Garden Cafe's problems rooted in slow service, unappetizing fare

May 08, 1992|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,Restaurant Critic

I've always liked the looks of the Garden Cafe in Towson Town Center. It's a pretty little oasis among the mall shops, with its black-and-white tile floors, faux marble table tops, a fountain at the entrance, cascading plants and jazzy green neon. ThI've always liked the looks of the Garden Cafe in Towson Town Center. It's a pretty little oasis among the mall shops, with its black-and-white tile floors, faux marble table tops, a fountain at the entrance, cascading plants and jazzy green neon. The cafe and bar were there before all the renovations and additions to Towson Town, but you'd never think it. They're as au courant as the glass elevator between the third and fourth levels.

But pretty is as pretty does. If your experience is anything likours, I'd advise shopping between courses. That way you won't risk having the stores close before you get your check, and you won't get so annoyed about the long waits for your food.

Of course you want good service anywhere, but you expect it doubly when you're shopping as well as eating. Hasn't this occurred to the management? Or do they see their customers as overage teen-agers who loved hanging out at the mall after school and now want to do it after work?

Even if our first courses take forever to prepare, bring us some bread. Refill our water glasses. Bring us fresh silverware right away, not five minutes after you serve the main courses. Remove our dirty plates before you show us the dessert tray. And, hey, if you're the maitre d' and nobody's come near our table in forever, don't sit there at the bar eating your dinner and glancing our way occasionally.

The menu is complicated and very ambitious for a mall restaurant. Dinner entrees range from $10.95 to $15.95. We started with beef satay ($5.25) and mussels marinara. I can't tell you the price of the latter because it was a special, and I forgot to look at the price on the bill. When I called the next day and asked, the person I spoke with insisted -- to the point of rudeness -- that the mussels hadn't been served as a starter. (You can only have them as a light main course for $7.50, he told me.)

Enough complaining about the service. Now let me complain about the food. The beef satay was marinated in something so salty it was literally inedible. The waiter removed it -- eventually -- practically untouched. The mussels had an adequate marinara sauce, and the mollusks themselves were hot, but their shells were icy cold. Disconcerting, and an effect I could achieve only by inexpert microwaving.

Yellowtail flounder ($10.95) didn't taste fresh enough for me to want to eat it, and the lemon butter sauce with capers did little to help. Roasted pork loin ($10.95) was tender and flavorful, but the "chef's choice of sauce" turned out to be a thick, brown, somewhat greasy gravy. The promised bed of vegetables was nowhere in sight.

Was there anything I liked? Yes: We fell on the rolls like ravening wolves after our long wait. The Caesar salad that comes with dinner was excellent, and fresh green beans and new potatoes were cooked just long enough. Desserts, made off the premises for the cafe, are fabulously rich and very pretty; at least they ended our meal on an up note.

Garden Cafe

Where: Towson Town Center, Dulaney Valley Road and Goucher Boulevard.

Hours: 11:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m. daily

Credit cards: All major credit cards accepted.

Features: Eclectic fare.

Non-smoking section? Yes.

Call: (410) 337-6711.

* 1/2

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