Mark Wootton, General Manager at Garden Cafe, estimates that they go through somewhere around 65 pounds of potatoes per week. The onions go pretty quickly, too.
The Garden part of Garden Cafe doesn’t grow potatoes and onions.
Instead, the plants that the rather sizable garden behind this cozy cafe are dedicated to happen to be leafier and more colorful – and make a salad or sandwich at Garden Cafe completely unique. At this breakfast and lunch cafe, they’re sourcing a vast amount of their greens and herbs from their own backyard.
“What we do is try to focus on things that have the most impact,” says Wootton, whose father Dale founded the aptly named Garden Cafe in Junius Heights 10 years ago. “For example, growing potatoes out there is not going to have an impact on the percentage of potatoes we serve. However, we don’t need to buy any Swiss chard or kale, and they’re both regular menu items – we grow a hundred percent of what we serve. Our herbs – except for cilantro, which doesn’t grow year round every year – are at one hundred percent. What makes the difference is finding the highest impact ingredients and focusing on those. That’s our goal.”
Spring’s arrival means the dozens of rows behind Garden Cafe will soon be even more colorful and bountiful, with romaine, Arugula, chives, green onions, and many other offerings soaking up the sun as the weather begins to warm. There’s a sizable dining area in the garden, covered with a vine-laden pergola amid the arched footpaths that lead from bed to bed, and even a brightly colored coop with a few chickens pecking around inside.
But it’s not just the outside of Garden Cafe that merits mention – sure, it’s the namesake, but the inside of this 90-plus-year-old building doesn’t lack for comfort and charm, either. Large windows at the front and one at the back give the warmly wooded interior plenty of natural light, while a chalkboard menu and a walk-up register ensure a casual atmosphere. A La Marzocco Strada espresso machine is dutifully attended in the corner, and the atmosphere is light with the murmur of conversation.
“For someone who’s coming here for the first time, I think they’ll be a little surprised with what they find,” Wootton says. “You see this 1920’s-era strip mall surrounded by houses, and it feels like another place and time. Then you walk back and you see this huge garden back there – around half an acre; it really adds to this feeling of ‘where am I?’ It doesn’t feel like anything else – especially in Dallas – and there are now some restaurants that have started growing since we opened, but none to this degree.”
But the garden’s presence isn’t there simply for atmosphere – the philosophy behind the food at Garden Cafe reflects the fresh approach the garden implies, with a focus on letting the ingredients speak for themselves in straightforward, traditional and well-executed dishes. Breakfast offerings, soups and sandwiches comprise a majority of the menu, with specials such as a flat-iron steak with herbed grits and wilted spinach standing out as options for those with a more significant appetite. What they can’t source from their own backyard, Garden Cafe often seeks as locally as possible.
“It’s good breakfast and lunch; nothing too wild, just trying to find the highest-quality ingredients that we can sell at a reasonable price,” Wootton says. “Then we try to bring those ingredients out the best that we can and serve them. It’s pretty straightforward – nothing excessive, just good.”
The Turkey Avocado sandwich is representative of the philosophy: a healthy helping of turkey with the simple, liberal additions of avocado, lettuce, red onions, tomatos and mayo on wheat bread is no revolutionary combination, but the assembled sandwich is a sight to behold, and makes for an ample, relatively healthy lunch – especially considering the bowl of fruit that comes alongside it. Likewise, a breakfast omelet is anything but revolutionary, but the cafe’s penchant for sourcing the best eggs possible makes them a special experience, according to Wootton.
“I think the omelet is the most representative dish of what we do, because all of our eggs come from farms nearby – Turning Point Ranch and Comeback Creek Farm – and they’re pasture raised and fed a varied diet; chickens are naturally omnivores, so the farms that we buy from try to give them the most natural diet possible,” Wootton says. “And those eggs are just incredible, and we spend more on those eggs than we would anywhere else, but the flavor, the color and the nutrients are so vastly different that it’s well worth it.”
The food at Garden Cafe isn’t meant to surprise or shock, and the presentation is straightforward, but it’s clear that they are proud of the ingredients that go into the dishes as well as with the preparation itself. The garden is likely the biggest aesthetic draw – and it’s an impressive one – while the simple, warm atmosphere inside encourages conversation and comfort. At Garden Cafe, what you see is pretty much what you get. And to be surrounded by fresh ingredients – some not even yet pulled from the garden – that’s not a bad place to be.