Food & Drink Grannies gone wild

Ladies who lunch eat adventurously at Pam's Patio Kitchen

I may be at the top of a slippery slope, but here goes: Sometimes you can tell what kind of food to expect at a restaurant by observing the diners. On my first visit to Pam's Patio Kitchen, I was the only single male over age 18 or so; the remainder of the crowded dining room was filled with lunching ladies. No offense, but this is usually not a thrill-seeking audience. At a subsequent evening sojourn, a bus carrying retirees from Air Force Village II pulled up just as I was seated. They looked a sprightly lot, and many were no doubt sophisticated world travelers, but the immediate, involuntary reaction was that they had come expecting predictable food. (I know, I'm getting into deep trouble here.) And then the guy in shorts, with the astonishing tattoos from ankle to who-knows-where, arrived to blow everything out of the water. Add to this Pam's funky logo and artwork by bad-boy Robert Tatum, and all my preconceived notions of Pam's were confounded. So much for stereotypes.

Pam's dining area is decorated with artworks by painter Robert Tatum. (Photos by Mark Greenberg)

In my feeble defense, the lunch menu reads conventionally, too, but the food on the plate is something else altogether: Pam believes in big flavor and every bite furthers that philosophy. I started with a daily-special gazpacho, noting first the texture - no wimpy, watery gruel here, but a chunky, salsa-like tomato blend. The flavors support the texture with vinegary tartness, reinforced by bits of lemon peel and mitigated by chunks of zucchini. In all, quite a mouthful and very good as a dip with the house-made tortilla chips (although they came with their own dip, an equally flavorful mango-avocado salsa). Alex's Big Rip, a house-made focaccia that comes stuffed with what seems like way too many ingredients but makes each of them count: Chicken breast, feta, guacamole, marinated red onion, and house Russian dressing, far from being a cultural-culinary mish-mash, add up to a more-than-the-sum-of-its-parts masterpiece. I loved it, and it partnered well with the cold soup.

I probably shouldn't admit to loving the lascivious lemon bar I had for dessert, but I did spread the experience out over a day. Pam admits to being the dessert queen, but her cheery demeanor also reigns behind the cash register where, as an extension of her love for food, she works the crowd.

Thai beef steak and romaine salad, Alex's Big Rip sandwich, Gaspacho, and homemade strawberry lemonade.

Claire's Turkey Avocado with cream cheese, sprouts, and baby spinach, and Ryan's Hot Italian Roast Beef Sub with toasted provolone and marinated red onion are typical of her sandwich offerings. Normally benign luncheon salads get sneakily creative with the likes of Thai Beef Steak and Romaine served over steamed jasmine rice, and Chinese Chicken Salad with rice noodles, cilantro, toasted almonds, and a sesame-ginger dressing. Evening salads are equally inventive, and a pear and Gorgonzola model with mixed greens, toasted pecans, and a sesame seed dressing was, frankly, fantastic - all it needed was a bigger plate to better show it off.

Pam's Patio Cafe

11826 Wurzbach
at Lockhill-Selma
(The Elms)

11am-3pm Tue-Sat;
5-9pm Fri & Sat

Price Range: $5-17
Credit cards
Wheelchair accessible

Pam's is open for dinner only on Friday and Saturday, which may coincide with performances at the Steven Stoli Playhouse upstairs. The menu is expanded for these adventures, and more clues to the restaurant's latent, globe-trotting-gourmet aspirations are apparent upon inspection. You don't have to look too hard to pick out the Shrimp Nikko with lemon-butter sauce, the poblano chicken on penne pasta, or the wok-cooked spicy shrimp with garlic, ginger, and chile. The wok looms large in Pam's creations; it's also used for the Salmon Pomodoro, a dish that sounded so good it convinced me to relax my boycott of farm-raised salmon. The accompanying ingredients - sun-dried tomato, capers, fresh tomato, marinated red onion, and fresh basil leaves - alone would have made the fish wonderful. But searing it in a super-hot wok with a hint of olive oil was a spectacularly good way of getting the desired, flaky texture with a crisp, almost charred exterior. This was sensational salmon, and its side of lightly cooked spinach with garlic, olive oil and wine didn't pale by comparison. The short wine list yields a pinot perfect for the plate.

I must confess to another dessert. Spurning chocolate cake any mom would be happy to claim, I selected a modest-sounding blueberry tart. Topped with cooked and fresh blueberries and accented with a cinnamon-spiked streusel, the tart turned out to be anything but self-effacing in its exquisitely buttery crust. Such fare may be why Pam and her husband are looking for a bigger place with better parking than The Elms has to offer. That's fine by me, as long as bigger doesn't mean blander - perhaps another stereotype to be skewered.


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