It’s complicated. Very complicated.
That’s the way Deborah Wenzler describes Baum & Blume, and she’s part owner of the Carmel Valley… um… place.
It’s a cafe, but not just. They also prepare food to go, frozen meals for take-out and do catering – minus the service aspect. Oh, and then there’s the beer garden that opens in summer, as well as the boutique offering clothing, books, decorations and gifts.
We were seated in the shop one Saturday evening, at a long rectangular table with a floral centerpiece that made it necessary to lean right or left to make eye contact. It’s an experience that is kooky, for lack of a better word.
No – that’s the right word, as long as it is taken in the proper spirit. Unique just doesn’t capture Baum & Blume. Eccentric? Absolutely.
The cafe menu can include dishes from many traditions: Italy or France, from south of the border, across Asia or anywhere else the culinary whims take them. And it changes on a weekly basis.
“At the end of the week, that’s it,” Wenzler says. “We move on.”
Yet the menu items themselves tend not to be so outlandish. Rosemary meatballs are formed from beef and pork and receive a welcome twang from the sauce that complements the hoarse grassiness of dried herbs. A spring vegetable and farro soup offers a warm, earthy stock laced with a smoky haze from bacon.
This is comfort food, mixed with a few dinner party classics. Depending upon the week you might find salmon baked en croute, steak Diane or – as we did on the day before Easter – torta pasqualina.
Filled with chard, onions, garlic and ricotta, each slice into the layered pastry reveals an egg nestled in a pillow of green. It’s rich and colorful, but the once-crispy shell had apparently been tempered by time in the cooler. Crispy chicken potstickers suffered the same fate.
Not that they should be avoided. No, they simply carry that made at home and stored away until needed for a quick meal character – too casual for a cafe. The garlic and Parmesan popover balanced the two characters neatly. But on this occasion a warmed-over feel put a dent in the experience. Not much of one, but a dent nonetheless.
And yet even with some slips, the kookiness of the place delights. Deborah Wenzler, along with her siblings (and partners) Diane and Deric handle the cooking and every aspect of service. They are friendly and allow the place to be whimsical, planning chicken cacciatore for a weekly menu because, as Deborah puts it, “I got a good deal on chicken thighs.”
Things change so often because of customer requests, seasonal preferences and the availability of ingredients. And just because the trio simply don’t with to become stuck in a culinary rut. Or a retail rut, for that matter.
So it’s a fun place to visit – part cafe, part take-out, part a lot of other stuff. They even prepare gift baskets.
But that’s another story.
BAUM & BLUME 4 El Caminito Road, Carmel Valley. Noon-7pm Mon-Sat. 659-0400, baumandblume.com