American pastoral

Judy Martin lists the daily specials, keeps the place running smoothly and entertains. She’s the manager at Country Garden, a veritable utopia of lunch foods.

Judy Martin lists the daily specials, keeps the place running smoothly and entertains. She’s the manager at Country Garden, a veritable utopia of lunch foods.

Photo By David Robert

“I’m ordering food. Do you want something?” Isha, my boss, asked.

I looked at my watch. It was 10:45—a little early for lunch, considering I’m an eater of 8:30 a.m. hearty breakfasts. That, and I did bring an economical microwave dinner—vegetarian meatloaf.

“Where are you ordering from?”

Depending on her answer, I thought I might save my oxymoron of a meal for another day.

“Country Garden.”

“I’ve never been there,” I told her. “What’s on the menu?”

“They’ve got great sandwiches, salads; they’ve got quiche and soup. What do you want?”

If I was going to forgo my original lunch, I wanted something rich. Isha called and asked about the daily quiche and soup.

“Artichoke quiche and corn …” I was sold before she could say “chowder.”

“And do you want sourdough bread or a pumpkin cranberry muffin?” she asked.

“Definitely muffin.”

Upon arrival at the small Arlington Gardens Mall, it took me a minute to figure out where the restaurant’s entrance was, partly because it’s set up like a pavilion, and partly because I was enamored by the new shoe store, Zoey and Lewis.

There’s no question that stepping up to Country Garden Restaurant feels like stepping up to a secret garden. There are lattices against most of the walls, many with fake ivy hanging from them. There are floral centerpieces on every table and potted plants wherever there’s room. The wooden tables and chairs have a simple, pastoral appearance, and the tablecloths look like they’d be more at home spread across a grassy knoll for a spring picnic.

As I drove back to work, the smell of hot quiche and soup filled my car. I dug in immediately upon retuning. The artichoke quiche ($8.50 with a cup of soup and choice of muffin or bread) was as big as a decent slice of pizza—impressive. The surface was a golden brown, and the inside was a delightful pulp of artichoke, onion and cheese. For how distinctly I could taste all the main ingredients, the quiche was surprisingly mild and soothing. So was the corn chowder.

When I tried Isha’s chicken almond salad sandwich ($9.25 with choice of soup, salad or an enormous amount of fresh fruit), I was again surprised by its mildness. It was a substantial sandwich, but the flavor was delicate enough that you could eat the whole thing without feeling too heavy.

I was so impressed with the to-go experience that I went back the next day with my mom and sister to dine in. I ordered the stuffed avocado ($8.75 with choice of tuna or chicken salad). My sister had the grilled chicken sandwich ($8.75), which tasted like the most delicious grilled cheese, plus poultry. It came with carrot salad, an ambrosia-like treat with pineapple and raisins. My mom had the torte relleno ($8.50), a not-too-piquant green-chili, egg and cheese casserole in a flaky puff pastry crust. For dessert, we shared the bread pudding in an orange Grand Marnier sauce ($4.50) and a pumpkin crumble ($4.50).

Considering the amount of food we ate, we were surprised that we felt calm and sated rather than stuffed and sick after our meal. And apparently, many other people know the pleasure of dining in at Country Garden. The place gets packed at lunch, so make to get a reservation for the lunchtime rush.