Halfway through the storm, it occurred to us that there was nowhere we’d rather wait it out than Wildflower Café. Maybe it was the warm yellow light, the wind blowing through windows no one had bothered to shut or the clanging and clinking of glasses and silverware from the 20-some diners next to us, all nestled together in one room. Then again, maybe it was the scent of the best Jamaican Jerk sauce I’ve ever had — cinnamon, scallions and garlic wafting from the kitchen that made it OK, even necessary, to stay a few minutes more.
We’d already had a long night of surprises — for better and for worse — so the storm was an appropriate ending. First we’d gotten lost, even though Wildflower is a fairly obvious oasis of green, a white house teeming with plants and gardens along Route 42 in Mason. We were a half hour late and I was worried. It’s hard to get a table at Wildflower; they’re only open for dinner Thursday through Saturday and the tiny space seats no more than 36 people a night. Owner Todd Hudson says this will change in the next 30 days, as he opens his porch for dining and unveils his new wine bar and upstairs store.
“We can seat about 80 then,” he says. “I feel bad that people who want to come sometimes can’t get a table.”
But right now, the scarcity principle is working for him. The harder it is to get in, the more people want to come.
We were surprised that they held our table for us, and also that they now had their liquor license and a nice wine list that included organics and local vineyards like Burnet Ridge in North College Hill, all at attractive prices ($6-9 a glass). Hudson says all the wines he offers are a “penny over the state minimum price.” Because Wildflower is an organic, locavore-loving restaurant, most are sustainable and many are local.
While we were given menus right away, it took about 15 minutes for our server to take our drink orders. To be fair, she was working the entire restaurant. Hudson said later that it was her first night there and she was a friend who’d come through for him in a pinch that night; he was also helping her out by giving her an opportunity to make some extra money.
“Usually, our service is ridiculously good,” he says.
But she forgot our house salads. We ordered them and they were never seen nor mentioned again. “There’s like a wall of denial about the salads,” my friend observed, finding it unforgivable.
But the service from the kitchen was undeniably good. On diets, and having eaten little that day, we were starving. We asked for bread, and our server disappeared into the kitchen. Moments later, she reemerged with an enormous basket of buttered and lightly grilled French bread served over olive oil and basil. “This is the best bread I think I’ve ever had,” my friend said, which was significant considering she’s an Italian dietician and foodie; she knows her bread.
She ordered the Copper River Salmon. Wildly fresh and nutty, Copper River is only available for a few weeks out of the year. Herb-encrusted, with a light dill flavor, it was heavenly. But we were surprised when we got the bill and saw that it was $36. Hudson says it costs him $22 a pound and he’d ordered it specifically for a friend who was bringing in a group that wanted something special that night.
But had we known, we wouldn’t have sprung for it. Most of the prices were on the menu and we should have asked. Meanwhile, I’d ordered the Jerk Chicken with roasted vegetables and mashed potatoes ($17), a meal that I’d been fantasizing about for the short 20 minutes we waited for it. But when it came to the table, it was a whole roasted chicken and all of the flavor was in the skin. I know I’m a food critic and should like meat in all of its guises — the closer to nature the better. But I’m also a reformed vegetarian and have never been able to eat chicken off the bone, much less a whole one.
As a testament to the culinary skills of Hudson, I will say that I tried to eat it, because the jerk sauce was so savory and the meat so perfectly tender. But ultimately I sent it back, apologizing: “I thought it was a chicken breast, not a whole chicken.” I was surprised when the kitchen apologized, in turn, without a trace of attitude. Moments later, they brought out a lovely vegetarian sandwich on fresh ciabatta with gently sautéed zucchini, squash and onion, and a soft herb mayo and coarse hummus that gave it a nice texture.
We finished up the night by contemplating the merits of the meal over a homemade peanut butter pie that melted in our mouths. The two things we’d change? The service and a stronger front-of-the-house presence from Hudson. Yes, we know he’s busy, but we wanted to see him pull a Jean-Robert De Cavel or Matthew Buschle and make the rounds. We loved the food and the space and it would have been nice to meet its creator.�
Go: 207 East Main Street (Route 42)
Hours: Catering every night of the week. Lunch 11a.m.-2p.m. Monday-Saturday; Dinner 5:30-closing Thursday-Saturday.
Privates parties Monday-Wednesday. Reservations recommended
Entrée Prices: Menu changes nightly; $9- $36.
Payment: Most major credit cards
Red Meat Alternatives: Plenty
Accessibility: Fully accessible