Dining Out: Normandie offers soft and sweet delicacies
Holladay » The Monte Cristo is a generously sized concoction, straddling the lines between savory and sweet, breakfast and lunch, classic and retro. It's not often you see it on menus, and when you do, the quality varies.
At Normandie Café and Bakery, two slices of golden, toasted eggy bread, resembling challah, hold melting cheese, ham and raspberry jam ($7.25). Odd as it might sound, the combination works the way a maple brown-sugar glaze foils a holiday ham. Altogether, the sandwich is soft and sweet.
Which is how you could, more or less, describe this popular restaurant. Normandie functions as a bakery, café and restaurant, and offers everything from breakfast and weekend brunch to lunch and dinner. The surprisingly large menu might be a draw for diners, particularly in this area of Holladay that lacks a sidewalk café scene and a place for good Sunday brunch. But for the kitchen, it poses a unique set of challenges.
Everything about Normandie's new location is picturesque. The conversational din of lunching ladies and families bounces off the terra cotta walls lined with francophone paraphernalia. Windows draw the sunlight inside, while out on the grapevined patio, the sunlight is as abundant as the pastries lining the case.
Soft and sweet. Éclairs, fruit tarts, cookies, and filled and plain croissants are tempting impulse buys for patrons waiting in line. I found some of the offerings, such as the croissants, underbaked. I like a bit of bronze, the caramelization from the butter doing its thing in the oven heat, while adding some extra flavor and texture. But softness is what many associate with the laminated, layered dough and for now, it suits those who consider themselves Normandie loyalists. My particular pastry allegiance is for the chocolate sandwich cookies ($1.85) filled with raspberry jam. The delicate cat's-tongue cookies are dipped end on end in chocolate and go well with a cup of coffee.
For the purposes of this review, I focused on brunch and lunch -- Normandie's stronger suits, and also its busiest times in drawing diners. With the bakery's expanded space, brunch and lunch dining is as popular as ever. You see it in the crowds and in the confusion of the wait staff who take orders at the counter at lunch, and serve you at your table during weekend brunch and weekday dinner. Simply put, the service is awkward.
Though there's one central register, two lines end up forming, both along the flanking glass cases. The result is a scene that's as orderly and efficient as a French post office on the verge of a strike. I learned after a few lunches that the bottleneck can be avoided if there's someone at the second register that's hidden around the corner by the beverage station. It might not be much of a secret now, but it could still be a viable Plan B when the line isn't moving.
While I waited for my Monte Cristo on the pretty patio, I joined the chorus of ladies requesting glasses of water after a protracted wait in the summer sun. Once prompted, the glasses speedily arrived. Another table had to repeatedly ask for silverware to eat their blue cheese chicken Caesar salads ($5.25, $8.25).
The confusion struck the kitchen as well. My friend's warm spinach and portobello salad ($5.25, $8.25) arrived without the polenta croutons described on the menu; its luscious-sounding parmesan and avocado vinaigrette was barely discernible from my Normandie salad's ($3.50, $6.25) vinaigrette.
During brunch when groups are a mixed bag of families, couples and friends, the poached eggs atop a monotone crab Benedict ($9.95) were hard-cooked, ragged and comet-tailed from a hurried technique that would make sense if the venue were slammed. But we had made sure that morning to arrive early enough so that the house's warm, complimentary biscuits wouldn't run out. We were one of five tables; the place was barely half full.
But there are points when the kitchen hits the mark and you get pleasant encounters with the aforementioned Monte Cristo, or a BLT sandwich ($6.50) and the lightly battered and fried sweet-potato fries ($1.50, $5).
The coveted biscuits were the foundation of an excellent sausage Benedict. Atop the fluffy squares were poached eggs (one properly soft, another overcooked) and a sausage gravy that wasn't too thick or too thin, well-seasoned and with a good dose of sausage. It's what a sausage egg McMuffin dreams of being when it grows up.
Waffles ($5.95), too, are textbook perfect with a crisp surface, fluffy interior and full shape. Gorgeously golden, it's as lovely as Normandie's setting.
Normandie strives to straddle the lines between breakfast and brunch, lunch and dinner and various points in between. It's a high goal, and Normandie is off to a bumpy start. For now, its customers seem willing to wait out the growing pains one éclair and cupcake at a time.
Bottom line » Weekday lunch, dinner and weekend brunch attract an already loyal following to this picturesque café and bakery. Sample a classic Monte Cristo, or sweet-potato fries and the chocolate cat's-tongue cookies. Sausage Benedict is a good brunch bet.
Location » 1984 Murray Holladay Road, Holladay; 801-277-5244
Hours » Monday to Saturday, 7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Saturday 7:30 to 7 p.m., Sunday, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Children's menu » No
Prices » $ (breakfast and lunch) $$ (dinner)
Liquor » None
Reservations » No
Takeout » Yes
Wheelchair access » Yes
Outdoor dining » Yes
On-site parking » Yes
Credit cards » All majorr