This is the first restaurant I ate at in Tacoma Washington. My new husband took my son and I to explore the city and after we had walked through Wright Park and a look through the WW Seymor Botanical Conservatory, we wandered on down through the Stadium District of Tacoma. Low and behold I saw an art gallery. Yes! Art galleries are almost a cool as botanical gardens. But wait? Was that food I saw in there as well? Hell yeah! Art House Cafe here I come.
The premise of this business is that it is a working educational studio where people can take art lessons with multiple rooms filled with featured artists displayed artwork, and a restaurant. My family had a wonderful time. However, it was a busy day in the restaurant, and it took forever to get our food. It was a long enough wait that I almost had my husband ask for the check for our drinks so we could go grab a burger down the street. At least the waitress kept out water glasses topped off and my coffee fresh.
We looked at the displayed artwork around the restaurant (my favorite was a cutaway clay sculpture of a female form), watched people go by. And we tried to guess what dishes the people around us had ordered based on whether their appearance matched the menu descriptions. We were goofy in our little space and had a great time. My husband has an amazing sense of humor and is hysterically funny. He makes me laugh every day and even more so when he’s irritated by something and his wit and sarcasm is activated by irritation, like an over an hour and a half wait for breakfast. So, I was just lost in giggles by the time our food arrived.
My son didn’t like the sound of anything on the breakfast menu but eventually settled for the breakfast pizza. It’s a thin crust pizza with “prosciutto, garlic oil, sausage, parmesan, Monterey Jack, onions”, and topped with three eggs and chives. Personally, I feel like that should have been something that is split between two or more people. It’s kind of large and three eggs are a lot all on their own. The other diners who I had watched eating that dish before our food arrived, all had to take some of theirs home with them.
My son on the other hand, ate it all. Freaking teenagers and their bottomless stomachs. Or maybe it wasn’t as much food as I thought it was because the crust is so thin. He did let me try some of it for…you know…research purposes. Not because my food still hadn’t arrived, and he felt sorry for my covetous puppy eyes on his meal. It was pretty good, but I found Jack cheese on a pizza without any of the traditional mozzarella to be a bit disconcerting. The flavor profile was more sour than sweetly savory and without that nutty creaminess which comes with most pizzas.
My husband and I actually shared two dishes, each taking half of the other’s. My preferred way to eat in a restaurant so I can taste a larger percentage of the menu. Our first dish was the Morning Cure Frittata, a three-egg scramble of prosciutto, bacon, ham, goat cheese, and chives. It’s served with fruit and potatoes. I was not impressed. The prosciutto got over cooked in this dish (it is a fully cured meat which is edible without cooking and usually loses flavor in the cooking process. I would have used pancetta, a saltier meat which needs to be cooked before eating, retains its flavor through the heating process, and crisps up like bacon. Whereas prosciutto dries out and tastes like any other ham when cooked.). And the flavors were sort of ruled over by the overbearing goat cheese, a particularly sharp (high acid content in the cheese making process) and goaty (you know what I mean) cheese with very little “cheese” flavor in soft crumbles which was almost impossible to remove from the dish without spreading it into the egg more. I did enjoy the potatoes and fruit. But it’s potatoes and fresh fruit and they shouldn’t be outshining the dish they are accompanying.
Our second dish was Buttermilk Ricotta Medallion Pancakes. They come with a choice of berry compote or maple butter and maple syrup, and bacon. I’m not sure why they need maple butter and maple syrup on these. The pancakes were a little rubbery (have some stretch and spring instead of just tearing apart like softer pancakes do), I kind of like them that way, but I know a lot of people don’t. I couldn’t taste the ricotta or the buttermilk in them. They were small. Which I don’t mind because I find most pancakes served in restaurants are too large anyways.
But they were thin which means there probably wasn’t a whole lot of buttermilk, leavening, or ricotta in them. If you’ve cooked/baked with ricotta, you’ll know already that it is a grainy farmers-style soft fresh cheese. Because the grain is so fine it doesn’t blend well. It has a pretty high melting point compared to cheeses like cheddar, American, and mozzarella, which means that it stays grainy when mixed into foods like pancakes and you come across those bits of rich and creamy ricotta flavor as you eat. It also means that batters tend to be thicker and make puffier pancakes especially when combined with the extra leavening power of buttermilk (Acids like buttermilk and apple cider vinegar react with leavening agents like baking soda and baking powder to provide extra leavening if the batter is prepared in smaller batches and used before the air bubble formed from the reaction have escaped the batter). Not so much with this dish. Also, the butter was completely frozen when my plate arrived.
I’m not going to say I hated it. Because I didn’t. We all ate our entire meal. But in the end, I felt more like we were paying for the ingredients and the art show around us than for the food. The ingredient combinations could use some work as they don’t all complement each other, or the cooking technique used on them. The ideas are good though and their website says right on the homepage that the menu is “ingredient driven” and locally sourced from the Pacific North West.
If I were to make any changes it would be mostly to the cheeses and meats. I’d introduce a duck and Armagnac sausage to the frittata remove the prosciutto and sub in pancetta or a fattier equivalent which will crisp up in the baking/broiling process. For the pizza, I would add meat (something with a deep red color) and some large rough-cut sprigs of fresh herb with the eggs or a mixed-herb pesto drizzled over the top to make it more flavorful and visually dynamic. I’d also go for a milder cheese mix and offer a side of toasted nuts/pine nuts. That’s just me.
For the pancakes, I’d beef them up a bit. More ricotta, more leavening, less liquid for a thicker and slightly denser cake. Something closer to traditional roman flat cakes, cooked at a lower temperature and likely unsweetened to reduce surface browning. It could be served with fresh berries in honey with unsweetened whipped cream dusted with cocoa.
I know I don’t usually wax on about how I would change food. But it was all I could think about while I was eating at Art House Café. And while it may seem counterintuitive to most people, other cooks know that can actually be a good thing. We cooks’ (both home and professional), get our inspiration from the food we eat, the ingredients we taste, and the dishes we see other’s making. So, yeah, I was thinking about all the changes I could make. Only so I could do it differently.
Did this place delight me? Maybe? I’d definitely like to eat there again and try out their lunch menu just to see how I feel about it. Maybe I could revisit this post then and give a better rating on the Delight Scale. What I can say is that once all the seats in the place are filled, it can get a little tight to walk through so if you aren’t one for crowds maybe call ahead and find out when their slow times are.
Art House Cafe is located at 111 North Tacoma Avenue in Tacoma Washington.
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