$13 at Barnaby’s Cafe on West Gray

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: Barnaby’s Cafe, 414 West Gray, 713-522-8898

What $13 gets you: Okay food at an okay price

Barnaby’s Cafe, named for the owner’s deceased sheepdog, includes three locations in a relatively small area – Hyde Park, River Oaks and Midtown. At lunchtime, all get busy as hell and loud as shit. Or is it busy as shit and loud as hell? Anyhow, they’re all busy and loud.

I hit up the one on Gray, which is showing some wear as evidenced by the huge tears in the black booths. Rather than wait for a table, I grabbed one of the six stools at the tiny bar in the corner where menus double as place mats.

It’s quite a menu, and $13 will take you far. Cold sandwiches such as egg salad or turkey breast go for $8, specialty burgers with fries are all $8.50, huge bowls of salads run from $7.50 to $9.50, and even entrees such as meatloaf, barbecue chicken breast and lasagna are reasonably priced at $10.

Recommended? Uh, yeah, sure, I guess – I mean, whatever.

I ordered the spinach and cheese lasagna and unfolded a newspaper when four attractive young women in smart skirts and blouses slid onto the open stools beside mine. They spent several minutes trying to figure out what was in each of the salads.

The poor bartender, who was way busy helping the wait staff in the main room, had to pause and explain that a Petaluma salad is essentially a vegetarian taco salad, a Lebanese chicken fattoush salad is pretty much a Greek salad with grilled chicken, and so on. It seems to me that the restaurant would do its customers and employees a great service by simply listing the ingredients on the menus.

For grins, I later Googled the word Petaluma and the only thing that came up was a city in Northern California. According to Wikipedia, notable past and present residents include actress Winona Ryder, film critic Pauline Kael and original Sly and the Family Stone drummer Greg Errico.

All this is to say that Barnaby’s Cafe is a popular place but I don’t see why. My lasagna was served in a large, deep dish, covered in red sauce and topped with a single basil leaf. It was okay, I liked it just fine. I ate about a third and took the rest home where it never got reheated or eaten and eventually landed in the trash.

Who knows, maybe the restaurant’s loyal customer base knows something me and the ladies at the bar don’t – starting with what in hell is in a Petaluma salad.

Bonus point: Irreverent cartoon drawings on the ceiling include a dreidel and yarmulke with angel’s wings. –Todd Spivak

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