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Where have all the flower(ed hat)s gone?



Limestone walls, rich wood floors, and works by local artists add to the ambience of The Copper Kitchen at the Southwest School of Art & Craft. (Photos by Mark Greenberg)

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 -

The dining area of the Bright Shawl looks out into an enclosed garden area.
and we have all ingested gallons if it - this is the place to do it: just canned artichoke hearts, spinach, and cream cheese, bubbly, hot, and served with (too few) pita points. Unexpected cheese was our lot with the otherwise restrained marinated and grilled portobello on a romano roll. I'd have nixed the porto-melt in favor of more red pepper pesto, and we didn't much care for shredded iceberg as a spinach substitute. But we gobbled the house-made lemon-pepper potato chips right down. More hours at the gym.

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.

Bright shawl
819 Augusta
Mon, Tue, Thu, Sat
Price range: $5.95-15.95
Major credit cards
Handicapped accessible

Copper Kitchen
300 August
11:30am-2pm Mon-Fri
Price range: $4.25-6.50
Major credit cards
Handicapped accessible
I'm not a fan of cafeteria lines, in part because I hate making up my mind that quickly, but regulars know that there will be two entrées daily, one Mexican and the other Everywoman/Everyman American. The menu of sandwiches (pimento cheese and pb&j among them) and salads is all but immutable, and the desserts are sublimely simple. A grilled turkey sandwich with cheese and poblano at least seemed a little out of the distaff-dining mainstream. Whole wheat is the default bread and Swiss the cheese of choice. I'd hoped for a little more melt, but all in all, this is a very good sandwich, not at all shy with the roasted and skinned poblano. It was perfectly balanced by the day's white bean and Italian sausage soup, too; a bowl hearty enough to please pistol-packing lunchers of either gender.

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. •

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