Restaurant review: Wildflower Cafe

From the March 7, 2013 edition

Well, there goes the neighborhood ... restaurant getting better.

The recently renovated McCarthy’s Wildflower Cafe has long deserved its reputation as a “home cooking” destination. Sure, most eateries saddled with that designation generally wind up reminding diners why they left home in the first place. But at friendly Wildflower, the description is like a badge of honor reflecting honest and unpretentious, scratch-made grub served in a culinary buzzword-free environment. Wildflower’s makeover hasn’t changed that, but this exceedingly nice-priced joint now has more to offer — like booze.

So order, say, a Sierra Nevada Torpedo ($3.75) and check out the alterations. They’ve made this comfy little place look less like the cute Kountry Kitchen it used to resemble without sacrificing any homey charm. Basically, Wildflower’s taken on a slightly darker hue with its new tabletops, blinds, paint job, wainscoting, cabinets and lighting. Replacing the old floral wallpaper — and playing off pale green trim and accents — are muted lilac flower patterns I was told were stenciled on by the owner’s daughter. How can you not love that?

You’ll also love Chef Bob’s Pork Schnitzel. Atop a mild, grainy mustard sauce was a stellar, buttery-golden brown-crusted, pan-fried beauty whose tooth-pleasing crunch led to a phenomenally tender and juicy, pounded-thin pork loin cutlet. At $13, with two good sides, this killer, Frisbee-sized plate-filler is one of the two “priciest” items on Wildflower’s regular menus (the plural will make sense later) — yet it’s still a tremendous deal destined to produce a second meal toted home in one of Wildflower’s biodegradable doggie boxes.

Less tender but similarly juicy and delicious was Wildflower’s other $13 entree — eight ounces of perfectly medium-rare and grill-marked black angus Top Sirloin Steak cloaked in gorgonzola cheese sauce and mushrooms. It tasted pretty great, you know, like home cooking from somebody who could actually cook. As with Wildflower’s other “Dinner Specialties” (served from 4 to 9 p.m.), it’s generously plated with vegetables (a nifty sauteed fresh squash and green bean medley) plus first-rate potatoes (wonderful blue cheese au gratins or crispy garlic and Parmesan “fricco-ed” redskins).

Totally homemade $9 recurring daily specials (served 11 a.m.-9 p.m., and not to be confused with evening specials) like skillful and comforting Amish-raised Chicken with Egg Noodles and mashed potatoes (Wednesdays) or Yankee Pot Roast with new potatoes and veggies (Thursdays) are a big deal here. So are weekend brunches (7 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturdays; 7 a.m.-2 p.m. Sundays), when there’s frequently a line out the door. Clever diners like me know to show up on Saturdays around noon to plow through the best of both worlds.

So after a spicy, proprietary-blend Bloody Mary ($6), you can order a crunchy and accurately named Giant Belgian Waffle ($5.75) or crispy yet fluffy-enough Blueberry Pancakes ($2.25) to go with an omelet ($6.50) or something more “lunchy.” From the latter category, you can go modest with a bowl of satisfying, straightforward chili ($4) or a better-than-solid homemade Black Bean Veggie Burger ($7, with housemade chips).

If you’re like me, though, you’ll go big with the Saturday Fried Chicken special — a crispy and un-greasy triumph of simple ingredients and expert technique. Served with stiff, real mashers, homey gravy, slaw and a biscuit, it’s one of the best iterations of this dish in town.

Desserts in this consummate neighborhood restaurant are homemade, too. And from terrific pies to over-the-top bread pudding, they’re worth a splurge.