Sunday, May 13, 2007

Cafe Hon - It's Not All Peaches and Cream, hon...

I did give a better-than-average rating for Cafe Hon on my recent post about it. The service, I thought, was great and the decor, duh, is fun. Note that the food was not my favorite part, though I did enjoy the salad I had. The rest of what I had was good - again, not spectacular, but good. Perhaps this is why I don't go out of my way to go there. It's the experience, not the food, that people like about it.

Dan at Hungover Gourmet has had, well, not as good an experience with Cafe Hon. He left a pretty long comment to my post that I didn't really respond to, because I've been so damn busy (this and today's other posts are, in fact, me procrastinating from other work). But he gave a nice, long post about his problems with Cafe Hon that culminated in a recent visit featuring a bloody burger and salt-tastic gravy that just about ruined a meatloaf for him (ironically, I almost ordered the meatloaf last week). I thought it was worth posting his comment in full:

After a half-dozen or so visits I have come to the undeniable conclusion that Cafe Hon may be one of the worst restaurants in the area, yet it seems to get a continual pass from people because of its kitschy decor and hon-tastic setting.

I've had everything there from soup and sandwiches for lunch to dinner entrees and I've never come away thinking, "Hey, that was pretty good."

In fact, my last visit was a disaster and has turned me off to the place for good. It was a Friday night in early February and my buddy and I had spent the day off from work up in Philly. We returned to Baltimore, met up with some friends for happy hour down in Hampden and decided to get a bite for dinner.

With Holy Frijoles telling us we'd have to wait 30 minutes for a table we hoofed it down to Cafe Hon where there were tables aplenty. I was in the mood for some serious comfort food and decided on my old standby: The Meatloaf Dinner.

Frankly, my belief is that any diner or cheap eats type of restaurant can be judged by their meatloaf. It's one of the simplest things in the world to make but also easy to screw up. I firmly believe that if you can't make a decent meatloaf, how can I trust you to make anything else well?

My wife joined us for dinner and ordered a burger cooked medium rare while my friend had the fish and chips. When my meatloaf arrived it was literally inedible. Not because the meatloaf itself was bad. In fact, I have no idea how the meatloaf tasted because the entire thing was covered in the worst, saltiest, most horrifyingly awful attempt at an herbed gravy that I've ever had in my life.

I literally took the pieces of white bread that were sitting under the meatloaf and desperately attempted to blot the horrific sauce off the meat. While this helped a little the sauce had still seeped into the meat, basically turning the whole thing into a chewy salt lick.

But I got off easy. When my wife's burger arrived at the table it was, um, undercoked. No, wait, what's the word I'm looking for? Oh, right. Raw. That's it.

Apparently misunderstanding "medium rare" to mean "bloody, cold and raw," the cooks (and I use that word ever so loosely) had basically browned the burger on both sides and served it up.

So atrociously raw and inedible (in other words, 2/3 of our meals were wretched beyond belief) was the burger that the two halves of the patty easily separated in her hands because the insides were still bloody, cold and raw.

At least the waitress was sharp enough to recognize this disgraceful display and took the burger off our bill.

Like I said, this was not a one-time experience with Cafe Hon. I've had a half-dozen or so meals there, all of which have ranged from staggeringly mediocre to immediately forgettable. But this took disregard for the diner and a lack of interest in preparation to new heights.

Maybe the owner should concentrate more on the food being served than playing up the kitschy angle and Hon-gear.

There are too many decent places to eat in the area for me to give Cafe Hon another shot.

So as Dan notes, to put it mildly, Cafe Hon's food is just not that good. As for me, I liked what I had, though I have had better elsewhere (especially for the price). But I probably will give it another shot. Looking at his experience, I may order the meatloaf and ask them to hold the gravy (I'm used to tomato sauce or something of that nature on my meatloaf). I'm curious to see what it tastes like.

But it still can't be as bad as the Grill Art Cafe.


danielle said...

I've never had terrible food at Cafe Hon, but I've never had anything particularly good. The service is always good. The last waitress I had there I recognized as she also works(ed?) at the New Wyman Park Restaurant.

I signed up for this promotion they have - Royalty Rewards. I don't think I'll ever get enough points for a gift certificate, but I did get a $10 off coupon in the mail for my birthday.

Anyways, as a transplant to Hampden, I cringe when people equate Cafe Hon kitsch with the character of the neighborhood as a whole. However, you do have to give Denise, the proprietess, credit for taking the Hon concept and running and running and running with it.