Terrain Review: Well-Charted Terrain

Garden mecca Terrain updates the classic department-store cafe

Those of a certain age remember being treated to a burger at the lunch counter of Woolworth’s. Others recall egg salad sandwiches and petits fours at Wanamaker’s Crystal Tea Room. But these in-store eateries have gone the way of the Automat. Blame mall culture — who needs an in-store cafe when shoppers can sate their hungers in the something-for-everyone food court?

[sidebar]In the past few years, some stores have tried to restore the genre. Brasserie Perrier’s short-lived branch inside Boyds offered a tasteful flashback to those department-store cafes. Now Terrain at Styer’s, a sprawling home and garden center in Concordville, is reviving the format with its sun-dappled Styer’s Garden Café.

The greenhouse setting is a garden-party fantasy come to life. Plants and vines festoon the walls. The table settings, utensils, decor accessories and patio furniture drip with effortless style. Casually chic women talk textiles and shelter magazines over tasty steel-cut oatmeal scones, local leafy greens and olive-oil-poached tuna. And they shop. Table centerpieces: $40. Candy-colored folding chairs: $75. Burlap-ish aprons: $80. Almost everything you see is for sale.

At Brasserie inside Boyds, diners would never have spied something as vulgar as a price tag swinging from a waiter’s silk necktie. Like the department-store restaurants of yesteryear, Brasserie provided an oasis from the rigors of retail. But Terrain’s cafe offers something besides repast. Like every other part of Terrain — and sister stores Anthropologie and Urban Outfitters — it’s marketing a lifestyle. Anything you’d need to bring this party to your own garden is for sale on the premises.

The cafe menu changes daily, but always features light dishes based on local ingredients. Lunch is heavy on salads, and Sunday brunch includes the usual morning fare. Everything is better than what you’d find in a food court, although dishes fall short of the creativity and attention to detail you hope for in a full-service restaurant.

The flank steak salad combines thin slices of beef with chopped cucumbers and under-ripe tomatoes on a hearty slice of focaccia. The meat in the chicken sandwich is tender, but also bland and absent the sharp provolone promised on the menu. At one brunch, the mixed berries had gone missing from the mixed berry French toast, though the toast itself was sweet and moist. The same lack of attention plagues the service; staffers leave water glasses unfilled and deliver plates at their leisure, giving you more time to enjoy the stylish setting — and soak up the soft sell.