I don’t know where the Gardens Restaurant (3220 Rock Springs Rd, 817-731-2547) ranks in the hierarchy of ladies-who-lunch restaurants, but it at least has to register, right? Just to be sure, let’s put the tiny eatery tucked away in the Fort Worth Botanic Garden through my patented three-pronged Ladies-Who-Lunch-O-Meter test:
Question 1.) Does it have a quaint, dainty atmosphere? The place has a gorgeous wooden deck-style patio, skylights, and floor-to-ceiling windows that flood the dining room with natural light, fresh flowers on every table, Texas sandstone walls, and, of course, it’s surrounded by breathtaking scenery. I saw nary a doily, but the service was attentive, pleasant, and even pampering. So that would be a resounding yes.
Question 2.) How is the menu? Is there quiche and/or chicken salad? Yes, and you can get both with a side of fresh fruit (bonus points!). Although the menu also has burgers, pasta, and fried chicken, all of those entrées are gorgeously, dare I say “femininely,” presented with chef-y flourishes. Still, a menu that offers a Reuben, chicken parm sandwich, and heartier-looking dishes wouldn’t fly at, say, McKinley’s. The kitchen also loses LWL points for not offering half-sandwiches and soup – a staple of other such eateries. But, still, the answer is a tentative I guess so.
Question 3.) Do mostly ladies lunch there? The short answer is yes, but this is where the water gets even muddier. On my recent visit, there were a few parties of women lunching in the traditional LWC-style (reading the whole menu aloud, eating like birds, camping at the table for hours), but the crowd was about 40 percent male. Based on their sweatpants and fanny packs, I assumed those guys had just finished a power-hour of flower gazing and got hungry; and based on all the gals’ pearl earrings and the Channel 19 wafting through the air like floral smog, I’m guessing they came specifically for the restaurant. So … ding, ding, ding. It’s another yes. Barely.
I recently visited the little café because the brass changed its menu for the first time since the Fillmore administration. The garden quiche ($6.25) is hardly a new addition to the menu. But the airy mélange of veggies, cheese, and flaky, buttery, thin crust that shattered at the slightest touch of the fork is the standard-bearer of LWC excellence. I wish I could say the same for the salad/soup course. My cream of spinach soup was mostly cream with only a vague rumor of spinach, though the appetizer was well-seasoned. My guest’s dinner salad was beautifully presented with long, thin slivers of cucumber surrounding the greens. The flavor didn’t live up to the visual, unfortunately. The lettuce was wilted, and the tomatoes were dull and lifeless, which was especially disappointing considering the word “garden” in the restaurant’s name evokes certain expectations of the produce.
The kitchen recovered with the entrées. The teriyaki salmon ($13.50) was superbly cooked. Silken slabs of tender meat were coated with a minimal tang of teriyaki – not enough to obscure the flavor of the fish. The accompanying black beans, corn, and cheese grits were competently bland side items that neither added nor detracted anything from the dish. My guest’s tortilla encrusted tilapia ($13.50) was still firm enough on the fork but flaky and tender on the tongue.
The dessert menu, particularly the sweet-but-not-cloying bread pudding ($5.95), drenched in a brown sugar bourbon sauce and zig-zagging garnishes of puree, is a convincing reason to camp out with the LWC crowd for a languid afternoon.
Gardens Restaurant may be a ladies-who-lunch spot, but it’s also comfortable, the food is approachable, and the lunch menu tops out at $13.50. I’d lunch there anytime.