Lunch at Hilly Flores Cafe

Release Date: 2010-05-05

When I first reviewed Hilly Flores in its original location at the intersection of Hill and N. Flores — where the name made sense — it was an enigma. Now that the owners have abandoned that VFW Hall-like space for a location downtown that exudes an air of just-short-of-sleazy speakeasy, the enigma remains. And the name makes no sense whatsoever.

In the dark environment, artwork featuring a boxer, a priest, and a sailor in lucha-libre masks stood out as perversely fascinating. I wish the unfocused lunch menu could take an equally outrageous direction; it seems to have changed little from the something-for-everybody debut document. The chicken and spinach salad-lettuce wrap (a favorite) is a sometime special, the Knuckle Sandwich and baked penne with “crumbled” meatballs are old friends, the lemon-caper shrimp with pasta remains.

So we had it again for nostalgia’s sake. The angel hair is still very nicely done, and the buttery lemon-caper sauce would have made it a winner even without the shrimp. Especially without the shrimp, in fact. They were plentiful enough and properly cooked but Dead-Sea salty.

The pomegranate-barbecue chicken breast is an odd bird, but worth investigating. The very large and almost suspiciously tender breast is first smoked, then dressed with a sauce that seems to combine the usual barbecue flavors with what we imagined to be pomegranate molasses. For presentation, the breast is artfully sliced into a fan configuration and arrayed over blue-cheese au-gratin potatoes.

A creamy broccoli and spinach soup, $2 extra to sub it for the house salad, had preceded the barbecue breast, and it proved true to expectations: “It will taste mostly of broccoli,” offered our helpful waiter, and he was right. 

The pumpkin-mousse “nachos” consist of a frothy pumpkin mousse mingled with Bailey’s-infused whipped cream into which pieces of cinnamon-sugared buñuelos have been stuck. It’s light, the flavors are distinctive without being overbearing, and, most of all, it’s fun.  

Otherwise most of the fun is to be had on the evening menu, served only on Friday and Saturday. (Reservations requested.) Lump-crabmeat waffles, served with ginger potatoes and wasabi cream, sound worth a try.  

The wine list is more ambitious than the day menu would seem to require, but it seems very fairly priced and includes such heavy hitters as Folie a Deux cabernet and Stag’s Leap Artemis, along with some value offerings such as the Chapoutier Belleruche Blanc. Come August, the Thursday-night happy-hour menu that has been experimented with may become a regular fixture and could inspire the kitchen even further.  

— Ron Bechtol

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