The decor was an eclectic mix of flea market finds and original art with mix matched chairs and white tile topped tables. Orders were placed at the counter which was in direct view of the kitchen. You could see them cooking your orders (if there wasn't a line waiting to order which there always was). Our server/cashier/hostess exuded an ebullient blend of good humor and a passionate love of sharing good food.
A good first sign was how crowded it was even for peak lunchtime. Another sign was that they were already out of two menu items. The tour de force was the fact that our hostess seemed to greet and say farewell to a number of patrons by their name. If a restaurant knows their customers so well it clearly demonstrates there is something good going on in the kitchen.
The menu offered a good spread of different sandwiches as well as salads. The special was a wild caught salmon burger which I immediately decided upon, and joy of joys they offered sweet potato fries. I first tried sweet potato fries in Baltimore several years ago, and it remains the only way I will actually willingly eat sweet potatoes. Leslie ordered the grilled chicken sandwich with a side of freshly made chips. Sides are a la carte but not too pricey. The chips were only $1.75 whereas the sweet potato fries were$3.00 (a worthy investment).
Leslie's chicken sandwich was tender, flavorful, smokey from the grill, and flecked with herbs and spices. She remarked that everything she ordered tasted of its primary ingredient including the dessert (we'll get to that later). The chips were hot and crispy with a good crunch. (Leslie loves extra crispy.) Still after tasting my sweet potato fries she vowed to order those next time. Which leads us to my meal.
The sweet potato fries were some of the best I've ever had. I asked for lightly salted and they were just barely sprinkled with a hint of salt. In most places (particularly chains) I end up scraping salt off of the fries, and I still find them extra salty. These were perfectly crisp with just enough of the root vegetable flavor. The salmon burger came with a lovely dill sauce and a few sliced cucumbers on the patty. I normally don't go for cucumbers but this was subtle and it worked for the sandwich. Although the salmon burger skated the line between artisan sandwich and burger, it managed to combine the best of both. The salmon patty was so tender it kept trying to leap out of the bun. The flesh of the patty was simultaneously light and rich. Consequently I was left feeling fully satiated without being stuffed. I was therefore able to sample some of Leslie's dessert.
I usually don't order dessert with lunch, but I am always up for a little taste. I am also obligated to taste it since I am going to be reviewing it and two viewpoints are better than one. Leslie ordered a single slice of banana cake. The cake blended the subtle sweetness of banana bread and the moist chewiness of a cake. If you like banana bread you'll love the banana cake. Leslie especially enjoyed the small slice of banana atop the very thin coating of caramel icing. It's just enough icing to give it a pinch of extra sweetness.
During the only quiet period of our stay the hostess came over and took time to visit each table and check in with her guests. She was truly interested in how everyone's meal was, and she stayed and talked with Leslie a good bit.
Shady Lane Cafe offers a lot of real food prepared by people who love food. Lunch for the two of us ended up costing around $25 which isn't bad for 2 gourmet sandwiches with sides, a fountain drink, and a dessert. Leslie and I definitely plan to eat there again perhaps next time we'll try and get there for breakfast.
Shady Lane Cafe
4806 Brownsboro Rd