DEFCON Dining: Haven

DEFCON Dining is all about flexibility. When kids are involved, last-minute adjustments and cancellations are a matter of course, and you have to be prepared to roll with the punches. If you're not on your toes, things can turn ugly very quickly. If you think fast, though, you can often turn near-disaster into triumph.

On Saturday, my wife and I were all geared up for some afternoon cocktailing. We were set to attend Anvil's monthly cocktail class, this one on gin, and were looking forward to a few rare hours of purely adult conversation, without the need to facilitate bathroom breaks, moderate sibling squabbles, or concern ourselves with the petulant boredom of a couple of kids who felt they had better things to do on a summer Saturday. It fell through, very much at the last minute, when our babysitter realized that she'd inadvertently double-booked that day. Our plans got kicked to the curb.

Facing the double-whammy of missing our cocktail hour, and dealing with the disappointment of a couple of kids who had been looking forward to an afternoon of games with their grandma (the problem with familial sitters is that you can't really fire them), I quickly proposed a family brunch date. The kids got to feel like they were being let in on our adult fun, and we got to actually have some. Trying to settle on a place whose newness would keep the kids engaged, and whose drinks would help dull the disappointment, I loaded the family in the car and drove down the road to Haven.

It was our first visit to the much lauded eatery, and I spent the drive over talking the experience up. The girls weren't really clued into the fact that their sitter had cancelled, so we put a little bit of spin on the day. I'm not going to say I lied to my kids, but I allowed them to create the assumption that we had simply changed our plans to include them. They got to think they were being treated to a rare, mysterious, and adult adventure; we got to make them think that the opportunity to be on their best behavior was somehow a gift. I'm like a modern day Tom Sawyer, whitewashing fences. With cocktails.

I'd gotten the impression that Haven is a pretty laid back joint, so I wasn't too concerned that my group would be a nuisance. Nonetheless, I was pleased when my kids decided they wanted to sit on the patio, so as to be able to gaze at the fountains gurgling merrily along. It was early enough and cool enough that this seemed like a good idea, and we had the space all to ourselves.

Outdoor options are a DEFCON Dining Godsend. The lack of acoustics means that children seem quieter than they are, tables are usually spaced more generously, and there are plenty of distractions to keep short attention spans occupied. Saturday, we were blessed not only with the aforementioned fountains, but the ongoing saga of a broken down ice delivery truck and its eventual towing. The kids were fascinated.

As the girls oohed over their OJ served in fancy adult rocks glasses, my wife and I settled into a pair of summery cocktails. Hers, A Modest Apertif, featured a fresh and simple blend of Old Tom Gin, Cocchi Americano, and Aperol. I've been playing around with Cocchi Americano this summer, and found the drink needing a simple spritz of acid to liven it up a bit more. We both agreed that my selection, the Madeira Cobbler, was a perfect brunch refresher. Its combination of Madeira, Rye, and peaches was the embodiment of summer; light, fruity, and refreshing, but with a dusky haze under-girding everything.

Happy with our drinks, we turned our attention to food. I hate ordering off of kids' menus, but I also hate the constant issue of each kid wanting her own "regular" meal. The result is either having far too much food, or the kids bickering over sharing a plate. That's why I love small plates menus. Small plates are the refined alternative to a kids' menu. Portions are sized properly for smaller appetites, there are usually a lot of options, and prices are kept low to encourage broad ordering. Haven didn't disappoint on this front. The sensible daughter selected a yogurt, berry, and granola parfait. The sweet tooth, predictably, went for the French toast. It was brioche French toast; who could blame her?

My wife tossed an order of deviled eggs into the mix, to be shared, choosing baked eggs and grits for herself, while I opted for the fried chicken livers with biscuits, andouille gravy, and fried eggs. I like ordering the things on a menu that I know the rest of my family wouldn't order for themselves. It's not selfish, it's about having options. While I know the food is mine (all mine!) if I'm feeling greedy, I also relish the opportunity to introduce new foods to my kids, if they're game.

Today, they were both feeling adventurous, and really enjoyed their bites of liver, crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside. While I felt a few bites were slightly overcooked, I relished the slightly minerally flavor, and the way it paired with the richness of the eggs and the piquancy of the andouille. I'd been a bit concerned about seasoning, as I've heard from a few reputable sources that Haven is heavy-handed with salt. I found everything to be spot on, particularly appreciating the deft-handed seasoning in the pancakes, the slight sprinkle of crunchy salt acting to properly highlight the richness of the bread and summery sweetness of the peach topping, redolent with spice.

I'll admit I was still a bit bummed that we missed the gin class, but this was certainly a lovely consolation prize. The kids thoroughly enjoyed themselves, and behaved like proper young ladies. Parents, next time you have a last-minute itinerary change, don't dwell on it. Run with it and bringing the kids in on the fun. You might have to change your plans, but that doesn't mean you have to abandon them entirely.

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