Dining where you shopped was once considered the acme of sophistication, as I was reminded when digging up the history of department store restaurants for this week's review of Grace Kitchen in University Village. While a few grand retailers still uphold the genteel tradition - Neiman Marcus yearly serves up thousands of eggy popovers at its flagship location - many more stores have converted their elegant dining rooms into additional acreage for clothing racks.
I came of eating age in a decade when frozen yogurt counters and espresso stands were becoming the hip thing in department store dining, but recall eating stately hot fudge sundaes at Hudson's (now Macy's) and Marshall Field's (now Macy's.) Along with brushing my hand over sable coats and walking the wrong way down the escalator, those desserts were a highlight of childhood shopping trips.
Grace Kitchen serves a sundae too, although I don't think the restaurant means to reference the culinary heritage of capitalism. Its intentions are largely irrelevant, since the sundae is quite good. Slathered with chocolate and caramel, the sundae is a shareable, gooey mess.
But the restaurant is apparently prouder of its strawberry "shortcake", which comes seated on a dense lemon scone advertised as award-winning. Since the restaurant has only been open since August, I called manager Kasey Reese to learn how its dessert had already won accolades.
"The award was won before we even opened," Reese explained.
According to Reese, pastry chef CJ Schimpf took the recipe to an American Culinary Federation contest and returned home with a medal. Although the restaurant is planning to retire the preparation at the end of strawberry season, the award-winning scone isn't going anywhere. "We'll serve the scone at breakfast," Reese says.
I'd rather have the sundae anyhow. For more recommendations on navigating the uneven menu at Grace Kitchen, a restaurant sadly plagued by service issues, read the full review here.