Driskill 1886 Cafe & Bakery
Driskill 1886 Cafe & Bakery is home of impressive chefs and bad food service
Reviewed by Virginia B. Wood, Fri., May 23, 2008
Driskill 1886 Cafe & Bakery604 Brazos, 391-7121
Friday-Saturday, 6:30am-12mid; breakfast served until 2:30pm on weekends
During the long and storied history of the Driskill Hotel, there have been periods when it has been justifiably famous for good food service. The legendary Helen Corbitt's tenure there established the Driskill's reputation for fine food. Even in the dark days of the Seventies, ladies of the local Heritage Society served Corbitt-inspired dishes to a very appreciative clientele in the 1886 Cafe & Bakery. More recently, the excellent work of young chef David Bull brought national recognition and acclaim for fine dining to the Driskill Grill. Since the hotel's most recent sale and Bull's departure, followed soon by that of his successor, Josh Watkins, new owners Destination Hotels maintain they continue to have a strong commitment to quality. In the early spring, they announced the hiring of chef Scott Halverson specifically for the more casual 1886 Cafe & Bakery and also added the widely respected Tony Sansalone as executive pastry chef. The cafe was given a face-lift that streamlined the entrance to the room and enhanced traffic flow by moving the dark wood bar to the back. The newest incarnation of "Austin's socializing parlor" debuted in March.
After sampling a pricey ($4.50 cinnamon rolls!) but delicious selection of baked goods on a recent weekday, some friends were eager to join me at the 1886 Cafe & Bakery on a Sunday afternoon. We opted to avoid the crush of Mother's Day celebrants on the mezzanine and were quickly seated at a table in the cafe's sunny main dining room. More tables were available on the shaded porch overlooking Sixth Street and in the hotel's south lobby. Chef Halverson's menu proved very inviting, and Sansalone's exquisite pastries displayed in an antique case made our mouths water. Unfortunately, what had promised to be a delightful outing was ruined by some of the worst restaurant service anyone in our party had ever encountered.
Our young server did not write our orders down at the table, which could account for the fact that he delivered the wrong food to each person when he finally returned. One lady in our group ordered hot tea with honey. Although he did bring her the tea cup, tea bag, and hot water, he never did return with the honey. She was finally able to get the honey from another server. We were seated near the open serving area, and I happened to see four of our meals being loaded onto a serving tray where they sat for several minutes while the server waited for the kitchen to complete the one burger needed to complete our order. The four egg dishes ($12-13) arrived cold, and the blue-cheese burger ($13), ordered medium, was charred to a crisp. (On a street with so many exemplary burger offerings, a burnt $13 burger is a crime.) After we finally got everyone the right plate, our server disappeared, never returning to ask how things were or if we needed anything else. About halfway through the meal, he did return to refill coffees and poured a little coffee in the cup of our friend who was drinking tea. She stopped him fairly quickly, but he didn't apologize or offer her a fresh cup or more hot water. He just shrugged his shoulders and walked away.
Our server eventually returned with our check, placing it on the table and saying, "It looks like you are about finished here, so I'm just going to go ahead and drop your check." We responded that we would like to finish our meal with the Dessert Sampler ($12). Even though he assured us it would not be enough for our table of five, we convinced him we wanted it nonetheless. He turned in our order at the pastry-shop window, grabbed a handful of spoons from the silverware dispenser, and proceeded to "play" the spoons in his hands while waiting for our food. The lovely platter of miniature desserts, the dirty spoons, and our updated check arrived all together. Chef Sansalone's sophisticated miniature renditions of his excellent desserts went a long way toward overcoming the bad taste that cold food and bad service had left in our mouths. That is, until we opened our bill. Though the menu clearly states that an "18% gratuity will be added to parties of six or more," the gratuity had been added to our check for five diners. In the wake of such abominable service, our server had chosen to tip himself. I'm betting Helen Corbitt rolled over in her grave.