Ladies lunch may be a thing of the past, but the menus persist
I'm disappointed. It appears that the era of the ladies' lunch is over, both in terms of menu and audience. Cucumber sandwiches on trimmed white bread? Nowhere in sight. Coordinated purse and shoes? Not if the guy at the Bright Shawl casually displaying a holstered pistol is any fashion forecast. And, though our waitress indicated that there were usually more women in attendance, men were easily half the clientele during our visit, and that's not even counting Rotary Club Wednesdays. Charitable Southwest School of Art & Craft board members, male and female, tipped the balance back toward tradition at the Copper Kitchen, but even here it appears that unarmed businessmen make up a large percentage of the trade. Conclusion: Women no longer have the leisure time necessary for long, chatty lunches. Haven't for a long time, for that matter.
Either that, or they're all at the gym. A look at the Bright Shawl's menu suggests why this might be the case; though there are the expected soups and sandwiches, they're far from just-one-more-bite light. A hearty split pea was the soup of a recent 100-degree day, and the salads (nothing congealed, however) sound like the ubiquitous Southwest Chicken Caesar. The Texas crab cakes, served with lemon pepper aioli atop dressed field greens, could hardly be called a lo-cal lunch either, especially considering the bready quality of the cakes and their nest of deep-fried onion shards. We would have appreciated more of the sparingly applied aioli, but all considered, flavors and portions were decidedly more robust than in the dainty days of yore.
The light ceviche appetizer had already sold out at 1:15, but the hearty buffet ($8.95, or $5.95 for soup and salad alone) with its lasagna and fried shrimp had been devastated, too. In honor of cocktail parties past, we thus elected the spinach and artichoke dip, later learning that it's hardly ever requested due to its made-to-order time constraints. If you're going to eat this kind of thing -
Even more exercise would have been required if we had come anywhere near finishing the grilled chicken boursin with wilted spinach, prosciutto, and tomato basil pasta. (Bacon-wrapped filet is another entrée option.) "Nobody ever finishes the pasta," confided our waitress; a shame since, though very creamy, it's house-made and nicely al dente. But chicken and companions are already too much, and admittedly very good, almost as good as the locally legendary almond crunch cake, another San Antonio staple we've all had at gatherings from wedding to wake. Three layers of moist white cake, classic butter cream icing and almond crunch with additional drizzled caramel are an utterly irresistible combo, diet be damned.
The Bright Shawl's setting, in a contemporary annex to the historic house through which you enter, is pleasant enough, especially if you ignore the wispy watercolors and concentrate on the charming enclosed garden. The Southwest School of Art & Craft's Copper Kitchen is a more interior experience, and more resonantly historic, too. Broad floorboards, deep window openings in limestone walls, antique pie safes, and bare wood tables all contribute to a feeling of time-honored tradition - a feeling that's only enhanced by the contemporary art adorning the walls. The menu, on the other hand, is far less ambitious than the Junior League's, and service is by way of cafeteria line. But the cost is accordingly less and so is the required time; you can be in and out in a half hour, assuming you don't meet several friends and acquaintances.
Billed as "scalloped" chicken, the entrée was disappointing. It seemed to me to have come more from the Tetrazzini tradition, with the mushrooms and cheese, but without the cream. My serving, in any case, was mostly very buttery fettuccine with little fowl. But the accompanying mixed green salad with the choice of a sprightly, emerald-hued herb dressing was the light and lilting opposite to the somewhat stodgy pasta.
Friendly and efficient table-clearing and tea service helped keep the experience positive. And the servings of sheet cake were discreet enough to almost assuage guilt over enjoying a midday dessert. The white cake with coconut frosting and a chocolate counterpart with coffee were both something mom might make if she had the time. Though clearly she no longer does. •