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(out of five)

Luck O' the Les

Adrian's Cafe
10133 Kingston Pike

by Les DuLunch

A nitpicker by nature (Virgo) and profession (editor), I very rarely pause to ponder good fortune. There's always some flaw or obstacle to be overcome; the goal of absolute perfection, even in all its inevitable dullness, lies just around the corner.

But the other day, enjoying a workday lunch at Adrian's Café with my good friend Fredro (the second within a week's time), I was overcome by a strange warm glow. After a bite of deliciously snappy cold bean salad, the words "I'm so lucky" actually burst from my mouth.

It must've been something I ate. And certainly the fine fare at Adrian's Cafe would leave anyone feeling fortunate.

The restaurant, which is open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday, is a polite, charming little place—sort of like a CC's Cafe for the West Knox crowd. There's really no connection among the nicely varied lunchtime menu items; they are exactly what they appear to be—a grouping of successfully catered dishes. (Flip the menu over for a comprehensive list of gourmet-to-go options ideal for dinner parties.) This makes for a nice, if occasionally pretentious, mix of appetizers, rotating side dishes, sandwiches, soups, salads, pasta offerings, and entrees that runs from the semi-traditional, Ambrosia ChickenŞ croissant sandwiches, to the oddly unexpected chicken l'orange en croute.

It's got a chummy garden club kind of feel, with the metal patio furniture and all the plants, fountains, and the Christmas lights strung from the ceiling. Soothing new age-y world beat tunes pour out of the speakers leading you to feel like belly dancing one moment and strapping on the family tartan the next.

Adrian's only problem (and it's a relatively small one) is that its menu offers no descriptions of the entrees. Ordinarily, this isn't a problem; when ordering something like a shrimp cocktail, the "plumpness" or "juiciness" of the shrimp is almost always a given and everyone knows that they'll come perched on the edge of a glass of cocktail sauce. But at Adrian's you might find yourself curious to know exactly what exactly a Chapman's CommuteŞ sandwich or Cafe ChickenŞ is before you order it. (The friendly server informed us that they were a chicken salad melt and a cheese-stuffed baked chicken breast respectively; I didn't inquire about the curious trademarks—two of several that appear throughout the menu. Go figure.) There's a prix fixe lunch sampler (basically, one item of your choice from every area of the menu), but it seems like a bit much, although I'd be curious to know exactly who has enough time to enjoy that leisurely a weekday lunch.

Among the soups sampled ($1.95 for a cup and $2.95 for a bowl), the hot ones ranked best. The shrimp stew offered all of the wonderful full-bodied flavor and texture of a rice-filled low-heat gumbo without the slimy okra, while the cream of perfectly pureed broccoli florets was mixed with a base of just the right consistency. Importantly, neither was piping hot, but served at just the right temperature to immediately begin eating. But the cup of cool cucumber had too much overpowering sour cream for my palate, compounded in this case by dill's pungent overtones, and would've been better off thickened up and transformed into a tangier version of tzatziki (the classic Greek cucumber and yogurt sauce).

Ham salad is kind of like Jekyll and Hyde; you never know what you're going to get—the mayonnaise-swamped grocery store deli tub variety or something nice and firm that actually tastes like ham. But Adrian's seemingly mayonnaise-less ham salad wrap sandwich ($5.95) of nicely cubed pieces of firm ham, celery, and onion, with slices of cheddar cheese and tomato, rolled up in a soft tortilla spread with earthy, body-building black olive paste completely overcame any trepidation. It was served with a side of lively southwestern bean salad—black and green beans with tiny kernels of white corn, onions, and jalapeno peppers that had been dusted down with chili powder and soaked in a tangy balsamic marinade. While I was smacking my lips over the salad, Fredro enjoyed a pita pizza ($6.95) of red pepper and black beans, topped with cheddar.

Earlier in the week on that previous visit, I'd learned that Adrian's is home to the lightest and airiest quiche I've ever eaten ($6.95). The particular day's variety was grounded by big, luscious whole shrimp, crumbly bits of bacon, and a fine, dry, flaky crust. And the accompanying twice-baked potatoes were likewise delightful. Served in a large ramekin, these had been mixed with chives and texture-adding skins (which made it clear that the dish used tender red-skinned potatoes). However, the menu's lack of description proved slightly problematic for Fredro, who ordered the shrimp linguine with pesto ($9.95), not realizing that its sauce would actually be a pesto-peppered Alfredo. But a little heavy cream never hurt anybody, and it sure didn't seem to bother Fredro as he polished off most of the entrée anyway.

So, if you're feeling lucky too, or even if you aren't, Adrian's Café is a sure bet.

June 29, 2000 * Vol. 10, No. 26
© 2000 Metro Pulse