A popular brunch spot in The Woodlands is The Black Walnut Cafe and we stopped in for a Saturday Brunch. Though the line at the counter wasn't very long when we arrived, the uncoordinated movements of the staff made it seem as though it was. Black Walnut Cafe is a order-at-the-counter, get a hockey puck, and seat yourself kind of place. Not that it's immediately obvious that it works that way; you have to realize when (and if) you grab a menu by the front door that your next step is to head past the bar and find the service counter all the way at the back where you can order. Black Walnut Cafe doesn't actually offer a "Brunch" menu, but several items make the crossover from the "Breakfast/Lunch" and "Lunch/Dinner" menus; so she could have breakfast, and I had lunch.
When the hockey puck buzzer sounded, I was the one to go retrieve our dishes from the counter. I was immediately put off by sticking my finger into some cold, slimy food material (eggs? gravy?) stuck to the bottom of my plate as I picked it up. I got the attention of one of the employees at the counter to show and tell him about the mess, and though what he said was that he would get me another plate, what he did was grab a dry napkin and make a half-hearted attempt at wiping the substance off of the plate for me. He didn't offer me anything with which to clean off my hand, nor an apology; simply handed the plate back to me with a straight-faced, "here you go." Ugh.
The Egg & Bacon Croissant Sandwich is described as a "toasted handcrafted croissant, scrambled eggs, cheddar, [with] choice of bacon, ham, breakfast sausage or turkey sausage, and fresh-cut fruit" ($6.25). My thinking when I placed my order was that a slice or two of bacon would be "better" for me than sausage on a buttery croissant, and for some silly reason I decided the scrambled eggs were going to be on the side. So part of my disappointment was of my own doing, but the majority of it was squarely the fault of the dish. For starters, the croissant shouldn't be toasted; because croissants are so butter-rich, they don't really "toast" so much as "melt" when toasted, leaving them flat and soggy. Coupled with that was the fact the bacon wasn't even a full slice - let alone two - but a mere sprinkling of bacon bits tossed in with the rubbery scrambled egg and (seemingly) low-grade cheddar. Adding insult to injury, the sandwich wasn't very warm to begin with, and was quite cold by the time I began my attempt to enjoy the croissant a few short minutes later.
Since I just discussed this the other day in our review of Crisp I'll keep my complaint here short, but for Heaven's sake - I really, really wish restaurants would stop - or at least severely cut back on - using honeydew and cantaloupe to fill out their fresh fruit. Add to that the honeydew I was given today was borderline unripe and nearly tasteless. For shame!
The Chicken Fried (mis)Steak is described as, "Certified Angus Beef®, white gravy, garlic mashed potatoes, [and] scallions" ($12). This was definitely not the most aesthetically pleasing Chicken Fried Steak I've seen, nor the best. The first bite, from one end was (not surprisingly) overdone; so much for first impressions. As I moved along through the rest of the steak, which was tender enough to cut with my fork, there were a few areas where the full flavor along with the cracker-tasting crust came through. Initially, I thought I might have make the trek back to the counter and get more cream gravy, but I discovered a pool of it hiding under the garlic bread which wound up being enough. The garlic mashed potatoes... well let's just say I'm glad I like garlic, 'cuz there was plenty of it, next time I'll have to remember to ask for some potatoes with my garlic. Speaking of garlic - how about some garlic toast (heavy on the butter) to go with those garlic potatoes? In all seriousness though, I won't be ordering the Chicken Fried Steak at Black Walnut Cafe anytime in the future. The Republic Grill definitely has them beat when it comes to this Texas favorite. It's been a little while since we've been there, and this experience certainly had me ready for their new location to open in Sterling Ridge - a little closer to home, and sure to be the Chicken Fried Steak I remember so well. For the money, and lack of table service at Black Walnut, a "Signature Entree" item should be much better.
All things considered, we found ourselves wondering if our Saturday noon-time experience was par for the course these days at Black Walnut. They were busy, but not hectically so. The menu doesn't appear to have had many changes since our last visit, and the dishes we ordered should be easy enough for the kitchen to get right every time. And even if you look past the counter-service model, it's disappointing to never have anyone come by even once to ask how your meal is, or refill a water glass. Essentially, the level of service is the same one could expect at any number of fast food restaurants, and yet the restaurant aesthetic, decor, menu and bar would convey a sense of a higher standard. But maybe it was just us. The next time you stop in at Black Walnut - or if you've been recently - let us know if your experience is the same, better, or (let's hope not) worse.
Breakfast Restaurant Reviews
Another Broken Egg Breakfast
Black Walnut Brunch
Blue Mug Cafe Breakfast
Crescent Moon Brunch
Crisp Woodlands Brunch
Dosey Doe Music Cafe Breakfast
Fifty Nine Diner
Katz's Express Breakfast
Sunny Side of the Street Breakfast
Sunny Street Cafe Breakfast
The Egg & I Breakfast