I have always been a fan of Midtown Cafe & Dessertery. I used to eat there almost every single Thursday. I would go on some weekends, as well. I’d take friends there for business or just catching up. The food was always really good and the service was as well.
The food was never sub-par, but wasn’t 5 Star, either. But, the overall aesthetic and welcome feeling was enough to make up for that. But, something has changed and I can’t quite put my finger on it. Over the last few trips to Midtown, I have noticed that the place is starting to look like it is in desperate need of some attention. Not that it’s falling apart but a lot of the furnishings are starting to look dated, the tables are starting to fade and the carpet worn. I’m not advocating for obesity, but I am a large guy and some of the booths are difficult for larger folks to fit into comfortably. I do okay with it.
“Big Dipper” with chips
As I’ve said, I’ve been coming to Midtown for many, many years. I’d say I’ve been going since right after they opened this location. I’m used to hefty portions and quality food. My go-to meal there has always been the Big Dipper. The Big Dipper is a beef patty with both provolone and cheddar cheeses on grilled rye toast. This comes with chips, a few cucumber chips and a dill pickle spear. The “star” of this dish is the horseradish dipping sauce. I always get mine with extra dipping sauce because I enjoy dipping the potato chips into the horseradish.
In the past, I have always enjoyed a plump juicy beef patty but lately it seems the beef is always dry and it doesn’t really fill the bread, which also seems to have shrunk. The horseradish sauce hasn’t diminished, it’s still in the same smallish ramekins – hence why I get extra. The flavor of the patty melt part can only be highlighted by the horseradish, it’s not good enough on its own. Rye toast, itself, should have good flavor but most of the time the rye is over toasted and as we know, the longer something is on the grill/griddle, all you’re tasting is said implement, and not the food. I prefer my burgers cooked medium, perhaps even under cooked. I don’t think to tell the Midtown server about my preference because I’m used to them being cooked right. In the past, too, the potato chips were obviously from a bag, but they were always crisp, thick and were heavy on potato flavor. Their flavor was just right for the horseradish. The chips they serve now are in-house cut, sliced very thin, and fried, then lightly salted with some sort of seasoning (I’m thinking Lawry’s or Old Bay or something). To me, those flavors are overly subtle and not as good as the old chips.
Stephanie had a tarragon chicken salad sandwich with fries. She said the chicken in the chicken salad was dry and the bread was lacking any of the fluffiness, it was just plain bread. The biggest disappointment for her was the fries. The fries were seemingly in-house made and seasoned, probably like my chips were. Her complaint was, like mine, the fries were plain and not very flavorful and about half of them were overly dry and the other half were resting in oil and soggy. But, again, neither the dry or soggy were abundant in flavor.
I know a couple of years back, Scott Gerding (and his wife), the owner of Midtown entered a partnership with Jeff Cayton (and wife) to do some things differently. I’m guessing that they looked over their costs and operations at that time and decided that the food cost was cheaper to make your own chips and fries than to buy them prepared. I understand that, however, I believe some of the sides that made the main dishes standout have started to diminish their impact. I’d gladly trade thickly cut bagged “Ruffles”-styled chips that had plenty of crunch and flavor for the thin, flimsy, oily and under seasoned “crisps” that they offer now. And there’s a reason that packaged fries are big business for restaurants, they have been doing it for a long time and know how to season properly. Even if the seasoning was right on the crisps, I don’t think the flavor matches the profile of the horseradish sauce that comes with the Big Dipper.
Now, the service. They don’t have a high lunch turnover in service at Midtown. Most of the servers that I have seen for a long time are still there. Unlike most restaurants that we frequent, I’m not familiar enough to be on a first name basis with them. Usually, the service is just right. None of them are going above and beyond, which I don’t expect, it’s just great when it happens and we tip accordingly. But, I certainly don’t expect or want it to be subpar.
We had an issue with two ladies watching movie trailers on their cell phone behind us when we sat down. Caveat: when we were seated, there was only two other parties in the room, one on the opposite wall and a single person in the very small booths along the dividing wall. The fact they were watching the trailers wasn’t the problem. But, they were playing them at full blast (and on phone speakers it was distorting) and it was some action movie so the music was bombastic.
I will admit that I am for people using their phone while in restaurants. After all, I take pictures for this blog and the entity. That’s what I do. And, I’ll say that I’ve used my phone for watching a video when no one else was in the room. However, when someone came in or around me, I turned it off or I’ve put earbuds in. They played more than one after we sat down. Now, that’s nothing to do with the restaurant at all, I understand. Also, our server would sit down with the two ladies and they’d have a conversation on several of her trips to their table. I don’t mind when the server sits with the clientele, I like personal interaction. But, I don’t like when that interaction interferes with or contributes to how other customers are dealt with and serviced.
I made a reference to “what was going on behind me” when our server filled our water glasses. From that point on, when our water was filled or anything needed to be taken care of with at our table, it was dealt with passively. She would glance at our table, ask if we needed anything and basically walk away before we were able to answer if we did or didn’t. The longest she stayed at the table after that was when she dropped off the check and asked if we needed anything else. But, even that was with disdain. I don’t care if they’re friends or not, I don’t like when my service is affected by personal conflict. Regardless of how your day is going or if you’re not feeling well, or whatever the reason, how I’m treated should be on my own merit, as I’m the one that is paying for the food and paying them. Most places understand that and I believe that Midtown understands that, but we didn’t appreciate being waved off because we said anything about their friends. I never said anything disparaging or offensive, just about “what was going on behind us.” Full disclosure, the ladies were apparently a couple and the server may have thought I was talking about that, but I certainly wasn’t. I’m all for people being with who they want. That has nothing to do with me and I don’t look at things like that. Still, no reason to treat me passively.
So, all of that, I will say, again, that I am quite disappointed in the direction and upkeep of all things Midtown Cafe & Dessertery. The decor is tired, the food has become mediocre and, in this case, the service was off-putting. A place that was once my go-to is now only tertiary in my mind when it comes to recommending or even wanting to go to. What was once a 4 star restaurant for me, I’d only rate a 2.75 out of 5 at best. I hope that Scott and Jeff can get their place back to the level that it once was. I want to like it and recommend it to others but, right now, I can’t and that is quite disappointing to me.
You can find Midtown Cafe & Dessertery at 151 S. Stratford Road, Stratford Village Shopping Center, in Winston-Salem. You can visit their website HERE.