Cafe Reviewed: Wednesday, January 18, 2006
Like this herb-encrusted salmon, most of the Gardens’ entrées are fancy but affordable.
The Gardens Restaurant\r\nSpinach pesto pasta $7.95\r\nGrilled portobello sandwich $7.25\r\nSunday Brunch\r\n•Adults $13.95\r\n•Children 5-10 $6.95\r\n•Children under 5 free

As an antidote to the Stock Show — or any time of year — try the quaint and impressive Gardens Restaurant.


The Gardens Restaurant

3220 Rock Springs Rd (in the Fort Worth Botanic Garden), FW. 817-731-2547. Tue-Sun 11am-2:30pm. All major credit cards accepted.

Every time the ol’ Stock Show and Rodeo rolls around, the whole Western heritage thing is in the air in more ways than one. When the fragrance of cotton candy mingles with that of the cow pies, the result either brings back wonderful childhood memories or makes you wanna hold your nose.

Not exactly the type of atmosphere that stirs your appetite. And while the Stock Show has been trying to offer decent, non-fast food onsite, the choices are still limited.

Here’s an option, one you may not have thought of: Just a quick jaunt down the street is the Fort Worth Botanic Garden, where the in-house restaurant serves tasty, definitely non-fast meals. The Garden Restaurant’s calm, contemplative setting is also a nice change of pace from the din of the carnival.

Awash in natural light, and with white tablecloths adorned with fresh flower arrangements, the Gardens is not so quietly geared toward the tea-sipping crowd.

So what.

The service is friendly and prompt, and the menu is inexpensive and varied — and loaded with vegetarian entrées. (Stock Show, eat your, um, heart out.)

Even though the portion was large — and creamy — the spinach pesto pasta wasn’t sink-your-stomach heavy. A colorful mix of olive-hued artichoke hearts, burnt-red sun-dried tomatoes, and brown mushrooms, the dish was pretty well-balanced. Every forkful retrieved some of each ingredient (the pieces of artichoke, though, were a little hard to find). If a recent version of this item is any indication, people watching their sodium intake shouldn’t worry: The Gardens cooks can apparently make this naturally salty entrée in a way that won’t send you into shock.

Another filling and salty-in-a-good-way item was the grilled portobello sandwich on panini bread — grilled zucchini, yellow squash, bell peppers, and the titular mushroom on crisp-on-the-outside/chewy-on-the-inside store-bought bread, splashed with the house balsamic vinaigrette. At first, the sweet and acidic dressing came on strong, but after a few bites, it played well with the almost perfectly grilled, still-a-little-crunchy veggies.

All lunch orders come with either soup or salad, and the choice of tortilla soup on a recent visit was a big disappointment. The cook had used corn tortilla strips not as a crispy topping — like they’re supposed to be — but as a thickening agent, which did nothing for the already bland, watered-down-red-sauce taste. The salad, however, was perfect — fresh mixed greens instead of boring, nutrition-less iceberg lettuce, plus ’shrooms, cucumbers, and plenty of sliced tomatoes, everything topped by that zesty balsamic vinaigrette.

The Gardens also offers an interesting Sunday brunch buffet. Whereas most post-church spreads revolve around fancy lunch and breakfast foods, the Gardens’ focuses on straightforward, no-nonsense, blue-collar breakfast items and fancy dinner entrées. The bacon, scrambled eggs, and sausage patties all were serviceable. The pastries and fresh fruits were fine, too.

Most of the dinner offerings were hits, especially the chicken-fried chicken breasts — topped with spicy-enough tomato sauce and mouth-watering mozzarella cheese — and the delightfully flaky and citrus-flavored white fish, sautéed and covered in red onions and assorted herbs.

Now for the best part of the brunch: the desserts. We don’t know if they were made at the Gardens or brought in from some other place, and we really don’t care — they were cardiac-arrest good. Any cheesecake fiend would have been eternally grateful to find his mouth glued shut by the Gardens’ deliciously sticky cheesecake with strawberry sauce, and the carrot cake with cinnamon-flavored icing was a blast of chewy sugar. To wash everything down, try the chocolate-covered cream puffs — as they slowly, lovingly disintegrate in your mouth, you can feel the heavy, rich, sharp chocolate make you wanna get up and dance as the cool, smooth, light cream carts you off to a soft, quiet place, far away from the bouquet de barn, the whine of amusement rides, and the cries of snot-nosed kids.

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