Café Palladio, inside the Palladio Antique Showroom, has gone through many changes for the dozen or so years it has been open. Several independent contractors for the café have come and gone. Six years ago, the owners of the spot, Frank and Mindy Roberts, decided the best way to get the quality and service they wanted their customers to have was to take it over. They hired a manager that reported directly to them and came up with a menu that has evolved over the years to the one in use today.
It is in an attractive setting. To get to the café area, you walk past antiques and artwork. There are two seating areas, plus a small but very attractive patio. There are planters around the edges of the patio, and it’s screened from the traffic on Central by a fence with vines covering it.
On my first recent visit, I dropped in alone, early on a Monday. I had the ham and pear sandwich with a fruit cup side order. Thinly sliced honey ham and fresh pear were layered with mozzarella cheese and house-made honey mustard, grilled just enough to melt the cheese. I loved it. The fruit cup was all fresh fruit: strawberries, apple, grapes, melon and banana in a light honey-flavored syrup.
On another visit a friend and I shared a cup of gazpacho. Although it contained agreeably crisp little chunks of red bell pepper, cucumber and onion, it lacked character. A splash of sherry vinegar would have worked wonders. We each had a half sandwich with a half salad. My friend’s cheese and fruit sandwich had fresh spinach and slices of apple with lightly melted Brie cheese, was again warmed perfectly and of course, the flavor combination is classic. The Brie was soft and warm without being runny. Her half blueberry chicken salad had blueberries, mandarin oranges and Gorgonzola cheese with balsamic vinaigrette. The greens were crisp and fresh but there were a couple of blueberries that were a bit over the hill.
I had the Southern fried green tomato BLT, with freshly fried green tomatoes, plenty of bacon and a slightly spicy Creole-style rémoulade sauce that tied it all together. Of all the sandwiches I tasted, that was my favorite. I had the half pear and walnut salad. It included fresh sliced pears, strawberries and plenty of Gorgonzola cheese. It was served with raspberry vinaigrette that I didn’t find a good match to the other flavors. I should have asked for the balsamic vinaigrette, which was delicious on my friend’s salad.
Both “half” salads were very generously served, which, with the half sandwiches, made for a satisfying meal. On my first visit, I was early and there were only a few guests, and they were mostly women. I had it pegged as a sort of tea room/ladies-who-lunch place. On my second visit we were later and within a short time there was a nearly full house — with a lot of men, and not just men with their wives, but tables of businessmen who had obviously been there before.
So I went back once again and took my husband. He was more than satisfied with his cup of corn chowder, creamy and rich, and his Greek chicken salad. I had a chunky chicken salad sandwich. Made with smoked chicken (from the smoker right outside on the patio), grapes and pecans, it was a little heavy on the mayonnaise. But it came on a croissant that had been lightly toasted, which added nicely to the flavor and texture.
That may not seem like a big deal, but there are lots of little special touches, both with the food and with the service, which make guests feel welcome. Once, my napkin fell off my lap. Before I could reach down for it, the server had a new one for me. When we mentioned we were going to share the dessert, it was split in the kitchen, rather than just bringing an extra plate like so many places will. Coffee was refilled frequently. As we left one hot day, our server thoughtfully brought us lids and straws so we could take our drinks with us.
Folks who order hot tea are presented with a tea pot with a timer to let the guest know when it’s ready to pour. The tea is from a booth right beside the café, “My Cup of Tea,” which has lots of choices. They also supply the tea for two popular iced teas served in the café, one peach and one raspberry. On two occasions, the owner of that booth brought by samples of two more of her specialty iced teas.
When it comes to dessert, the coconut cake is listed as the specialty of the house, made by Mindy Roberts. White cake had holes poked into it with some sort of creamy coconut concoction drizzled over it to make the cake itself extra moist. Roberts declined to confirm what that consisted of, citing a promise to her sister-in-law never to reveal the secret of this family recipe. It was iced with a fluffy white frosting covered with plenty of shredded coconut. Whole coconut cakes are also available for purchase in two sizes.
The rest of the desserts are made by a local bakery. There’s no scarcity of choices: strawberry, lemon and caramel cakes were in the dessert case. Another favorite is the Mississippi mud cake, a thin brownie-textured cake topped with marshmallow cream, nuts and chocolate icing, served with whipped cream. It was a little dense for my taste, but my husband liked it.
As I sat with my husband, two women at the next table were discussing their plans to have a wedding shower there. One of the servers said it was a popular place for showers, birthday parties and other social functions, both for luncheons and after-hours gatherings. They also provide boxed lunches for meetings, and while we were there a number of folks came in to pick up carryout orders.
Café Palladio’s location, on Central just east of Cooper, is a good one for those who want a good sandwich or salad for lunch. And if you’re looking for a little something to spiff up your home décor, either Palladio or one of the other antique establishments in the immediate area should yield what you need.
Address: 2169 Central.
Hours: Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m.-3 p.m.
Reviewer’s choices: Southern green tomato BLT ($9.25); cheese ‘n’ fruit sandwich ($8.95); Greek chicken salad ($9.25); half of any sandwich with half of any salad ($10.25); peach iced tea ($2.25); coconut cake ($4.95).
Poor: Zero stars
Good: One star
Very Good: Two stars
Excellent: Three stars
Extraordinary: Four stars