The Pantry Café
70 Clinch Crescent
Ph. (709) 722-8200
When an already low profile restaurant is physically out of sight it tends to be more out of mind than a similarly unemphatic eatery situated on a main drag. Such is the case, I think, with The Pantry Café. Running back and forth through my mental Rolodex in search of an appropriate establishment to have lunch with a friend, The Pantry Café did not pop up until the virtual wheel had been turned several times.
The Pantry Café is located inside the main building of the Elaine Dobbin Centre for Autism. The Centre is neatly hidden in a wood behind the Health Sciences Centre, not exactly in a witness protection program, but close. I’m delighted it eventually came to mind because, one, it has a parking lot – convenient when you’re driving and St. John’s is buried in snow – two, it’s usually not crazy busy, and, three, the food, at least from what I could remember, doesn’t disappoint.
Once you’ve entered the building, The Pantry Café is on your right. Although white tablecloths are out of fashion in restaurants these days, there’s no denying that they add light to a room. Sheets of clear glass cover The Pantry Café’s white tablecloths, for quick cleaning and to keep the cloths pristine. The pastel room is modest, but has a comfortable vibe. It’s obvious that thought and effort went into creating the environment, which is free of anything discordant.
Brenda Lee has been chef at The Pantry Café for two years. I’d only tasted her cuisine once before, at a friend’s place where she’d prepared a three-course dinner for 12. But, I do remember being impressed by the food and by her obvious love for what she does. You can tell from the first bite that Lee’s dishes are by someone with deep respect for ingredients, and how they’re treated, before, during and after cooking.
If chicken soup is a cure for the common cold, then The Pantry Café’s ginger carrot soup is a drinkable embrocation or balm to lift your spirits. The deep orange elixir was redolent of fresh carrot and ginger. It wasn’t much thicker than carrot juice, but had the same intense carrot flavour, spiced up with fresh ginger. Bits of grated carrot and a sprinkling of fresh herbs made things more interesting texturally.
Sometimes I get the impression that, in some restaurants and cafés, the sandwich fillings – say sliced ham or turkey – are weighed to within a scintilla of the amount prescribed by a Scrooge-like bean counter residing in a back room. God forbid an extra shred of ham should find its way into the Monte Cristo.
That is not the case at The Pantry Café.
The Pantry Café’s herbed mushroom and chicken sandwich was less about the bread and more, well, nearly all, about the filling. Thin slices of toasted panini held together a robust mixture of juicy chunks of freshly roasted chicken, mushrooms, mild red onion, lettuce and tomato. From its crispy casing to the succulent chicken and herby dressing, it had everything you’d want in an excellent sandwich.
You don’t see much quiche on menus these days, so I went for a slice of the mushroom and mozzarella baked quiche. It came with a fabulous, crunchy cabbage slaw of hand cut red and green cabbage. The country style quiche was thick, meaning thick enough to quell a lunchtime hunger. It featured plenty of egg, mushrooms, and mozzarella on a flaky pastry.
Of many dessert choices, we opted to share The Pantry Café’s chocolate bread pudding. It had the smooth, dense texture of a steamed pudding made with breadcrumbs. Veins of dark chocolate ran through it. Accents of whipped cream, chocolate sauce and fresh red currants – grown at the Centre – were perfect, but, of all, the fresh whipped cream was essential. I was reminded of my mother’s steamed chocolate pudding with cream, and the taste of Fry’s Cocoa. It was heavenly.
This was the best lunch I’ve had out in a long time. Most of the credit must go to Brenda Lee, because she and her staff cooked our food. I’m glad Lee is contented and happy at The Pantry Café. Odds are good that she’ll be there for a long time. This bodes well for The Pantry Café, as well as the restaurant’s patrons.
In addition to its weekday restaurant service, The Pantry Café offers a full catering menu for morning, lunchtime and afternoon functions, on or off site. The dining room can also be rented.
Price Lunch for two with tea, tax and tip costs approximately $60.
Service Fast, friendly and efficient.
Ambiance Relaxed and cheerful.
Sound level Moderate.
Open Breakfast: 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. (Monday to Friday). Lunch: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. (Monday to Friday).
Reservations Accepted and walk-ins are welcome.
Credit cards All major.
Parking Centre’s parking lot.
Beverages House wines, local beers, soft drinks, juices, water, milk, various types of tea and specialty coffees.
Best bets Mushroom and mozzarella baked quiche, all soups and desserts.
Wheelchair access Some assistance may be required at entrance. Café and restroom are accessible.
* Fair * * Good * * * Excellent * * * * Exceptional