Carlo and I have had a visit to Franklin Cafe on our to-do list for quite some time. What has been holding us back is my uncanny inability to wait for anything. Franklin Cafe does not take reservations and unless I’m on vacation with no place to go on a nice day, I cannot stand to wait for a table for more than 15 minutes. So to circumvent my disability, we went early on a Saturday evening, arriving at 5:45pm to find a single unoccupied booth in the back. Phew.
We started the evening with cocktails. This is not our usual habit, but FC is known for their drinks list so we thought we’d throw caution to the wind and have some liquor. It was a mistake. Carlo ordered a blood orange martini with Charbay Blood Orange, Vodka, OJ, Campari, which he found overly bitter. He liked my Spiced Pear made with Grey Goose Pear, Fresh Apple Juice, Ginger, which was reminiscent of cider and would have been more appropriate as a warm drink by the fire after a day of skiing.
Part of the problem was that we had barely made a dent in our drinks when (tasty) bread and the wine and appetizers showed up. Spiced pear and short ribs just don’t mix. I’ve been trying to promote (in my mind) the dissemination of half bottles of wine so we ordered the only red they had, which was a Guigal Gigondas Rhone. It was very pleasant table wine, but probably should have been $23 for a bottle, not for a half bottle. The appetizers were pretty good, nothing remarkable. I got braised short ribs with turnip greens and sweet carrots and Carlo inexplicably ordered mac and cheese gnocchi with roasted tomato, sausage, and goat cheese. I say inexplicably because it’s pretty clear that Carlo is not going to like baked gnocchi made in an American bistro in the South End. I tried them too and they were okay but kind of mushy and covered in below average tomato sauce.
The atmosphere at Franklin Cafe is great. It’s casual with nice dim lighting, good background music, an attractive bar, friendly people, but it was increasingly evident throughout the evening that FC wanted to turn over as many tables as possible as quickly as possible. Undoubtedly this is the goal for most restaurants, but some hide it better than others. I also felt significant pressure from all the beady-eyed staring diners-in-waiting that I had trouble enjoying my meal, which is another reason I do not like reservationless restaurants. Our waitress was amicable and not pushy, but our entrees came out as she was clearing the appetizers. It was unpleasant to go from mac and cheese and short ribs to steak frites and roasted chicken so quickly.
Again, the food was decent. The frites were good; the steak was slightly overcooked (granted Carlo thinks any steak that doesn’t moo is too done). The Roquefort butter was tasty. The roast chicken I ordered was a strange choice. I am not sure I have ever ordered chicken in a restaurant, but nothing else on the menu excited me and I thought grapes and chicken sounded like a strange combination. They were. Not exactly bad, but there was no relationship between them. It reminded me of something my parents would make in an effort to get me to eat more fruits and vegetables. We also ordered brussel sprouts for a side; they were good.
Here is where things took a turn for the worse. At this point in the evening, I realized just how sick and twisted this world can be. What happened is this: I asked for the dessert menu, and the seemingly friendly waitress revealed her true colors. She said, without a flicker of remorse, ‘we don’t have dessert.’ What the hell kind of “restaurant” does not serve dessert? When I walked into the Franklin Cafe, an American bistro, I had dreams of bread pudding and fruit crisps with homemade ice cream. Maybe even something with Meyer lemon in it? But instead, they left us high and dry, a bit empty and sad and wondering where to go.
Luckily, we were very close to the South End Buttery, a cafe and now restaurant, known for their cupcakes and for the fact that their name has the word ‘buttery’ in it. The new cozy-looking restaurant would not let us in for desserts-only so we sat in the empty closing cafe and shared the only cupcake available, the Red Velvet with Cream Cheese frosting. It was spectacular. Of course we were still reeling from the catastrophe back at FC, so maybe we were under the influence of oppression, but it was a really good cupcake. The cream cheese frosting contrasted beautifully with the bite of vinegar in the cake. So not all was lost in the evening.
Though the Franklin Cafe had a nice atmosphere and decent food, I think that we will be more likely to return to the Buttery for cupcakes and maybe dinner than we will be to the long waits and rushed dessertless service of the FC.