It was the resounding statement from all four of my friends as we left Tiny Boxwood's at 11:30 a.m. this past Sunday morning: "What on earth do people see in this place?"
"Maybe you have to be rich to appreciate it," laughed one of my girlfriends. Even after a fairly disastrous brunch, we all had our sense of humor still intact.
It was our first time eating at the little cafe that's attached to the Thompson & Hansen nursery on West Alabama, and the visual appeal was certainly striking: verdant greenery and a neatly manicured lawn flanked by scattered tables. Inside, the whitewashed walls of the cafe showcased an upscale shabby chic aesthetic. Waiting in line for 30 minutes wasn't so bad with this kind of scenery.
But that's where the attraction ended.
I found myself frustrated that the chalkboard of daily specials didn't list any prices. That the sole young woman taking orders at the counter was doing so with a chip on her shoulder and a seeming desire to make the process as dismal as possible. That the clueless servers walked around from table to table -- despite the presence of little order numbers on stainless steel stands -- sounding utterly bored as they asked questions like, "Ummmmm, did you order a number 62?"
Us: "What's a number 62?"
Server: "Ummmmmm. A pizza."
Us: "What kind of pizza?"
Server: "Ummmmmmm. Bacon?"
And when the food finally came, that's when I lost my patience entirely.
I had ordered the snapper Provençal from the chalkboard, and was looking forward to something along the lines of the photo above, incorporating -- at the very least -- tomatoes, garlic and olive oil. Perhaps some olives or onions.
What I received was a hockey puck sprinkled with garlic salt and pepper over a bed of arugula and other field greens. Aside from my monumental disappointment that the fish wasn't cooked in anything resembling a Provençal style, I was aghast at how tough and hard the poor snapper was, especially after having spent $25 for my meal (including coffee and an Aranciata).
It was one of three dishes we sent back that morning -- for the record, three out of four. And this was a table of ladies who will eat just about anything. The only acceptable dish was a fruit and yogurt parfait. My dining companions' brunch pizzas were as overcooked and tough as my fish. How do you ruin a pizza? Twice?
We took our items back to the counter one by one and explained our issues with them. No apology was offered. The girls taking our food back clearly didn't care and gave us looks that screamed Picky bitches as they snatched the plates back.
When it came to my fish, I asked them -- nicely, I thought -- if this was the snapper Provençal.
"Yeah," came the idle reply.
"What...exactly is Provençal about it?" I asked. "It's just a piece of fish on some field greens..."
"The salad is Provençal," one of the girls responded. Oh, really, Tiny Boxwoods? The mixed field greens barely coated with a vinaigrette are Provençal? Fine. Call it that if you like, but at least have some respect for that poor snapper filet.
Fifteen minutes later, I received a new piece of fish. It was happily cooked correctly, flaky and moist. However, the filet was so aggressively salted on top that I had to turn it over and eat it from the bottom, leaving the top portion behind.
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My friends' breakfast pizzas fared better, with wonderfully salty cheese and pancetta playing off the sunny egg yolk that broke open and coated the thin crust. I began to get a vague glimpse of what brunch at Tiny Boxwood's could be like on a good day.
But that was all ruined by the continued poor service at the coffee bar when one of us tried to get a latte to go. Just as I was tired of being at Tiny Boxwood's by that point, I'm tired of going over all the many reasons that brunch there was a disaster, and will leave this post with just two questions.
What am I missing about this place, Houston? And why should I ever go back?