The building that holds The Bay Leaf is adorably quaint — a little cottage nestled in Clifton Square that boasts a peaceful, picturesque patio.
It once housed Everyday Gourmet, a soup, salad and catering place. A few years ago, new owners took over, calling it Bay Leaf Cafe, but they shut the business down last fall.
Earlier this summer, sisters Nicole and Ericka Chappelle and Matthew McCann and his mother, Nga McCann, bought the restaurant and reopened it, serving a menu that mixes soups, salads and sandwiches with home cooking favorites.
The restaurant now doubles as a lunch spot and a nightlife hangout. It has a full bar and is open until 2 a.m. on the weekends, and the menu includes beer-friendly favorites such as hot wings and burgers.
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ON THE MENU: The menu is an eclectic mix: vegetarian spring rolls next to nachos on the appetizer menu, three different Hawaiian-themed offerings, chicken-fried steak next to pasta primavera, and more.
DON'T-MISS DISHES: My guests for this review meal were Jan Cummins and Stacy Schilling, two women who do a lot of dining out. Jan, who attended The Eagle's annual Holiday Open House in December, won one of our prize giveaways — accompanying me on a review.
The two were intrigued by The Bay Leaf, which they'd never visited, and they liked the looks of the menu.
We started with two appetizers — some pretty uninspired bruschetta ($4.99) which was served with finely pureed tomatoes spiked with squares of mozzarella and slices of plain baguette bread. The better choice was the bierock bites, unique and delicious puffs of homemade pastry dough stuffed with ground beef, cabbage and cheddar cheese. It took a while for the bites to arrive at the table, but we soon found out that was because they were being baked fresh — which made the wait worth it.
Our entrees also were fair to partly delicious. Jan's BLT ($5.99), made on a soft hoagie bun, was a bit bland, but she raved about the rich cheddar and broccoli soup she ordered on the side.
Stacy's chicken-fried steak ($8.99) was huge, as any good chicken-fried steak should be. It had a nice breading and a pleasing gravy. Though it wasn't life-changing, it was certainly adequate.
The best entree on our table, though, was my jalapeno cheddar lava burger, a nicely seasoned and smoky hamburger patty stuffed in the center with cheddar cheese and topped with spicy jalapenos. It was served with a side of crispy waffle fries for $7.99.
Each of us chose a dessert as well. A slice of banana cream pie for me, a butterscotch blondie for Jan and a slice of chocolate-covered cherry cheesecake for Stacy.
They were all fine, though not remarkable. We asked our server if the desserts were made in-house. They used to be, she admitted, but then the owners discovered a boxed-dessert company out of Kansas City whose pastries were just as good.
They weren't just as good, and worse, I saw some of the exact same desserts at College Hill Catering and Deli last month.
AMBIENCE: The small dining room could use some updating, such as new carpet. And the air conditioning unit blowing freezing air straight up my back throughout the meal was annoying. But the shady front patio, which is gorgeous and has a relaxed neighborhood feel, will be a big draw as the weather cools down.
PRICE RANGE: Appetizers range from $6.99 to $8.99. Sandwiches are $5.99 and $6.99. Burgers are $5.99 to $7.99. Entrees average about $8.
SERVICE: Service was OK. Our waitress was working alone and was frenzied but friendly, though the food took quite a while to arrive.