Clockwise from top: Roasted lamb, black forest cake, tomato and rice soup, beef Big Bloke, and rice and potato quiche from Little Aussie Café. Photo by Antonia Padilla
Bakery & Café
3610 Ave. B
10am-6pm Mon; 10am-9pm Tue– Fri; 8am-9pm Sat; 8am-6pm Sun
The Little Aussie Bakery & Café’s fair dinkum “Aussie dessert treat extravaganza” is the Pavlova, named for the once-famous Russian ballerina, and it was never in evidence during either of my two visits. Nor was the traditional English sponge cake. Both look supremely seductive on the website, however, and neither photo would betray an essential aspect of their creation: They were made without wheat flour. (The Pavlova is meringue-based.) The same holds true for all the desserts in the showcase at the cozy restaurant on Avenue B near the Witte; and for the breads, made with rice, potato, and tapioca flours bound with ground flax in order to be acceptable to that percentage of the population suffering from gluten intolerance.
Celiac disease, according to a pamphlet put out by the Alamo Celiac GIG, is “an autoimmune digestive disorder in which the lining of the small intestine is damaged by the gluten in wheat…” and some other grains. The condition is more common than once thought, making the efforts at Little Aussie important to an ever-widening group. (For more information, visit Alamoceliac.org) Not that all of us shouldn’t be interested in some alternative eating from time to time.
It’s tempting, therefore, to suggest that virtue is its own reward — and in the case of the desserts, that is largely true. An almond cake, “like a pound cake only better,” according to my waitress, had a pleasant texture, a delicate almond flavor, and a drizzled topping of chewy caramel studded with whole almonds that was annoyingly chewy but a necessary counterpoint.
A chocolate cake, sporting blackberries and strawberries atop a lustrous ganache, could have come from any upper-crust bakery — and trumped many with its haunting flavors of coffee and clove. The same flavors suffused the chocolate “doozies” (my guess at the spelling) that were said to be a cousin of the Moon Pie. Not. Except maybe in form: two domed biscuits sandwiching a crème filling. The biscuits were hard and dry and the crème inconsequential, suggesting a little too much time in the bakery case.
It’s easy to imagine how this might come about; neither at lunch nor at dinner were crowds an issue — not even on a pizza night that had recently been expanded to include both Tuesday and Friday. I went with a friend who is a celiac sufferer, and a vegetarian, and we shared a non-meat version. Those of us with all the choices wouldn’t necessarily flock to a gluten-free crust as a first choice for pizza; it was reasonably thin but also a little spongy for my taste. My friend’s, too, and we both agreed that there ought to be a way to make it crisper. Say, with a well-heated pizza stone.
But we also both found the topping top-notch, if even a little too generous with the two cheeses we had selected. Tiny cherry tomatoes bursting with flavor, sliced orange bell peppers and mushrooms made for a pie ’most anyone would appreciate, and I’m surprised there weren’t more takers.
I’m not surprised at the lack of patrons for the Big Bloke sandwich that is the foundation of the menu. Built upon the house-baked gluten-free bread, it comes in three models: chicken, turkey, and beef. The bread itself is pale with flecks of flax, and though it tastes different from the loaves we’re used to, you won’t really miss the wheat. A slathering of intense garlic butter is the default anointment, as is a slab of mostly melted Swiss cheese. The turkey, though, seems like something you might do with leftovers. It comes in chunks with a lashing of gravy and desperately needs something more. I added in most of the side salad, a very appealing mix of varied greens with sliced apple, all in a delicate dressing, and still felt unsatisfied.
If you take a sandwich with you, the styro container is apparently a substitute for the salad, so I had nothing to add to the brisket-like beef model. If there was gravy, it was un-Aussie in its discretion. If you’re having it in-house, then, I strongly suggest a side of the house soup. What the sandwiches lack in brio, the soups make up for in spades. A tomato-rice version was lusty and hearty, a savory chicken (bones and all) and green-stuff bowl would make for a rewarding meal in its own right. Go for soup, and if you’re lucky, you can “snavel” a slice of the Pavlova. No, I don’t know what it means, either.
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