Chewy and flavorful corn cakes topped with wild mushrooms, corn kernels, and crunchy goodies made a palate-wakening appetizer.

Naive’s patio offers comfort on a chilly day

By Robin Garr

I really wanted to enjoy an al fresco lunch last Saturday. Conditions were perfect. Spring’s green had grown into a summery green canopy, and mild weather had finally shown up after a long, cool spring.

Then I heard an annoyed yell from the other room. Mary had just checked the weather forecast! Midday temperatures in the upper 50s, partly cloudy, with steady north winds and gusts to 24 mph?

“You can eat outside,” she said. “I’m eating indoors where it’s warm.”

Well, we could wait until tomorrow when it’s supposed to be warmer. No, wait! Mother’s Day? Busiest, wackiest day of the restaurant year after Valentine’s? Nope nope nope!

Obviously, our range of options was narrowing. Look for a place that was still using heaters? Possible, but not too likely in mid-May. Ditto for a place with an enclosed patio, which by literal definition is not al fresco, Italian for “in the fresh air.”

This was frustrating, and that was before I even thought about all the other negative aspects of outdoor dining, like bugs, noise, traffic fumes, breezes and, oh, geez, cigarette smoke.

Maybe we should call the whole thing off. But then I remembered that Naive Kitchen + Bar in Butchertown – one of my favorite places for eating indoors – has a really delightful patio hidden away behind the building. It offers plenty of open sunny space for a chilly day (and shady nooks too, for warmer times). It’s surrounded by wood slatted fences and dotted with trees and fences to break the wind, and there’s even a fire pit. This might work!

Don't care to dine out without your canine pal? Naive's patio is doggo friendly, with plenty of space to steer clear of pet-free diners.
Don’t care to dine out without your canine pal? Naive’s patio is doggo friendly, with plenty of space to steer clear of pet-free diners.

So off we went, dressed in layers, and had a really good time. Indeed, the sun came out and as the temperature rose to a breezy 67º by lunch time, I actually shed my jacket and asked a server to fetch a patio umbrella to shade my side of the table so I wouldn’t melt.

The food is really good, too. Naive describes itself as “a west coast, vegetable centric restaurant with meat options, and some healthy indulgences, too, striving to be local and organic with dishes that focus on “a vegetarian lifestyle with options to include carnivores, vegans, and all diets in between.”

The brunch menu features seven small plates, which range in price from $10 (for a whipped farmers cheese plate) to four $13 picks. Seven large plates aren’t much more pricey than the small items: Five choices are $14 or $15, and only the $20 lamb burger and a $26 steak-and-eggs rise above that range. Four sweet plates are $4 (for a fat cinnamon roll) to $12 or $13 (for maple toast pancakes, or bread pudding). Sides of eggs or bacon can be added to any dish for modest $1 to $3 upcharges. Mimosas ($7) and bloody marys ($10) are billed as brunch quaffs, and there’s a variety of coffee drinks and teas. Full bar service is also available.

All the dishes we tried appeared to be made with quality ingredients, from beautiful, textured wild mushrooms to fresh, crisp corn niblets. As with the dishes I’ve enjoyed in Naive’s dining room, everything appeared to be carefully structured, put together and plated with a chef’s eye.

A pair of corn cakes ($12) made an impressive appetizer. Two thick, chewy, pancake-like corn-based cakes were griddled crisp and brown, then plated with an assortment of ingredients in a whirl of contrasting yet compatible colors, textures, and flavors: Earthy, tender fluted wild mushrooms, corn kernels, and gently piquant slices of bright red pepper, atop a modern-art swirl of tangy green chimichurri.

A crispy rice main dish ($14) was intriguing and delicious too. It was a pancake-style item formed from what seemed to be risotto, grilled to a crisp, brown exterior surrounding tender short-grain rice. It, too, was plated on tasty chimichurri and dressed with corn kernels and red-pepper slices, plus tasty little crisp-fried pearl onions and, oddly, avocado slices in place of the roasted mushrooms that the menu promised.

A hefty, appropriately gamey lamb burger came topped with mild Spanish manchego cheese with intriguing fixing on a quality bun
A hefty, appropriately gamey lamb burger came topped with mild Spanish manchego cheese with intriguing fixing on a quality bun

The lamb burger ($20) had a lot going for it and one real problem: Although ordered medium rare it came out almost completely raw and cold, a step to far even for us. The burger was large, apparently hand-formed, browned around the edges, and was perfectly good after a trip home in a box for a little more heat. It was topped with Spanish manchego cheese and nestled in a quality grilled seeded bun with tasty poblano aioli and a pale leaf of romaine lettuce, plus a side of short-cut crispy fries.

A delicious brunch for two, in a setting that proved to be completely comfortable, came to $48.76 plus a $12 tip.

Naive Kitchen + Bar – brunch on the patio
1001 E. Washington St.

Noise Level: Music on the sound system, nearby conversations, and the pleasant undercurrent of birdsong and breezes generate a hum, but conversation is never a problem. Average sound level was a moderate 70.1dB.

Accessibility: Wheelchair access is available through a side entrance from Wenzel Street, but a stretch of fine gravel might be difficult for some to traverse. The indoor dining area and unisex restroom are accessible from the patio but not the front of the building on Washington Street, where a step bars the way.