By Kevin Marple.

From the Dining Critic's Notebook

Brunch at Flora Street Café Brings Up Pride and Prejudice

When the service doesn't match the setting.

On Sunday, I went to brunch at Flora Street Café. It was Dallas Pride weekend in Fair Park, a glistening day after a deluge, and the Arts District was lovely and filled with a quiet languor.

I was there to try the new brunch menu, part of Stephan Pyles’ restaurant’s emerging direction. I also got an uncouth homophobic comment and a discriminatory dismissal which I haven’t experienced so blatantly since my steakhouse visits.

“Do you have a favorite cocktail on the brunch list?” I asked our server, holding out the list with a slew of twists on mimosas and Bloody Marys that dally with British pear, blood orange, smoke, and aquavit. “I’m a heterosexual male,” he said. “I don’t drink cocktails.” End of story. I stammered. I ordered hastily. I wondered why on earth he had felt compelled to share that piece of personal information cloaked in prejudice. Was there anything in my question that invited anything other than a thoughtful, “Ahhh, what do you tend to like?” or a storied description of why one might be a marriage of pear and gin? The brutal irony of the day made me wince. (And if nothing else, did he realize for whom he worked?) On so many levels, the moment was wrong.

At the end of the meal, the same server, who had been delighted that we ordered the fluffy pancakes, who had joked with us about leaving the last piece of dry-aged serrano ham, lest he lose a finger, placed the check in front of my male friend, outside my reach. That hadn’t happened to me so transparently since my steakhouse visits last February, when I wrote about sexism and misogyny and the way it slipped into dining in the most insidious ways. We haven’t been the only table to have a curious interaction with a waiter at Flora Street. The Dallas Observer also visited the restaurant for brunch, and when the diner complained that the food was too salty, they received this as a response: “We have a lot of Mexican line cooks who just (throws hand as if dashing into a pan) bam!”

Flora Street Café is elegant, the food impeccable, the service posh, genteel, refined. In that environment, I expect, more than any other context, that owners are setting the tone, careful to have servers check their assumptions. To have them respond to the diner, the guest. To sense the direction in which the guest leads the conversation. To not insert themselves in uncalled-for ways.

One off moment does not speak for an institution. But I’d love to see the service match the food. It was the best brunch I’ve had in a long time; it left me in a kind of reverie. But I’ll also remember the subtly aggressive behavior, the ugliness of microaggressions, like shards of glass or sand.

Is it too much to ask that I not be diminished? That the lobster club sandwich not necessitate that someone be belittled?

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