Editor’s note: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reviewed Plum Café in 2014, but it has changed ownership since then. This is a “revisit.”
Canton Street in downtown Roswell is a charming place to spend a summer afternoon. Historic buildings — converted homes, former horse carriage houses — lend it character, as do all the indie shops, restaurants and bars that occupy them. There’s Roswell Provisions with its first-floor mercantile appeal and its second-story French-bedecked Le Bistro. Across the street, there’s Mac McGee Irish pub with its vintage bar and dark wood decor. Down the block, a breezy patio and gazebo beckon the ladies-who-lunch crowd to Plum Café.
Nestled among the Shoppes of Plum Tree Village plaza, Plum Café caters to the health-minded. Vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free menu items have been the focus here since the restaurant opened about five years ago. That hasn’t changed since coming under new ownership 18 months ago.
Meals here remain “light and low-guilt,” as former AJC dining critic Jenny Turknett described Plum Café in a 2014 review. A cup of roasted carrot ginger bisque soup is bright, thick and zingy. The Mediterranean Salad is well portioned with crunchy cucumber, bell pepper and red onion, creamy avocado, and salty feta crumbles amid a bed of leafy greens, and the house red wine vinaigrette with lovely accents of oregano. The deliciously messy Avocado Surprise takes avocado toast into loaded sandwich territory that even gluten-free and vegan diners can enjoy when they ask to hold the cheddar cheese and swap out the organic sprouted bread for a few slices of the GF kind.
Some vegan offerings don’t merit such praise. A chickpea wrap with barely a smear of mango chutney was bland. The meat flavor and crunch of organic tempeh bacon in the Vegan BLTA was lost in the heaviness of rosemary flatbread. The Plum Possible Queso Pizza, one of a handful of items on the seasonal summer menu, was an unsatisfying, gluten-free thin crust topped with a layer of tomato slices, an unappealing bright orange smear of pasty butternut squash (aka the “queso”), a scattering of plant-based Impossible meat crumbles and some cilantro leaves. Essentially a vegan take on a sausage and cheese pizza, this one hits the healthy mark, but misses with taste. At a cost of $19, the 11-inch pie was especially disappointing.
I enjoy the flavor, texture and consistency of Plum Café’s tuna salad, made with dolphin-safe, pole- and line-caught tuna. It appears as a satisfying scoop, along with chicken and chickpea salads, the trio of proteins that shape the Tres Salad. It’s also used for the Tuna Melt Panini. That’s a fine bite, but one that comes with a price gripe. The pressed sandwich isn’t very big — it looks more like a half-sandwich than a whole. Yet it costs nearly $11.
It’s a similar situation with the Mediterranean Salad, which becomes a filling entree with the addition of a nicely grilled salmon fillet studded with capers, but also comes with a steep price tag: $18.95.
Yes, quality ingredients cost more. Yes, restaurants have labor costs. What would make that $18.95 salmon salad worth it? A better dining experience, starting with aesthetics.
Whereas the patio at Plum Café, which faces the green spaces of wine neighbors Vin 25 and Deep Roots wine market and tasting room, is a serene botanical spot, the restaurant’s interior could use some sprucing up. The only thing on most of the walls is a neutral coat of paint. The exception is a trio of electronic panels that flash annoying photos and names of menu items. The panels hang above the long front counter, whose very existence may confuse guests about the restaurant’s service model (it is full-service, sit down). There’s also the periodic ding of a call bell from the kitchen.
If a restaurant wants to charge upscale dining prices, it ought to deliver an upscale dining experience.
Service staff is attentive and knowledgeable about the menu, though. And they do not rush guests, even during brisk lunch hours.
Then again, Plum Café isn’t a place that invites lingering, say, over a glass or two of wine. When Plum Café opened, it did offer alcoholic beverages, but booze is no longer an option. Instead, there are house-made -ades: lemonade (weak and tasting more like lemon vitamin water), gingerade (thirst-quenching and satisfying if you love ginger) and strawberry lemonade, plus a variety of smoothies.
You could stretch your mealtime with an order of dessert. The restaurant offers a number of vegan and gluten-free sweets. Among those made in-house is an impressively moist carrot cake cupcake. Vegan cheesecake, however, tasted like frozen coconut milk. Taken home in a to-go box and left on the kitchen counter, the dinky cupcake-sized round melted into a watery white puddle within a couple of hours. That was $8.75 wasted.
Plum Café’s efforts to offer people with dietary restrictions nourishing food are not wasted on me. It’s a positive development that vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free diners in metro Atlanta have more eating options than ever before. But for Plum Café to be a plum stop on an afternoon stroll along Canton Street, it could use some culinary creativity (Where are the whole grains? Where is the produce of summer?) — and a few pieces of art. Sometimes, (eye) candy can be a good thing. Even at a health food café.
11 a.m.-8 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays; 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays. 1055 Canton St., Roswell. 770-518-7586, www.plumcafe.net.
Recommended dishes: Mediterranean Salad. Tuna Melt Panini. Salmon with Lemon and Capers. Avocado Surprise. Vegan Carrot Cake Cupcake, if available.
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