Sugar in the morning

Jan 19, 2005 at 12:00 am

The Chocolate Gallery Café seems an incongruous name for a breakfast and lunch place, but this little eatery was built on desserts.

The café is a labor of love for talented husband and wife Chuck and Cathy LaBash; he runs the kitchen and a catering business, she’s the chocolatier. They began the catering business with Cathy’s truffles and desserts, working out of their home. “Then people started to ask us to do dinner parties,” Chuck says, and the business grew.

One of Cathy’s desserts, the Buckingham torte, won a top award from the Michigan Dairy Association. “We were up against all these fancy restaurants, and we came out third in the state,” Chuck says.

The chocolate is spectacular. Wander over to the refrigerated display case before making a decision; it’s filled with picture-perfect confections. The Buckingham torte begins with a brownie-chocolate chip crust that’s filled with chocolate mousse then topped with piped whipped cream and shards of toffee. The flourless decadence torte is more restrained, with a European sensibility that is intensely chocolate but not intensely sweet. Dark chocolate hides the raspberries in the chocolate-raspberry cheesecake, but you sure can taste them (and a few telltale seeds let you know that real fruit was used). And there are usually some non-chocolate options like carrot cake or lemon cheesecake.

Also on display are fancy chocolate frames, some brushed with gold, with edible pictures, and the couple also sets up Belgian chocolate fountains for parties.

But before dessert, you might be interested in a meal. Breakfast choices include eggs and omelets, pancakes (buttermilk, chocolate chip or potato), French toast and eggs Benedict. For lunch, there are soups, salads and sandwiches. “I don’t cut any corners,” Chuck says. “We just serve really good food.”

The prices are sweet too. Eggs Benedict tops the price list at $7.50, which you know is a bargain if you’ve ever tried to make the dish yourself. An English muffin is split and covered with thick slices of Canadian bacon. Each half is topped with a poached egg and smothered in luxuriant, lemony hollandaise sauce. Café potatoes — home fries — come with.

Chef Chuck makes his French toast with thickly cut slices of French bread. One morning it was featured as a special, stuffed with peaches or strawberries. It’s topped with whipped, sweetened cream cheese while the toast is nice and hot; by the time it reaches your table, it has melted into something resembling cheesecake.

Omelets include one made with Boursin cheese, another over-the-top, ultra-creamy indulgence that’s perfectly suited to omelets, joined with sautéed mushrooms, garlic and herbs.

If you arrive after noon, you may want to choose from the lunch options. There are two very good soups: creamy Hungarian mushroom with paprika, and vegetable soup with at least six different kinds of beans — lima, black beans, black-eyed peas, kidney beans, garbanzos and white beans.

Sandwiches are mostly the tried and true, such as a club made with ham, Swiss cheese and bacon. Others also fall under the retro category, such as the Dinty Moore (corned beef, Swiss cheese, coleslaw and Russian dressing) and the Monte Cristo, in which lean, thinly sliced ham is joined with Swiss cheese on thick slices of white bread. The entire thing is then given the French toast treatment — dunked in eggs and grilled. A light sprinkling of confectioner’s sugar tops it off. Is it breakfast? Is it lunch? Don’t know, don’t care.

The Chocolate Gallery Café is a homey spot with tightly spaced tables and classical music in the background. It’s the kind of place where you can pick up a flier for a Dale Carnegie seminar and inspirational books are propped up on each table, among the saltshakers and ketchup bottles. Our very friendly server, Peggy, had a kind word for everyone. And, remember, if you don’t do chocolate for breakfast or lunch, there’s always takeout.

Open 8 a.m.-2 p.m, Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Elissa Karg dines for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].