Voice-Tribute Review - November 2011

Breakfast for lunch, and vice-versa, at Verbena Cafe

November 10, 2011

VOICE-TRIBUNE Review by Robin Garr

Fish tacos

Fish Tacos at Verbena. PHOTO: Robin Garr

Breakfast appeals to me, and I’m more than willing to take on a platter of eggs, biscuits and hash browns at any time of day.  Breakfast for dinner? I’m there! I like that about Verbena Cafe, a popular spot that’s coming up on its first birthday at Norton Commons: You can get breakfast any time they’re open, which makes an omelet, blueberry pancakes or even a raspberry Nutella crepe an entirely reasonable proposition even at 2 p.m.

Breakfast for dinner? Well. This runs up against the reality that Verbena is all about breakfast and lunch.  It’s open daily (except Mondays) but closes at 3 p.m.  Never mind. The breakfast and lunch menus are both appealing and well-prepared. If you aren’t a big fan of breakfast, they’re open to the happy alternative of serving you lunch for breakfast. They’ll do that early, too: Verbena opens bright and early, every day but Monday, at 7 a.m.

Verbena is located in the “town square” at the center of Norton Commons, the new subdivision in the far East End that’s made to look like an old village, sort of. Owners Mike and Laurie Cortino, transplants from the Chicago area with deep roots in the restaurant business, carry out the faux-antique shtick attractively. It’s a big room with pretty lemon-ice color walls, wooden booths and hanging lamps, quarry-tile floors, and on one wall a mural of a streetscape that looks a lot like Norton Commons.

The menu is seriously extensive, offering nearly 100 breakfast-and-lunch options subdivided into about 20 categories. They’ve got omelets, skillet dishes, oatmeal, pancakes, waffles, crepes and blintzes for breakfast; salads, soups, hot or cold sandwiches, panini and melts and burgers for lunch, oh my. Prices are in the affordable range, starting at $5.75 (for unadorned Belgian waffles, pancakes or French toast) and topping out at $12.25 (for a few steak dishes). Just about everything else is under $10. All the beef is Kentucky Proud, by the way, produced in-state from natural beef without growth hormones, steroids or additives.

My wife, Mary and my sister, Amy both felt like lunch for lunch, choosing a patty melt ($9.45) and spicy fish tacos ($9.95) respectively.

The fish tacos looked as good as they tasted, two soft flour tortillas gently cradling cod fingers crisp-fried in a spicy Cajun breading, nestled on a bed of field greens and topped with a piquant and colorful corn-tomato-jalapeño salsa. Small bowls of sour cream, sliced jalapeños, a fiery red salsa and cooling fruit surrounded the plate.

The patty melt was fine, a medium-pink Kentucky Proud patty sandwiched on seeded Jewish-style rye toast, blanketed with molten Swiss and Cheddar and sweet grilled onions.

Stuffed pepper soup, which came with the patty melt, was just what its name implies, a deconstructed stuffed pepper turned to soup: ground beef and lots of green peppers, rice and chopped veggies in a beefy-tomato broth.

I held fast to my plan to have breakfast for lunch, and after some waffling, went with Belgian mini-waffles ($5.75).  You may add goodies, including walnuts, cranberries, bananas, cinnamon apples, strawberries, blueberries and more, sort of like choosing pizza toppings, only waffle-y. There’s no extra charge for powdered sugar. I went with the pecan option and was glad I did. It beats Waffle House’s pecan waffle three ways from Sunday.

Three forks and a shared, well-made cannoli ($3.95), attractively plated and drizzled with bittersweet chocolate, wrapped up a satisfying meal.  The $39.22 tab seemed fair for three, with a $10 tip for friendly and competent service.

Verbena Cafe
10639 Meeting St.
Norton Commons
425-0020
www.VerbenaCafe.com