unless it has only an outside entrance and no communicating entrance with the business or venue. Whether I'm there to look for a book or to look at museum exhibits, I don't want to smell food odors. In fact, I have stopped going to Davis-Kidd, which I loved when it first opened and didn't have a restaurant, for that very reason. If I want to smell food, I'll go to a restaurant. I know this probably puts me in the minority. So I'll get deeper into the minority by adding that I also don't like music in restaurants (same reason - if I want to hear music, I'll go to a club or concert).

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