’m not sure when it happened, but somewhere along the way I think that it became a rule that bookstores must provide food and beverage, in addition to literature. Almost all modern bookstores have cafés offering coffee, sweets and sandwiches. However, Joseph-Beth Booksellers at Rookwood Pavilion really goes the extra mile. Not only do they have specialty coffee drinks and desserts, they make substantial, healthy full meals and have a complete bar.
I have often stopped by Bronte Bistro over the years and have always found it to be a great cozy place to read and have a bite to eat. I was surprised when I realized that CityBeat had never given this “novel” café the full review treatment, so I went back recently to right this wrong and to sample a few of their new menu items.
Calming is a great word to describe Bronte Bistro. The café has a muted, tasteful décor that enhances friendly group conversations or contemplative solo dining. I’m definitely not big on eating out by myself, but due to a new job with some crazy-weird work hours, I found myself hungry and alone on a late midweek afternoon. I was warmly greeted by both the hostess and my server and didn’t feel at all awkward dining solo. On a whole, service is professional; unobtrusive but quite friendly.
The café’s current drink menu celebrates the flavors of fall. I decided to try a Turkish Latte ($4 for 12 ounces or $4.50 for 16 ounces). The freshly ground coffee was infused with cinnamon, cardamon and honey. It was frothy and the perfect antidote for that chilly day. There are both alcoholic and non-alcoholic fall specialties on the drink menu that all feature the warm, rich tones of the season.
This Bistro has an ambitious menu that includes interesting starters, entrée salads, sandwiches and home cooked entrées. On that first visit, I was really hungry and wanted to try one of the new menu items, so I selected the Panko-Encrusted Cod Sandwich ($11.95). Personally, I think that panko breading makes anything taste better, and, by the way, when is someone going to pony up and put a panko-encrusted bacon dish on their menu!
This cod sandwich was huge — crispy on the outside while flaky and moist on the inside. The multigrain bread was wonderful as it was grilled in a panini press and stood up to both the weight and the flavor of the sandwich, which included tomato, lettuce, onion and a chipotle mayo that added a nice punch. The only disappointment was the accompanying sides. The chips were OK, nothing special, but the broccoli slaw (offered as an individual side for $3) was lifeless and a sad demise for its fresh ingredients. Although colorful and visually pleasing, this slaw was boring and tasteless. It was slightly improved when I squeezed the extra lemon that came with my water on it, but vinaigrette or other seasoning is definitely needed.
Fortunately, lack of flavor on the slaw is an anomaly at Bronte. On a subsequent visit, I tried a couple of dishes that were simply excellent. My Pumpkin Latte ($4 or $4.50) was basically liquid pumpkin pie. The flavors sang. It was so good that I think I could have sat there and drank this coffee all day.
As an entrée on my second visit, I wanted to see if the kitchen at Bronte could pull off the Skillet Shrimp and Cheesy Grits ($11.95). Shrimp and grits is so often attempted and so rarely done well. The shrimp were baked so they retained a great deal of flavor and then paired with perfectly creamy cheddar cheese and scallion grits. Grits are difficult to get right and usually too runny or clumpy. Not at Bronte. These grits were silky, bursting with flavor and texturally complex. For the price, the quality of this dish is outstanding.
I added a cup of split pea soup ($2.95). While I am not sure if it was made in-house, it was filling and a nice addition. Vegetarian chili was another option at $3.95.
There are several dishes on the Bronte menu that feature dishes from Food Network chefs. I am anxious to try Tyler Florence’s Chicken Pot Pie ($11.50) or The Barefoot Contessa’s Turkey Meatloaf ($12.50). Also, the desserts, which were served to the young couple dining next to me, looked fantastic. If the portions weren’t so generous on the entrées, I definitely would have tried the Fruits of the Forest Pie ($4.25). The menu describes this as rhubarb, strawberry, apple and mixed berries served warm with a raspberry coulis drizzle on top. That pie with one of the specialty coffee drinks is reason alone to make a visit soon.
Bronte Bistro offers so much more than typical bookstore cuisine. Whether you are out Christmas shopping at Rookwood, or just looking for a great place to share some time with friends, it’s well worth making a special trip to this delightful café. ©
Go: Rookwood Pavilion, 2692 Madison Road, Hyde Park
Hours: 7:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 7:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday; 8 a.m.-10 p.m. Saturday; and 9 a.m.-8 p.m. Sunday
Entrée Prices: $9.95-$14.95
Red Meat Alternatives: Many
Accessibility: Fully accessible