The menu for The Cafe at NHG suits its setting

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  |  Executive Editor
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While the Dallas Arboretum is growing produce that can actually be used in its on-site restaurants (see story Page 22), I have a feeling that none of the items on the menu at The Café at North Haven Gardens — a small, organic bistro inside the Preston Hollow nursery — includes any flora pruned from inventory. Sure, maybe some dishes could get a garnish of edible flowers that could feasibly have been sheared that morning, or herbs might be cultivated around back, but this is a full-on restaurant that requires reliable produce day-to-day. It merely boasts the added cache of dining among the daisies.

And geraniums and ground covers and pots and even an art gallery. North Haven Gardens has always been a kind of oasis for greenthumbs, with tons of plants but also a cool, welcoming vibe. That’s just as true of The Café, which opened early last year.

Even without supplying its own foodstuffs, The Cafe does dovetail nicely into the fresh green surroundings of NHG, and that’s reflected in the kitchen. Cooking processes are fresh, produce is sourced locally when possible and proteins offered are sustainable — all the buzzwords you want in an organic setting like a garden center.

Open daily for breakfast and lunch only (9 a.m.–3 p.m.), The Cafe cleaves to the find of fare you’d expect from its setting: Salads. Soups. Sammies. Smoothies. But also wine by the glass (all under $10) and a few classically fruit-forward cocktails (bellini, mimosa, Bloody Marys). Its light lunch fare is perfectly in tune with the atmosphere. Animal proteins are on the modest side — add chicken or salmon to a salad, or enjoy a dish accompanied by turkey, bacon or egg. No burgers or steaks, though a pesca-vegetarian could dine here for a week and not repeat a meal.

A sure-fire option is the chopped chef’s salad ($13), an explosion of colorful greens and artfully-arranged toppers: hard-boiled egg, crisp bacon shreds, turkey breast, diced cucumber, halved plum tomatoes on a bed of romaine and a tang of feta. All the ingredients are fresh (and the turkey well-cooked); the housemade dressings are flavorful, especially the herb vinaigrette.

On the “hot” side, I sampled the soup du jour ($4 cup/$6 bowl), a pumpkin-vegetable broth with an autumnal, cinnamon finish and a hint of Southwestern-style with its smattering of black beans. It paired superbly with The Café’s version of a grilled cheese ($13). No Velveeta-on-bleached-white slices here. The seven-grain bread is thick-cut and would stand alone for its heartiness. But packed between the slices are a combination of sharp cheddar and gooey smoked Gouda, with thin fingers of sliced Granny Smith apple, coated with a slather of fig compote. The crunch of the apple, the sweet pectin with the slightly more tart components and the chewiness make this combo better than the old-school America cheese with Campbell’s tomato. As the weather begins to turn, The Café is its own kind of haven on Northaven, a neighborhoody go-to without pretense, just clean flavors.                       

The Cafe at North Haven Gardens, 7700 Northaven Road. 9 a.m.–3 p.m. NHG.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 13, 2017.