If you haven’t discovered Bowood Farms nursery in the Central West End, I suggest stopping by the urban oasis. You’ll find balled trees and yard plants of every variety, and an appealing little tea room, Cafe Osage, where the bounty of fresh-grown herbs and produce is evident in every dish, sauce and condiment.
Open for breakfast and lunch, the simple menu focuses on Midwestern provisions with things like house-smoked trout, pulled pork and pasta primavera made with local squash and asparagus. The cafe is small and airy, with one wall of windows facing a garden courtyard with fountain and another facing the 4600 block of Olive Street.
The interior is done in earth tones: brown walls, saddle-colored leather dining chairs and a few booths. There are only about a dozen tables, with extra seats at the counter. The focus is on fresh ingredients, with leafy greens from the garden taking center stage.
We started with a Mediterranean Plate ($8.50), with various specialties atop red-leaf lettuce, and a smoked trout plate ($9). The former included hummus, couscous, eggplant caponata, herbed goat cheese, brined olives and pita. The caponata, especially, was wonderful, with large chunks of eggplant coated with olive oil and glazed to an appealing caramel color. It was slightly sweet. The couscous, too, was quite good, with tomato and red pepper cubes and flavored with olive oil.
The trout was outstanding, a must-order dish. Not the usual withered, pre-packaged variety, a meaty fillet, sans skin, was lightly smoked to retain optimum moisture and flavor. It came with lightly toasted pumpernickel rounds and a house-made spread of cream, dill and horseradish bursting with fresh flavors.
From the ‘main courses,’ we sampled the pulled pork sandwich ($8.50), Thai red curry primavera ($10), the fresh tuna sandwich ($10) and the daily flatbread ($9.50), all with happy results. The pork, like the trout, was house-smoked with a light touch, so the natural flavor of slow-roasted pork shoulder was complemented, not obliterated, by the process. It was lean and came on a wonderfully fresh ciabatta roll piled high with creamy cabbage slaw—a very well-suited accompaniment. The crisp, pungent cabbage was tossed with what tasted like homemade mayonnaise, its creaminess cutting the savory meatiness of the pork. A marvelous, vinegar-based barbecue sauce was applied so judiciously that it was barely detectable, but added interest with acid undertones.
The pasta, a bowlful of angel hair noodles tossed with squash, asparagus, peapods, red onions and shiitake mushrooms, was in a house-made curry sauce that was very light. It was spicy hot, but still allowed the refreshing primavera quality of spring vegetables to come through.
The tuna sandwich came as a nice, thick steak, seared on the outside and rare inside. It had a light char and a sweet, clean-tasting interior. It came with lettuce, tomato and a creamy ‘Japanese-style 1,000-island dressing,’ with a side of potato salad. The dressing and side were noteworthy in that they obviously got as much attention as the main dishes. The dressing was creamy and pungent, the potato salad made with red new potatoes and crunchy celery, carrot and red onion.
The flatbread had roma tomatoes, fresh basil and caciocavallo cheese, a Sicilian soft cheese comparable to provolone, but with a more buttery flavor. The crust was good, and the liberally applied cheese resulted in mouthfuls of rich, creamy pizza that would have been overkill had a lesser cheese been used.
Desserts are also house-made, and from a roster of about half a dozen, we chose Key Lime pie and challah bread pudding, $5 each. The pie had a wonderful tart flavor and came with a custard-like filling in pâte brisée crust that I found a bit too dense and floury. The bread pudding was actually French toast topped with a thin custard sauce and whipped cream. Although atypical, it was tasty and not too rich or sweet, common pitfalls with bread puddings.
Café Osage is one of those little gems you hope to find. It has cropped up in an unexpected place, and it delivers unexpected quality. The kitchen wisely lets the garden bounty speak for itself by using a light touch in preparations. Best of all, everything gets attention from the kitchen, whether its meat or mayonnaise. The best way to describe this place is as an edible Secret Garden.
Cold Potato Salad from Cafe Osage
Serves 4. Cafe Osage recommends making this recipe several hours to a day ahead before serving.
2 lbs small red skinned potatoes cut into bite-sized pieces
1 medium size carrot coarsely shredded in a food processor or hand cut into matchsticks
2 ribs of celery cut into match sticks
1 small red onion cut in half and sliced thin
12 fresh radishes trimmed and cut into wedges
Mix vegetables together in large bowl. Combine the following:
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup homemade or good quality mayonnaise
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 tsp kosher or sea salt
2 tsp sugar
1 tsp cracked black pepper
1/4 cup chopped fresh dill
Stir together well. Pour over mixed vegetables and toss till well coated.