The little restaurant inside the Visitor Education Center at Powell Gardens, Cafe Thyme, has never been renowned for its cuisine. In fact, during the years that the cafeteria-style dining area was operated by corporate food-service giant TreatAmerica, the food and service were both so dreadful that I refused to eat there anymore. I vowed that I would eat flower petals from the gardens first.
Last year, Powell Gardens hired society caterer Lon Lane to run the food-service operation at the facility, but that relationship was short-lived. Last week, a new chef took over the Cafe Thyme kitchen: Michael Foust, the chef and owner of the Farmhouse restaurant at 300 Delaware in the River Market.
"Michael took over the restaurant on March 2," says Karen Case, marketing director at Powell Gardens. "We're very excited."
Not as excited as I am. I love going to visit Powell Gardens. But until now, I would pack a lunch to eat on the way. (I completely missed out on the tenure of the talented Lon Lane.)
Hey, I'm not the only person who felt that strongly about the Cafe Thyme cuisine. Foust felt the same way.
"No, I couldn't eat there. And that was sad, since Powell Gardens has been very special to me since I was a kid," Foust says.
Foust will be juggling his duties at the Farmhouse with the lunch-only dining operation at Cafe Thyme: The restaurant is currently serving Foust's cuisine (the weekly menu can be seen online at the Powell Gardens website) from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
"We'll expand the restaurant's hours to Wednesday through Sunday in April," Karen Case says. "And we hope to be serving daily during the late spring and summer."
The Heartland Harvest Garden was the primary reason that Foust was eager to take over the Cafe Thyme kitchen: "Cafe Thyme is surrounded by wonderful fresh produce and herbs from the gardens, and no one was using it in the restaurant! I thought that was ridiculous. I'm planning to create a menu utilizing ingredients from the Heartland Harvest Garden as well as meat, poultry and fresh produce from the farmers who supply ingredients for the food we serve at the Farmhouse."
The menu at Cafe Thyme — as at the Farmhouse — will change frequently and be posted on large blackboards in the dining room. Former Farmhouse manager Brenda Nelson will also become a familiar face at Cafe Thyme, overseeing the lunch service.
Foust says his new hours will be from 6 to 9 a.m. at the Farmhouse, out to Powell Gardens from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and then back to the River Market venue for dinner service. "It's going to be a juggling act," Foust says.