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Lovely To Look At...

Food at Kaffe Frappe can't match the decor

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Looks can be deceiving. Kaffé Frappé: Breakfast - Lunch - Dinner - Drinks, which opened in January, is a beautiful space designed by the talented Carrie Frye of Narmour Wright Associates of Charlotte. What started on the drawing board as an upscale diner morphed into a comfortably stylish restaurant with concrete, cork, wood, glass, and fabrics in tones of gold, rust, and brown.

To the left of the entrance is a large 50-seat fenced patio area, soon to sprout spring umbrellas. The 100-seat restaurant bends along the outside wall of the shopping center, proving a challenging design. Just inside is an intimate seating area with moveable cubes framing a fireplace. Beyond the bar area is the narrow dining room with a long banquette stretching along the interior wall. Windows flank the opposite wall, obscuring Colony and Selwyn Road with blinds and frosted glass. Overhead is a curved dark cherry ceiling. The attention to detail is palpable: the floating glass ceiling over the private dining room, the cork-edged bar. Even the bathrooms with their formed concrete sinks and floor length mirror are worthy of a look.

But most people go out to eat for the food and there's the rub at Kaffé Frappé. This place was originally thought of as a breakfast place, nothing fancy, just good food similar to what one would find at a Jersey diner. This was an excellent idea given the popularity of now-closed Catherine's, a longtime breakfast favorite still missed by many of the Myers Park crowd. Even the name Kaffé Frappé evokes breakfast and freshly brewed, er, iced coffee.

Co-owner and Charlotte resident Mark Pasko hails from Red Bank, NJ, while his partners, John Arvanites, Steve Politis, and George Tzaneros, still live in northern Jersey. His General Manager at Kaffe is Dave Tschirhart.

The restaurant's menu features a core repertoire of breakfast foods served all day: omelets, eggs, pancakes, oatmeal. Also offered are salads, burgers and tuna melts, salads, and paninis. Dinner entrees include pasta dishes, blackened shrimp, and filet mignon.

The Kaffé Frappé kitchen manager is Thomas Meadows whom Pasko met when they both worked at Village Tavern. The kitchen is where Kaffé Frappé falls apart, seemingly unable to handle items beyond those that are simple. In the simple category are pancakes filled with apples, apple-wood smoked bacon, and eggs benedict served on the traditional round of Canadian bacon and an English muffin.

Beyond these, the kitchen comes undone. Appetizers and entrees had a sense of foreboding and disarray. While the "Selwyn sliders" appetizer, a quad squad of mini burgers, set a hospitable tone, the grit fritters were listless, sad little balls of starchy nothingness upon which we were supposed to slather dulling sour cream. The baked brie emerged surrounded by galleons of fruit, including citrus, some haphazardly cut. I admire the art, symmetry, and serious discipline in kitchen work, but I found none here.

The Caesar salad was a wilted dud: it was cool that the fork was cold, less cool that the leaves were overwhelmed by a spunkless dressing. The American cheese on the Philly cheese steak didn't work. The anemic crab cakes entree looked lonely and disparate, while the dried-out lifeless meatloaf had no chance of being revived by its watery, chunky mashed potatoes.

The sweetened iced coffee Frappe is a popular patio drink along with beer. The bar business is important to this establishment, but there are only 16 wines by the glass and 16 beers by draft or bottle. You cannot buy wine by the bottle.

Is the kitchen way off mark or just out of sync with the milieu? Are expectations set by the gorgeous interior? Perhaps, but once a bill passes $70, you do expect something. If not the food, then maybe service.

"Service has always been an issue here," one patient diner at a neighboring table told me on one occasion as we waited, and waited, for our bills. Finally the bartender noticed our collective angst and came to our rescue.

Some places take longer than others to find their stride. Some restaurants are immediate successes while some struggle to find the right mix. Was I expecting more because of the high-end neighborhood and design? Probably. Unfortunately, Kaffé Frappé offers neither inventive nor well-executed mainstays beyond their breakfast dishes.

Eaters Digest

Writers Greg Ring and Mark Price of the Charlotte Observer seem to have confused Atlanta with San Antonio. In their article "Too Legendary to Lose" (April 20, 2004), the writers wrote that Charlotte's Old Hickory House on North Tryon Street was "an Alamo for tomato-based, Texas style barbecue sauce." For the record, the Old Hickory House recipes were fashioned after the Carter-Black family recipes from Georgia. "Actually he (the uncle) was from Birmingham, but lived in Georgia," corrected James Carter, owner of the Old Hickory House. Texas barbecue, on the other hand, is a totally different animal -- literally. Texas barbecue is primarily beef: beef brisket, beef ribs, and then there's lamb ribs, turkey, chicken, sausages, and oh yeah, some pork ribs and pork loin. Although for years the Old Hickory House has offered beef, it's the succulent hickory smoked pork that keeps most folks coming back. Carter's barbecue sauce recipe is also distinctly Georgian; he does serve Texas toast, though.

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