Monday, May 04, 2009

Beignet Cafe (Closed)

This restaurant has closed.

Beignet Cafe
124 G.E. Patterson Ave.

Team Oster (that's us) planned to get up early and plant our garden Saturday morning. When we awoke to rain, I figured we sleep in, but Warren got up at 8:00 a.m. and the kids were up shortly after. So I dragged myself out of bed and we all went down to the Memphis Farmer's Market for the first time this year. Jiro (age 5) ate a donut and a bag of granola and Satchel (age 7) ate half a baguette at the MFM. Warren and I didn't eat anything, so we decided to check out the new, nearby Beignet Cafe.

The recent Flyer mentioned that the new owner, Norma Crow, spent a year and a half gutting and redoing the building that once housed Harry's. I never saw it before, but the finished product is really amazing. The outside of the cafe is extremely inviting with its turquoise accents, small patio, greenery, and decorative lights. It is definitely a place that would be hard to pass up, whether on foot or in a car.

Looking around the area I was pretty surprised to see how bustling it suddenly appeared. The combination of new condos, a couple of other new businesses, and the Arcade/American Apparel corner anchors made the block seem very vibrant despite it being the most gloomy of days. In fact, the area was so crowded it took us awhile to find a place to park.

The inside of the cafe was equally charming and had a distinctive New Orleans French Quarter kind of feel. Low lighting, colorful art on the walls, and numerous seating options (comfy arm chairs, cafe tables, a window counter, and a bar next to the coffee station) made it very inviting. There was a decent crowd of people inside, including a few with children.

To get the monkeys excited, I steered them towards the nearby grab-n-go cooler that had drinks. Warren followed us and immediately started grousing about the fact that they were selling canned Cokes for $1.75. I wasn't too bothered because I didn't plan to let anyone buy a Coke. However, I was a little disappointed by the other drink offerings. There were three kinds of orange juice, a small aluminum container of grape juice, and white milk. (Usually fancy coffee cafes have Izzes or Martinellis or something a bit unusual.) Warren suggested that we order the boys some hot chocolate, but I didn't see hot chocolate on the menu board above the register. Satchel decided on the small can of grape juice and Jiro got a bottle of orange juice which he promptly dropped on the floor. (Thankfully it did not break.)

I had assumed that the menu would be breakfast centric because of the beignet lure, but I was wrong. There were bagels, muffins, fruit, sausage, bacon, and a few other breakfast items, but no real breakfast combo or anything meal-like that you might find at Cafe Eclectic or Republic Coffee. There were quite a few tasty sounding sandwiches (i.e. salmon BLT), interesting salads (i.e. congealed cranberry) and unusual sides (i.e. macaroni and cheese balls), but they didn't seem appropriate choices for 10 a.m. Warren got a latte, I got an iced latte, and we decided to share one order of New Orleans style beignets. (They also offer European style beignets.)

I paid while Warren took the boys to find a seat in the back. There was a large, flat screen TV mounted on the wall and a four top of people nearby. As I walked towards the table, the man's voice at the adjacent table was booming. I suggested we find a seat up front. There were several empty tables that upon closer inspection needed bussing, so we ended up grabbing a table right by the register and another flat screen TV. (Warren also objected to the presence of TVs, which I had to agree with.)

We then noticed that there was an upstairs seating area, but we didn't see any stairs, so we just stay put. The people around us were chatting, reading the paper, and generally enjoying themselves. The cafe did not seem like it had just opened, but rather like it had been in the neighborhood for years and already had an established set of regulars.

However, we soon discovered that they were still working out a few kinks. The lackluster service was a bit disappointing. After about ten minutes, a woman came over and said, "Oh are you two waiting on these coffees?" as though they'd been sitting at the counter for quite awhile. (Maybe we should have waited for them? The check out guy gave me a number in a metal holder to put on the table so I took that as my cue to sit down.)

Before I could even put sugar in my coffee, Jiro asked me to escort him to the restroom. We ventured off and quickly found it tucked behind the main serving area adjacent to the large kitchen. Jiro said, "Why did they put the bathroom so close to where they make the food?" which just cracked me up. I was happy to see that the one top restroom had a stool for me to sit and wait on. It was plenty roomy but did not include a changing table. I also noted that the sink was rather high and that a small stepping stool would be a nice touch for the younger patrons. I realize that the Beignet Cafe is not catering to children, but I think that it would be nice to be accommodating to them. My thoughts were further solidified when Jiro and I bummed into my fellow Flyer writer, Chris, and his family, which includes two girls about Satchel's age.

Back at the table Warren was grumbling again. "We've been here about twenty minutes and I've seen at least twenty people get their beignets before us." He had a point. The line that was once streaming from the counter was gone. I picked up our number and went to inquire about our beignets. A woman who appeared to be Ms. Crow, sifted through the order tickets and finally said, "I'm sorry. I don't know what happened, but I'll have them right out."

Thankfully the monkeys weren't starving and were entertaining themselves with pens and paper. Satchel was going through the Sponge Bob characters and Jiro was practicing drawing stars. Warren continued his morning of discontent by pointing out that his coffee, which came in a paper cup, was going to be cold by the time the beignets arrived. From there we launched into a discussion about including some sort of rating system into my DWM reviews.

The beignets arrived, piping hot, a few minutes later. Jiro declared them too hot to eat, which was good since there were only three, so Warren, Satchel, and I proceeded without him. They were very authentic and delicious. In the unofficial contest to see who could make the biggest mess, I placed first with Satchel a close second. Then we packed up our paper, pens, and recyclables, and headed back into the rain.

I definitely want to go back for lunch, with or without the monkeys. Beignet Cafe has a lot going for it and is a great asset to the vibrant South Main district.

Ambiance: good (minus the TVs, I'd say perfect)
Service: needs improvement (but not bad for the first week of operation!)
Kid-friendliness: needs improvement (i.e. adding hot chocolate to the menu and a stepping stool in the restroom)
Eco-friendliness: unsure (I didn't see any styrofoam which was good, but there also wasn't any recycling. Plus drinks and food were all served in disposable rather than reusable containers, like plates and mugs.)

Beignet Cafe on Urbanspoon


Melissa said...

Ooh yummy. Can't wait to try this!

Phyllis said...

I enjoyed reading the review from another perspective. I can only say positive things about Beignet Cafe. Maybe because of the association I have with it. Although you mentioned that it was the old Harry's, it was actually the old Tri-State Defender building for about 50 years. As the General Mgr of the TSD, we were very excited to see the renovations and the community-friendly atmosphere that Norma & Charles created with the bldg. It is definitely a part of history in Memphis, as the TSD being the longest running African American newspaper in the South.
As a food and restaurant enthusiast too, I found the restaurant to be delightful. We use it as a meeting place as well as a social hang-out. As I thought about the kid-friendly comments as it relates to TVs and changing tables, that would probably rule out 90% of the restaurants I frequent. Being a newsperson, I like the TVs and I never missed the changing tables in the bathroom because I hardly see them anywhere else. I was just glad to see a "clean" bathroom.
For so many other things Beignet Cafe has to offer the community, I think it is a big plus for children and adults. I believe the broader Memphis community and the downtown patrons welcome dining experiences like Beignet Cafe.
Norma & Charles' visions for the restaurant are much broader than TVs and changing tables. Next time you are in, spend some time with them.

rh said...

My parents were in town from Nashville this weekend so I took them here since after your review I really wanted to try this place out! We were SO disappointed, unfortunately. We arrived around 12 and didn't get our food until about 12:45-1:00. Everything came out at different times, the gumbo never was "ready", and our food was cold. Perhaps the kitchen and/or servers were understaffed...but something was definitely not working today. I was very disappointed because if the food had arrived on time and had been hot, I'm sure it would have been delicious! Also, our lunch for four was about 55 dollars and we all left feeling very frustrated. I hope this cafe can get things together because I loved the food offered on the menu and the atmosphere.

Mike Simpson said...

Phyllis -- This blog is all about dining with children which is undoubtedly why the author focused on things like needing a step-stool in the bathroom and other kid-friendly amenities. So to say that those amenities would rule out 90% of the restaurants you frequent is irrelevant. While the owners may have a wonderful vision, this blog post was primarily about the feasibility of dining with children at Beignet Cafe.

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