Off-Kilter Aura 

Lavenders Cafe: Where the yard sale meets the dining room.

click to enlarge The crab cakes at downtown’s quirkiest eatery, Lavenders, are worth the price at $7.95. Be prepared for a leisurely experience. - SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist
  • The crab cakes at downtown’s quirkiest eatery, Lavenders, are worth the price at $7.95. Be prepared for a leisurely experience.

Unsurprisingly it smells like lavender — as in a massage room or overwhelming soap — inside the front entry. A coffee container catches a leak from the roof. Formal window treatments are distracting and loud but carefully draped. Each aspect adds to the bizarre flea-market chic that is Lavenders Cafe and Specialty Shoppe on Main Street. It’s “Alice in Wonderland” meets yard sale meets dining room. Missing is a little sign that says “Eat me” and tiny cakes.

Mismatched chairs are packed into the purple-painted space with candelabras, jewelry, teapots and other items priced for sale. Similarly, the menu is all over the map. “The best crab cake in Richmond” is advertised in varying typefaces right next to corned beef hash, cereal, falafel, fish tacos and tofu.

At $7.95, there’s no good reason not to order the crab cake. Placed under one over-easy egg and ignorable bacon, it is more aptly named a cake of crab. Hints of mustard, butter and almost nonexistent filler make up a lump sweet mix. Is it the best in Richmond? It certainly could be a contender. Also worthy is the large side of home fries cooked with red onion, which could make a meal unto themselves. The accompanying ketchup only throws the crisp, dignified potatoes off-balance.

Thinly sliced, fried green tomatoes ($3.95) are substantially coated, tangy and crisp. A slather of zesty cucumber dressing makes the light but large appetizer something special.

Four pieces of well spiced but slightly overcooked chicken ($7.95) top a ridiculously large pile of romaine, tomatoes and onions. Next to the whimsical surroundings and other menu choices, the salad is as much an afterthought as the Parmesan-ranch dressing that arrives much later at the table.

The fish taco is the size of a fish burrito ($6.95). A plateful of sautéed green peppers and onions is delicious but overwhelmed by salsa and too much sour cream. Deep inside the heap, a lightly grilled white fish is flaky and piquant, and deserving of a better showcase. Pulling its place from the vegetarian tab on the menu could be the first step.

Breakfast is served all day and is unbelievably well priced. Customers who get there before 11 a.m. can choose from a wealth of menu items for $3.95. Lake trout on a bagel with peppers, onions and cheese is an unexpected option and includes a side of fried potatoes and coffee.

Service is laid-back, to say the least. Napkins make it to the table but extra plates and silverware show up only after we ask for them. Water is refilled but coffee goes cold. The server seems excited about the establishment but must go to the kitchen to get answers to simple questions.

Glimmers of colorful and delicious are mixed with drab and unremarkable. A few menu switches and a service brush-up would go a long way to enhance a good base of seafood dishes and culinary adventurousness. Maybe a little more mad tea party and less down the rabbit hole. S

Lavenders Cafe and Specialty Shoppe
119 E. Main St.
385-3741
Open daily 8 a.m.-6 p.m.
lavenderscafe.com

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