I’d had a rough morning. Oil change first thing, which meant nearly an hour and a half flicking aimlessly through magazines in the customer lounge and trying to tune out the TV; making phone calls to clients only to have to leave messages for each and every one; then fidgeting in line for another half-hour while waiting to buy a battery for our phone.
Which made the peace and quiet of Casa Blanca Café a lovely respite for a lunch date with a friend. As I slipped into my cushioned garden seat with a sigh, I felt at home. At least, at a home that was much nicer than my own. Festooned lights gave the room a holiday feel, feathery green plants in red clay pots made an interior garden in the space under a stairwell, and lovely carved wood furniture topped with marble was both attractive to the eye and serviceable – showcasing a row of cake stands and plates piled with desserts.
Casa Blanca Café is owned and operated by Jai West, who formerly led the much-loved White Elephant Café. It, and Sundrees Urban Market, are the only two merchants bravely – and successfully – holding on in the JB White’s building downtown.
It was a quiet Tuesday at noon, but Casa Blanca typically has a lot going on, especially in the evenings. Drive past and and you may catch sight of swirling dresses during the Augusta Tango Club’s Thursday night dances, or glimpse flickering black-and-white movies shown against the far wall during Friday movie nights.
But today, a quiet sophisticated meal felt just right for two friends reconnecting. As we gabbed away, I sipped on the lemon sweet tea, which came highly recommended. It was as tart as our conversation and sweet as our personalities.
When it came time to order, my friend had a lot of questions but I knew exactly what I wanted … the wedge salad with garlic dressing, followed by the Moroccan chutney meatballs. They could come either as a sub or on couscous and I opted for the latter — less chance that I would get it all over my face.
My friend asked, “What should I get?”
I recommended the curried squash soup, which was a special, with an ulterior motive – I really wanted to have a taste myself. She ordered it, plus the “Grown Up” grilled cheese sandwich.
Our starters came quickly. The wedge was a large, gloriously crisp chunk of lettuce, heavily drizzled with delicate pink creamy garlic dressing, and ringed by tiny yellow tomatoes. It really is an excuse just to eat the delicious dressing, with the crisp greens adding mostly texture and freshness. My friend – who doesn’t even like curry – pronounced her soup a success, and after stealing a spoonful, I had to agree. The curry was just strong enough to give the creamy squash soup a little zing, and it wasn’t just totally pureed like baby food – you actually got a nice mouth feel of vegetables. We agreed that both our starters were good enough to run the risk of garlic or curry mouth later on.
Our entrees came next. The meatballs and couscous looked lovely, a soft butter yellow mound of starch topped with a bright red sauce and meatballs, with a sprig of rosemary adding a flourish, just like an English fascinator. Unfortunately, the taste disappointed. The couscous was watery and bland, and the meatballs were strangely tart – as though a bit too much lemon or vinegar had been mixed into the sauce. I was doubly disappointed because I’d tasted these before and found them delicious.
My friend, however, was in love with her sandwich – grilled bread embracing nearly an inch of deep yellow melted heaven. She joked that she could feel her arteries hardening – but it was worth it.
Our waitress chose that moment to slip the dessert menu to us. We had a hard time choosing between the sesame chocolate cookies or the brownies, but the brownies had to win. And when we got them – simple unadorned beauty on a glass plate – they definitely made up for my meal. The cake bottom was perhaps a tad dry, but topped with a sweet creamy layer, then with a sheet of shiny chocolate ganache, it was delicious and almost too rich, but I finished every last bite.
As we rolled out of the restaurant, my friend scolded me for not sending my meal back, but I felt bad. After all, anyone can have an off day – my morning was testament enough to that. And Casa Blanca’s many charms – and brownies – will continue to invite me back.
P.S. We were invited back a few weeks ago for Casa Blanca’s second Sunday buffet-style brunch. It’s a feast for the eyes, ears and taste buds: To the accompaniment of soft jazz, we dined on fresh fruit with mint or ginger syrup, creamy scrambled eggs with leeks, sausage, grits, potatoes and a decadent banana-and-cream-cheese-stuffed french toast. Arguably the best brunch in town, it’s a great introduction to Casa Blanca at its best.
ON THE MENU
WHERE: Casa Blanca Café, 936 Broad St.
HOURS: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday-Wednesday; 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5:30 to 9 p.m. Thursday; 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5:30 to 10 p.m. Friday-Saturday. On second Sundays, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., all-you-can-eat brunch buffet
SECOND HELPING: (706) 504-3431, www.casablancatime.com or find them on Facebook