Whenever I drive down Stony Plain Road and spot the sign for The Dish & The Runaway Spoon, I can't help but smile. A picture of a roomful of cherubic three-year olds immediately flashes across my brain, plump fingers and uncoordinated arms flailing awkwardly as they mimic the movements to "Hey Diddle Diddle." Then I start to hear their squeaky voices stiltedly reciting the rhyme: "Hey diddle diddle, the cat and the fiddle … and the dish ran away with the spoon." Over and over and over. And then I quit smiling.
I still love the whimsical quirkiness of the name, though, regardless of the torment it inevitably inflicts on me. Curious whether the actual restaurant is as charming as its name, I recruited a friend and we decided to do the lunch thing.
The day was warm and sunny, and it was pleasantly past the dreaded lunch rush that causes havoc and frayed nerves all across our lovely city. Our car was even lucky enough to find parking—even if it was at a toonie-devouring meter. After a brief stroll down Stony Plain Road we came across the telltale sign with a picture of a dish and spoon bolting for their lives. We had reached our destination.
A white daily specials board was posted next to the door, doing its best to tempt any ambivalent passers-by, and hanging on the door was a little basket filled with a handful of neatly-rolled-up menus. We had already been tempted, so we proceeded straight through the door and into the tiny entranceway. A couple more steps and we poked our heads into the restaurant. A pleasant young girl greeted us from across the room and asked us if we wanted to sit inside or in the Secret Garden.
My friend, loathe to leave the heavenly aromas that filled the café, reluctantly agreed to check out the Secret Garden—The Dish's version of a patio. Back out the door and along the sidewalk we went, to the end of the building and down a little passageway with small wooden benches and potted flowers. The passageway took us to the back of the building and the Secret Garden. More pots overflowing with flowers greeted us, along with a few cozy tables and quite a lovely ambience, considering it overlooks a back alley. A very well-concealed back alley, mind you.
Had there been a table available that was blessed with sunlight, it would have been a splendid place to fritter away the afternoon. A few lucky diners were doing just that. But we wanted warmth and enticing smells, so we made our way back down the secret passageway, up the sidewalk and into the café once again.
Close to half of the tables were still occupied with other late lunchers, so we opted to settle in at a table for two at the far end of the square room.
Surrounding us was a warm and welcoming room: dark, wooden floors offset pale green and reddish-brown walls, and the room was filled with simple tables and chairs. A half-wall divided the whole thing, giving a semblance of privacy, and a cheery bar at the back added extra character. No other nursery rhyme creatures made an appearance, though.
With her genial manner and perpetual smile, our waitress delivered glasses filled with lemon-tinged water and the menus—the regular one and a paper version of the daily specials board. It was late and we were hungry, so we inspected them immediately.
The specials sounded good, especially the shrimp burger with avocado slaw and a chili yogurt sauce, but they lost out to the regular menu. My friend, a cheese-and-pasta-obsessed being, spotted the Gourmet Mac & Cheese ($15.75) and abruptly closed her menu. I was in more of a crunchy mood and opted for the Raspberry Spinach Salad ($11.25 for a full order).
Since our waitress was so adept at keeping our water glasses filled, we decided that water was our drink of the day. Tables around us didn't seem to concur; we spotted more than a few glasses of wine being sipped, their sippees immersed in the leisurely atmosphere.
Well, the mostly leisurely atmosphere. Even though the café wasn't full, the noise bouncing off the walls made it hard to completely relax. The music wasn't motorcycle-decibel-annoying and the other diners were sedate and well-behaved, so it must have been the dynamics of the room itself.
Lunch came and, like the café, it was simply presented but inviting. My bowl full of spinach greens was neither overflowing nor sparsely populated. Deep brown clusters of caramelized onions were nestled amongst the leaves, and lots of sugary pecans and tangy feta cubes were scattered throughout. Everything was generously coated in a slightly sweet raspberry vanilla vinaigrette. The salad was good, but definitely on the sweet side. Caramelized onions, sugary pecans and a raspberry vanilla vinaigrette will do that, I guess, and I should have expected no less.
My friend's plate was more interesting simply because it offered more variety. A homey individual casserole was filled with the coveted macaroni and dusted with a bread crumb crust. Two strips of garlicky foccacia emerged jauntily from the noodles and a mound of Caesar Salad completed the plate. The noodles were deemed tender but not mushy, the cheese lively but comforting and the crunchy, garlicky topping divine. The large chunks of croutons adorning her salad even disappeared; evidently they weren't of the lowly "brown Styrofoam" variety.
Our leisurely meal concluded at a leisurely pace. I could have found room for one of the tempting desserts on the tray that made an unhurried trip past our table, but my friend had to reluctantly abandon her deceptively filling pasta and, by the time my spoon finished its many journeys across the table, I was mysteriously full.
As we bid farewell to the sign and its endearing dish and spoon, I had a smile on my face. And this time it didn't disappear. V
Mon – Sat (11 am – 9 pm)
The Dish & The Runaway Spoon
12417 Stony Plain Road, 780.488.6641