Ladies who lunch

Karen’s Bakery Cafe & Catering

705 Gold Lake Dr.
Folsom, CA 95630
Ste. 340

(916) 985-2665

When I meet someone and mention that I have a baby, I’m often asked, “Do you work or stay home?” The answer to both is yes; I work at home, except when “work” means going out to eat. It’s a pretty sweet deal that enables me to be working hard while looking to all outward appearances like a lady of leisure. Such was the case recently when I headed to Karen’s Bakery Café in the historic district of Folsom for lunch with my mother, toting my daughter—also a lady who lunches, albeit a very small one—for good measure.

We were far from the only lunching ladies present. There were whole tables of them, many gratifyingly charmed by the baby. It wasn’t just women, though. There were a number of men there, most of them in skintight gear and obviously stopping in during a day of cycling.

Karen’s seems perfectly designed to attract the genteel lunch crowd. It’s a bright, airy space with a tempting cold case of salads and elaborate cakes. Aside from the cold case, there are plenty of sandwich specials like panini and a nouveau burger, a soup choice, and some other options on the “Today at Karen’s” menu. (I actually suspect that “today” at Karen’s has been the same for a number of days in a row, given that the daily-specials menu had a “fall salad” on it during our visit.) Teas and coffees figured largely as well; personally, I consider no recherché lunch out complete without iced tea. Karen herself, in a labeled chef’s jacket, oversees all the proceedings from the kitchen, adding a personal feel.

Karen’s would be an ideal place to drop in for elevenses or an afternoon snack. Perhaps that way one might avoid the bottleneck at the cash register during the lunch rush. Customers order at the counter and pay up, with the overworked (on our visit) staff eventually bringing out the food. The system is far from perfect, unfortunately. Instead of designating one or two counter people and one or two food runners, on our visit all three workers were performing both roles, with a great deal of confusion and delay. The person who took my order was obviously new and very tentative; her lack of certainty manifested itself in an off-puttingly self-conscious diffidence. Her two colleagues presented more cheerful faces, but they were overworked as well. The restaurant was only about two-thirds full; I would hope that there is more—and better organized—staff on busier days.

The most frustrating service glitch was in the delivery of our food. My mother ordered the salad sampler—three of the salads from the cold case—and I chose a ham and cheese panino. The salads were dished up immediately and delivered to our table, while the panino took more than 20 minutes. At such a casual place, perhaps it’s unreasonable to expect that all the food be delivered at once, but such a long gap made a convivial lunch difficult.

That said, our food was quite tasty. The salads—which I had ample opportunity to nibble—were fresh and well-conceived, particularly a bright mélange of sugar snap peas and broccoli with a sesame-soy dressing. The Moroccan chicken salad with lentils had a pleasant earthiness, with the warm aromatic character of spices complementing the lentils. The chunks of chicken, however, were a little dry. Another inventive choice was an Italian chopped salad with pieces of salami, provolone and radicchio tossed with white beans and a tangy dressing.

My sandwich proved worth the wait. The buttery, crunchy exterior of the bread contrasted nicely with the creamy spread of brie and Dijon mustard inside. It was melty and a little messy but very yummy with hot ham and Gruyère. I also liked the mixed green salad alongside, which had the fresh crunch of yellow peppers and celery in addition to the usual mesclun.

The main dishes were good, but desserts and baked goods are where Karen’s really shines. On my first visit, I stopped in just for a snack and found that the bakery case features a homemade take on Ho Hos, with rich ganache enclosing a swirl of velvety cocoa-rich cake and buttercream. On this visit, I spotted a pretty little orange-curd tart with a chocolate crust, which I insisted we share for dessert. The thick, clear glaze on top was a tiny bit rubbery, but I loved the rich sweet-tart curd and the tender cookie-style crust. It’s not always easy to make a chocolate tart crust that’s darkly chocolaty without being dry or tough, but this one was perfect.

The treats were so tempting that I took a couple home as well. They’re huge, though, so I had to ration them out. A yummy chocolate chip cookie was literally bigger than a hockey puck. (I measured! It was a full inch high and three-and-a-half inches in diameter; a puck is one inch high and three inches across.) The Nanaimo bar was similarly gargantuan, standing a proud two inches. Its dark chocolate glaze, buttercream filling and thick chocolate-and-coconut base pleased my husband, a Canadian who grew up on Nanaimo bars.

As the cyclists might have told me, Karen’s is not just for ladies. Anyone after a treat, or a lunch, will enjoy it—as long as he or she is a person of sufficient leisure not to mind a little wait.