Café Dufrain sits across from the St. Pete Times Forum, resting quietly on an unobtrusive corner of Harbour Island. Much acclaim has been showered on its waterside patio dining, and for good reason.
The Café’s website states, “Our American regional cuisine changes seasonally and is over three-quarters sustainable, organic and/or locally grown.
With an eye on freshness, we are not just one of the restaurants participating in the sustainable movement; we are the restaurant trying to lead the way in Tampa Bay.”
During a weekday lunch hour, I stopped in to explore the menu that had been touted all over the Internet as organic and sustainable, not to mention gourmet.
I requested outside seating, as the day’s weather invited such an arrangement.
After being seated by a pleasant host, I was almost immediately greeted by my warm and smiling server.
After wavering between several mouth-watering options, I settled on the wedge salad and a steak sandwich.
I asked the server if the steak was cut thinly, and he replied that it was. The slices were trimmings from their New York Strip. It sounded wonderful.
The salad was everything the menu had claimed it would be.
The heirloom tomatoes were multi-colored and splendidly ripe. The wedge of iceberg was crisp, and not entirely smothered with bleu cheese dressing, which I appreciated. The bacon was a little chewy, but the onions and bleu cheese crumbles were both complimentary to the full flavor of the tomatoes. Overall, I was pleased.
The steak sandwich, however, failed to impress. The sandwich was comprised of fried green tomatoes, braised onions, a special steak sauce, hot sauce, cheddar cheese and the steak—all packed in between a healthy slice of Cuban bread. Served with kettle-style potato chips, the sandwich should have been phenomenal.
Some “slices” of steak, however, which were in reality more like thick chunks, were impossible to chew or even manage with a knife. And they weren’t even cooked medium rare. I’m not sure what the server meant by “trimmings” from the Strip steak, but perhaps he was hinting that they were the “rejected portions,” because they certainly failed to please. Or be edible, for that matter.
A few slices were manageable, though, and did have good flavor, but I was more than a little peeved to see half the contents of the sandwich return to the kitchen on the posh plate.
The dessert menu, like the other menus, was very sparse, and had only four options.
The dark chocolate panna cotta caught my eye, and since its only competition was a re-vamped apple pie, or some freshly made ice cream, I decided to go for the more decadent sounding dessert.
I was not at all disappointed.
The panna cotta, a cream reduction mixed with gelatin to firm it up, was covered in a layer of soft dark chocolate and topped with a raspberry sherbet.
It was sublime, and almost erased the memory of the terrible sandwich.
Organic never tasted better.
Moriah Parrish can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.