Food Issue Extra Helpings: Cafe Bistro, Will You Be My Valentine?

I'm taking my little one on a date… to the mall

The biggest trick to forgetting you’re in a mall is enjoying organic, local, sustainable food – entirely different than typical mall food. Oh, Nordstrom, your Cafe Bistro prepares fresh food daily that parents don’t have to feel guilty about serving. Will you be mine?

photo by Terry Woodroffe

Cafe Bistro is a scratch kitchen with a kids’ menu that serves up natural takes on old favorites, only using wholesome, real ingredients. Essentially, it’s done how we would, if we found ourselves with the counter space and the time… time, and more time. My kiddo is still bit young for the full kids’ menu, but he goes to town nibbling off of my salmon nicoise and warm, baked bread with salted French butter. The cup of fresh fruit is all his — he’d stab me with his sippy cup straw if I dared try.

I have a Valentine secret: The mall was my first love. And while teen memories of cruising Claire’s while sipping on a Orange Julius eventually gave way to on-trend shopping in a forever 20-something haze of wobbly heels and Great American cookies, in my 30s, as a mom, I'm back, and I’ve come to fully embrace my part in this love story.

Okay, to be fair, it’s not the entire mall I’ve fallen back in love with. (Sorry, overly friendly kiosk employees, no thanks!) It’s just you, Nordstrom. Nordstrom with your impeccable over-the-top customer service. Nordstrom with your Best of Austin award-winning nursing-friendly ladies room. Nordstrom with your free balloons to the kiddos in the aquarium- and coloring-table- equipped childrens’ shoe department. And most of all, Nordstrom with your super family-friendly restaurant, Cafe Bistro. I just can't quit you.

That’s right, this second-floor eatery is a secret weapon in many a foodie family’s daytime arsenal. The staff is gracious and accommodating, waving hello to your little while waving you toward the stroller parking. High chairs, booster seats and an activity book, colors, and small box of raisins are quickly put in front of your child, while whatever adult libation you (so deservingly) ordered at the counter is just as quickly whisked in front of you. (I’m particularly fond of the White Haven Sauvignon Blanc.)

Coloring at Cafe Bistro (photo by Terry Woodroffe)

There’s just enough noise in the Bistro that families never have to feel like they’re walking on eggshells, but not so much noise that parents (and non-parents for that matter) are forced to forget they’ve got cloth napkins on their laps. It’s “lovely” in the best sense of the word.

The kid crowd loves it so much, they’ve been known to request their post-Build-a-Bear birthday meals there. General manager Shannon Sudderth mentioned her delighted surprise that this occurs often enough that they started welcoming the celebrations with specially dressed tables (just call ahead, so they can prepare). It’s that kind of personal attention that wins parents over. That, and their fantastic wine list.

The food is always quick to the table (a blessing to harried parents with hungry kids), the check is paid at the order counter, and there’s no table too far away from expansive changing-table-equipped private toilet. All time savers — all essential keys to the perfect kids-in-tow meal.

And when it’s all said and done, there’s the indoor circuit to walk off the hard-to-pass-up desserts (seriously, the berry shortcake is amaaaaaazing). A few laps around Barton Creek, with a happily full toddler dozing off in the stroller, is a perfect wind down from the meal. If you find yourself eye-fondling the latest in the shoe collections downstairs, don’t hesitate. They say “Mama needs a new pair of shoes” for a reason.

Read more Extra Helpings stories at The Austin Chronicle’s First Plates Awards & Food Issue hit stands Thursday, February 13.

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