Seasonal Struggles: Orchard Café

08/27/2014 4:00 AM |

Orchard Café
257 Columbia Street, Red Hook

Siting outside the Orchard Café, a restaurant that opened last month on the southern end of the Columbia Street Waterfront, it’s clear to see this place has real down-to-earth, local roots. At one point, a modest car pulled up and a man and woman got out toting crates of lemons and seltzer through the front door. Soon after, a girl, about six years old and passing by with her father, stated, “Oh, I love the chicken here.” The inviting vibe is not an accident: The owners outline on the Orchard Café website that they’re “a group of food and art lovers who passionately believe in the power of convivial and creative atmosphere at the table.” The focus here is seasonal, locally sourced, and organic, as showcased on an ambitious menu. The space, cleanly decorated with exposed brick and a chalkboard wall, offers breakfast and brunch options, a selection of sandwiches, and a full dinner menu. There’s no liquor license yet, so drinks range from coffee and tea to “Orchard healing juice.”

The meal started with a smooth but not particularly strong iced coffee and a beet lemon shrub. “It’s not sweet,” the waitress warned. “It’s healthy.” And it wasn’t sweet, rather vinegary, but refreshing all the same. The summer lettuce salad that followed— decorated with blueberries, peppers, and a basil vinaigrette—felt underwhelming. In the most promising months of summer produce, salad greens shouldn’t look wilted, blueberries should taste brighter, richer, and basil dressing should be bold, not forgettable. An appetizer of Siberian dumplings (made with beef and pork), recommended by the waitress, proved more exciting. Served in a reddish pool of beet broth, flecked with lightly cooked kale and yogurt, it was one of the highlights of the meal.

The list of entrées boasts a healthy, vegetarian-friendly appeal: a lentil burger, barley risotto, roast chicken with ginger and cantaloupe. The barley risotto, wonderfully creamy but still slightly undercooked, was packed with mushrooms, greens, and parmesan—it tasted almost meaty. Buckwheat soba was a good summer pick, served cold with pickled carrots, corn, chicken, zucchini, and Brussels sprout kimchi.

The meal ended with two watermelon ice pops—how else to wrap up a warm summer afternoon? It was refreshing and perfectly enjoyable, but it still lacked that insane freshness you crave in the month of August. Once again, the promise of seasonality went somewhat unfulfilled. Orchard Café has all the makings of an established local joint, and it’s one of the few restaurants on this end of the Columbia Street Waterfront. It may just need a little extra oomph to get there.