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Honey on the Table
****
Out of a possible five
$

It’s love at 1st bite at new café

As Neil Sedaka sang it, “Breaking up is hard to do.”

But, sometimes, falling in love again is even harder.

And I am struggling now to commit to Honey on the Table, the new café-bakery along Hobson Road just north of State Boulevard.

I fell in love with Chuck and Bird’s Bistro that opened in November 2010 and served fabulous food with gourmet touches, including one of the best burgers this town had to offer. Then it all came to a crashing end in September.

My love was lost; closed for good.

Pamela Downs and Lisa Williams, who own Honey on the Table, worked and helped set up the menu at Chuck and Bird’s. What makes the relationship even more complicated is that the same touches I fell in love with at Chuck and Bird’s are present at the new place. So it is like I am hooking back up with an ex every time I eat there.

Take the Great Granny Smith sandwich, for example. This sandwich is a jacked-up BLT with thinly sliced tart Granny Smith apples, a little bleu and cheddar cheese, and a smear of vanilla cream cheese on house-made raisin-walnut bread.

Which brings me to something else alluring about this café: The baked goods come from the hands of Williams’ husband, the aptly named Chuck Kaiser, a baking legend around these parts.

One of his crazy good creations – the bagel bomb – was the vehicle for the KGB, a daily special sandwich that was even better than the Granny and that deserves a permanent spot on the menu.

The bombs are softball-sized bagel orbs with a core of onion and bacon cream cheese topped everything-style with garlic, poppy seeds onion powder and salt. One was split to make the sandwich and filled with a caper- and dill-dotted egg salad, arugula, tomato and smoked salmon. The combination of creamy, crunchy, chewy and salty was unbelievable.

All of the bread was fantastic, and I will not be able to leave the place again without taking a big, round, rustic loaf home with me, especially if the sourdough is available – it was perfection.

As if that wasn’t enough to woo me, there was a big dessert counter at Honey on the Table that had those bagel bombs and a plethora of cookies, coffeecakes and other goodies. The best thing from that case was easily the compost cookie, a sinful little salty-sweet treat made with oats, chocolate and butterscotch chips, coffee, pretzels and crushed potato chips.

The Danish panini was another great way to satisfy a sweet tooth and would be a perfect little snack to split with a friend over a cup of coffee or tea. The raisin-walnut bread was filled with vanilla cream cheese, dried cranberries and toasted walnuts, then pressed and grilled to be toasty, gooey and warm.

Honey on the Table also offers soups and salads that vary with the season.

The cream of asparagus soup was one of the best soups I have had recently. It was blended with bits of carrot and asparagus, and it had a creamy rich broth that seemed almost buttery. I think I could have eaten a gallon of it.

The Bibb salad, however, was a bit clumsy with large organic bibb leaves topped with candied almonds, bleu cheese and dried apricots. The champagne vinaigrette was nice, but the salad lacked crunch that could have easily been added via some homemade croutons from Kaiser’s bread.

The Ischiana sandwich had just one minor criticism. The combination of fresh mozzarella, prosciutto and arugula on a freshly baked baguette simply seasoned with extra virgin olive oil and basil was spot-on, but it needed more prosciutto as the thick slabs of cheese sort of outshined it.

I couldn’t find one thing I would change about the Harvest Brisket, however. The beef on this sandwich had a hearty, momma’s-roast flavor and it was perfectly accented by the sweetness of the glazed winter fruits – cherries and plums – and port wine it was cooked with. Those fruits are taken from the stock and blended with mustard, which is used as a condiment on the country white bread sandwich.

If there is one drawback to me considering a long-term relationship with Honey on the Table, it is – call me shallow – its looks. The place is tiny and the handful of tables in it are even further crowded by racks of jam, jellies, spreads, candies and an assortment of other wares being sold there.

Some of the items are interesting, but not interesting enough to outweigh the lack of comfort. Honey on the Table’s service helped cover that flaw well. Orders are taken and paid for at the counter, but the folks there are more than willing to wait on you tableside if you plan on sitting a spell. And everyone there was gracious and did their best to make my parties feel comfortable even when the place was packed.

With the warm weather, a few tables have been placed outside, and Downs said there are plans to construct a patio on the side of the building.

So I think I am ready to take the plunge and fall in love all over again.

But I may need another compost cookie or loaf of bread to be sure. Or maybe if they just add that burger to the menu …

Restaurant: Honey on the Table

Address: 2461 Hobson Road

Phone: 373-0555

Hours: 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday

Cuisine: American

Handicapped accessible: Yes, but confined

Alcohol: None

Credit cards: Yes

Kid-friendly: Yes

Menu: Bread (loaves $4 to $8), Great Granny Smith ($7.50), Danish panini ($4.50), brisket ($8), Bibb salad ($7), Ischiana ($7.50), cookies ($1.95)

Rating breakdown: Food: *** (3-star maximum); atmosphere: 0 (1 maximum), service: * (1 maximum)

Note: Restaurants are categorized by price range: $ (less than $20 for three-course meal), $$ ($20-$29); $$$ ($30-$39), $$$$ ($40-$49), $$$$$ ($50 and up).

Ryan DuVall is a restaurant critic for The Journal Gazette. This review is based on two unannounced visits. The Journal Gazette pays for all meals. Email him at rduvall@jg.net; call at 461-8130. DuVall’s past reviews can be found at www.journalgazette.net. You can follow him on Twitter (@DiningOutDuVall).

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