This week's Bill of Fare visits a pair of spots that provide unique twists on lunch.
The Toledo Museum of Art's Cafe features a limited menu that's kept fresh thanks to revolving specials and creative pairings that reward diners with a sense of adventure.
Situated just inside the entrance on the Grove Place side of the museum, the restaurant has a warm, welcoming feel that is accentuated by the glass art on the tables. Move through the main dining area to an atrium-like room for a relaxing garden vibe.
The poached salmon BLT on rye ($8.50) is a daring pairing that throws together a thick slab of salmon, bacon, lettuce, tomato, and a sweet green aioli sauce on rye bread. It's a beast of a sandwich with a melange of flavors that never clash, and the result is three thumbs up for creativity, flavor, and execution.
We are also big fans of the market salad ($5), which rivals Grumpy's iconic garbage salad for best in Toledo. Combining lettuce, red grapes, sheep's milk feta, spiced pecans, honey wheat croutons, and an onion vinaigrette , the salad mixes sweet and tangy flavors with a variety of textures. Add chicken or salmon for a few extra dollars to turn it into a bona fide meal.
One of our visits featured potato, leek, and bacon soup ($3) -- good -- and the special was a hamburger ($8) with barbecue sauce, dill havarti cheese and lettuce. The meat itself was nothing special, just a typical frozen patty, but the combination of sauce, cheese, and lettuce gave it some welcomed pizazz.
We also tried the borsin chicken ($6.50), another special on a different visit. A chicken breast with creamy borsin cheese in the middle was good -- rich and earthy -- but was served all by itself on the plate. Make sure you ask for a side salad or some chips to accompany it.
One down-side of eating at the museum is that parking costs $5 for non museum members. Also, be aware that if a group is touring that day you could get stuck behind them in the cafeteria line. But those are minor issues compared to the high quality of the food and the opportunity to spend a bit of your lunch hour wandering in the museum.
Degage Express is the lunch option at the excellent Degage Jazz Cafe along River Road in Maumee. The menu is expansive, and while the prices are a tad high for lunch, the fresh ingredients, creative sandwiches, and excellent ambiance are worth it.
The restaurant replaced Red Wells Roast Beef in October of last year.
Our Monday lunch visit turned out to be awkward. We asked for the salmon appetizer and the waitress informed us that it had been a busy weekend and Degage was out. I ordered the ale and cheddar soup and they were out of that, too. How about the housemade kettle chips? Out. My dining partner ordered a pulled pork sandwich and was informed it wouldn't come on a bun because they were out. Another diner ordered a sandwich on wheat bread. Out.
We're happy to say that on a visit later in that same week, the place was fully stocked and everything we ordered was available.
The menu is heavy on sandwiches. The Hot Mess ($8.50) features slow braised pork, house apple slaw, and swiss cheese. Because the buns weren't available, we tried it on sourdough bread and the result was actually quite pleasing, making for a happy accident. Make sure you get the kettle chips because they are excellent.
Joe's Nutty Yard Bird ($7.95) is a fresh twist on an old standard: chicken salad. Degage's version featured hand-shredded chicken, celery, onion, sweet grapes, smoked bacon, toasted pecans, heirloom tomatoes, and greens on sour dough. This is a big, hearty sandwich that far exceeds any preconceived notions of chicken salad.
Heaven On A Bun ($8) is listed as a chef's favorite. Fresh bologna is piled on a brioche bun with melted American and provolone cheeses, and stadium mustard. At a place like Degage it's a bit of a waste of a meal unless you're really jonesing for bologna.
Much better was The Gobbler ($8.95). Turkey, bacon, cheddar cheese, avocado, lettuce, sprouts, cranberry aioli chutney, tomato and fresh wheat bread make this a sandwich for the ages. Every bite features a slightly different flavor or texture -- sweet chutney, salty bacon, juicy tomato.
A side of house cut fries ($2.50) was served in a pot. The portion-size was easily enough for two people and the potatoes were hot, fresh, salty, and addictive.
The ale and cheddar soup ($3.75/$4.50/$5.50) is cheesy, salty and smooth. Go with a small bowl if you're pairing it with a sandwich because it's filling. The Tomato or Tomatoe ($6.50) appetizer is essentially a version of bruschetta: tomatoes, onions, garlic, cheese, baked on a small piece of bread.
Service was excellent and despite the Monday "out" experience our waitress was efficient and polite. One of our favorite things about Degage is the atmosphere. Not only are the meals fresh and innovative, but the restaurant's comfortable neighborhood setting in a historic building just feels like a good place to be.
Contact Bill of Fare at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Address: 301 River Rd.,
Phone: 419-795-8205, ext. 1
Hours: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday to Saturday; closed Sundays. Reservations are accepted.
Wheelchair access: Yes.
Average Price: $$$
Credit Cards: AE, Dis, MC, V.
Toledo Museum Cafe
Address: 2445 Monroe St.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday; 11 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Friday; 11 a.m.to 5 p.m. Saturday; noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. Closed Mondays. Reservations are accepted.
Wheelchair access: Yes.
Average Price: $$
Credit Cards: AE, Dis, MC, V.
Web site: toledomuseum.org/visit/dining