Venue Review: Zada Jane's Corner Cafe
It takes guts to be idiosyncratic in the restaurant business, and Zada Jane's, from its name to its offerings to its Web site, has guts galore.
Wild colors cover everything inside, including about half the patrons. The menu's a mash-up of organic and local foods, stuff that isn't exactly either but still seductive (i.e. Imladris Farm apple butter for your breakfast biscuits), and more common fare.
Breakfast and lunch come from the Decidedly Folksy School of Restaurateuring, while dinner's a tamer, more serious thing: ribeyes with demiglaze and tomato lobster bisque and seafood specials and such.
I enjoy the dichotomy, but I can see, and have been told repeatedly, how some would wish it more uniform in feel. I also think you can never have too much breakfast for dinner, and though my Baucom's Best ribeye was fine, my non-dinner meals were much better. Co-owner Roger Raymer (the place is named for his two grandmothers, Zada and Jane) says the lineup is being mulled.
Zada Jane's was at its best for me one chilly afternoon, as I dug into a lunchtime plate of Bunny Rancheros with a hot cup of coffee that stayed full and a crowd of apparent regulars milling about. The dish pairs two eggs (usually Happy Eggs from Nashville, N.C., says Raymer) with choice of meat (choose chorizo!), black beans, queso and pepperjack sauce, salsa, guacamole, cilantro crema and tortillas. Oh, and home fries. And it's $8.95. And fabulous.
Fat "TLC" biscuits, Grateful Growers sausage and Anson Mills organic grits also appear on the all-day lineup, along with jasmine green tea from TEA ReX. Three-egg omelets come in multiple variations and, like many dishes, include neighborhood names; the Belvedere (spinach, goat cheese, mushrooms, tomato, roasted garlic and basil) is a favorite, while the Vegless Avenger features five (!) meats.
Breakfast entrées venture into sweets, from Amaretto French toast to pancakes with honey butter and maple syrup. Add a café mocha and you're sugared up enough to start wondering what the deal is with that mechanical goose wreathed in Christmas lights perched near the ceiling.
Also: Note that hours are being discussed. Raymer says he'd like to open at 6:30 a.m. weekdays and stay open through dinner on nights they serve it. Target date (you'll love this): Meck Dec Day. For nonlocals, that's May 20, and celebrates what some claim is the day in 1775 that men from this county declared themselves free from King George III.
A chop and other salads with housemade dressings and toppings from marinated tofu to roasted pumpkin seeds also appear on the all-day lineup, plus there are assorted coffee drinks made with Tennessee's Stone Cup Roasting Company wares and a full bar.
Servers meander and chat, dart and fetch in chaotic patterns and the kitchen varies significantly in speed and execution in my experience, and therein lies a conundrum:
When a home-grown place springs up, how much room are diners willing to give? Do we leave a little leeway for timing and inconsistency, and take responsibility for giving feedback? And if it's sufficiently homespun to have periodic difficulties, does management need to keep a more-pricked-up-than-usual ear to how it's going, quickly comping things that go awry?
Charlotte's got a pretty checkered past with veg-friendly, quirky, not completely consistent spots like Zada Jane's. Personally, I value them enough to want to be a collaborative diner. So: Could you face the goose away from me, please?