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The waiting game at Chickadee's Cafe


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Timing may be the most critical element to success in a business. Comedians must have it for successful delivery, and a restaurant must have correct timing as well. Timing is particularly relevant at lunch. In a culture that has a one-hour lunch break as the norm, being able to get in and out of a lunch spot in 45 minutes is expected.

Chickadee's Café opened last April in a spot on Elizabeth Avenue formerly occupied by Anderson's, more recently by Starbucks, and just a few blocks from where Leo's Delicatessen, once the city's oldest deli, used to be. Chickadee's is the new project of proprietors Susan and Craig Sheridan, who operated Dikadee's Deli on East Boulevard for a number of years until it closed in 2010. Recently, they brought in Chuck Thompson as a third partner. Thompson is responsible for the kitchen.

Chickadee's menu, dominated by the two dozen or so named sandwiches, is similar to the Sheridans' former place, but this kitchen sports a full grill. Thus, burgers and fried items have been added.

Walls are painted in a no-nonsense shade of yellow with artwork, available for sale, by local artists. The chalkboard just inside the door instructs: "Please wait to be seated." As it turns out, the message is prescient.

During weekday lunches, waiting may be the norm. During one lunch, I had to refill the parking meter set for 45 minutes. That was annoying. Equally annoying was looking around for my server in order to pay my bill. I was not alone in this. Two other tables had credit cards at the ready. On weekends, however, food arrives in a timely manner.

Why the delay during the week? Even if the kitchen crew were making pickles, corned beef and focaccia — which they are not — dishes must get out the door in a timely fashion. The operation here reminds me of the "before" of a Gordon Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares makeover — remembering, of course, that Ramsay doesn't take on a place that cannot be redeemed. Hopefully, the timing will improve here, too.

Unfortunately, timing is not the only problem at Chickadee's. The execution is sub-par as well. On one occasion, the Greek Chicken Sandwich, described on the menu as being served on pita, arrived at the table on whole wheat. The next time, the sandwich was wrapped in a Greek pita, but the feta cheese was lacking. Another sandwich is described as a panini and served "grilled hot" with turkey, parmesan artichoke spread and roasted red peppers. This sandwich arrived neither grilled nor hot. Even the Carolina burger is described as being served on a Kaiser Roll, but arrives on a bun.

While these sandwiches were not as described on the menu, the turkey sandwich was flavorsome and the burger is possibly better on a bun than a Kaiser roll.

Other dishes have their own inherent problems. Fried green tomatoes are fettered by a cumbersome batter. Fried pickles are dill spears, not chips. While an interesting take on a regional food, there is a reason why pickle chips are more successful: They taste better. Even the timing is off on the house-made chips, which are taken from the fryer prematurely, resulting in chips being pliant, not crispy.

It's all a matter of timing.


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