Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Funky By The Book

Somewhere on the internet there's a web site that tells you how to create a funky restaurant. There must be, because everything's on the internet, and because all the funky restaurants in the world are basically the same. You take a large space in an arty part of any town; furnish it sparsely with cheap plastic chairs and assorted tables culled from curbs and attics around the neighbourhood; put up a few posters promoting déclassé art events and counter-cultural concerts; adopt whatever the current trend in eating is — right now it's "locavore" and vegan — and hire people who would not look out of place clustering in Washington Square or Golden Gate Park late on a spring night when nothing's going on. When I happened on a place like that as a college kid, I thought it was cool. After 35 years, with nothing changed but the posters and the eating trends, it doesn't seem so cool anymore.

But I'm sure today's 20-something crowd is into countercultural coolness as much as it was back in my day. The self-appointed Arts crowd feels much the same, no matter their individual ages, as they have not ever really grown up; eternal youth, or at least the naïveté of youth, being a prerequisite for full membership in the Arts Community, other than at the Patron level.

Hence The Station Cafe: straight out of the funky restaurant manual, at 108 King William Street, near St. Mary's Street, in Southtown. Having heard good buzz about the place, I took a friend to dinner there the other night. They're open until 9, the door says, though at 7pm they were already stacking chairs on the tables. My only disappointments were that, as a culinary experience, it wasn't more interesting, and as a funky restaurant, it was so completely predictable.

The Station started life half a dozen years ago as "The Filling Station,"* in a tiny little building built to house a gas station. It took over some space in the next building, leaving the bar operation behind, and dropped the "Filling" from the name. Its menu consists mostly of sandwiches, hot and cold, and pizzas, with a few accompaniments offered to round things out. I have not evaluated their pizza; the ingredients available consist entirely of The Usual Suspects, so I will have to leave it for another occasion to decide for myself whether their home-made dough and sauce are enough to raise it above the ordinary.

Last city inspection: October 2011
A perfect score!
I did, however, try the soup as a first course. It being Monday, the soup was Southwestern Corn Chowder. Chowder is, by definition, a thick soup. This was not. So technically I suppose it's chowder-in-name-only. But on the plus side, it was damn good soup, and as long as it's good they can call it whatever the hell they want. It had excellent seasonings, and an interesting combination of textures from the corn, broth and, if memory serves (sometimes it doesn't), eggplant chunks. A cup of soup can be added to any sandwich order at a discounted price, which prevents me complaining ... sigh ... about the $3 menu price for a cup of the stuff.

That, I'm sorry to report, was pretty much the highlight of the food. The rest of it wasn't so much bad as just kind of so-so. My friend and I split two sandwiches: the chicken parmesan and the Cajun turkey. The bread used for the sandwiches is good; very good, even, and of the artisanal sort one would expect in this sort of place. But you have to do something better with it. The Cajun turkey sandwich had sufficient quantities of meat on it, and veggies, and the home-made sauce ("with 19 herbs, spices and flavorings") was interesting, but there was nothing discernibly Cajun about it. If there were traditional Cajun spices mixed in with the other stuff, they done got lost up da bayou wit' a blow comin' on, cher. The chicken parmesan was exactly what the menu said it was: a roasted chicken breast with marinara sauce and mozzarella cheese. Hard to say how good the mozzarella was, or the chicken, for that matter, because the bland marinara sauce was ladled on so thick that it was all I could taste; if that same sauce is used on the Station Cafe's pizzas, that's not a good sign. Sadly, the chicken parmesan sandwich is also an exception to the sink-sandwich rule, which says that the taste of a sandwich is inversely proportional to its messiness, and the best sandwiches need to be eaten over the sink. This sandwich had all the messiness of the best sandwiches, with none of the flavour or texture.

The Station Cafe on Urbanspoon

*There was a restaurant called that in Austin back in the 1970s; I don't think there's any connection, beyond the fact that both were located in former gas stations.

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