March 7, 2018

Donna Chang’s Adds Lunch, and Cute Cakewalk Serves Sweets

Grub Notes

Photo Credit: Jessica Silverman

Donna Chang's

BOWLS: About a year and a half after opening, Donna Chang’s (1664 S. Lumpkin St., 706-215-9100) is still tinkering with its offerings, but the restaurant hasn’t lost any quality in what it does extremely well. The most recent addition is lunch, offered on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday through Saturday from 11 a.m.–2 p.m.

As you’d expect, it is more casual than dinner, while remaining on brand. Instead of giving your order at your table, you place it at the bar and pay up front, which cuts down on both service staff—making the formula more sustainable—and wait times. I am a huge fan of counter service, especially at lunch, because I don’t want to check my watch nervously as minutes tick away while I wait for a server to drop the bill on my table. You can eat in or take your stuff to go, and if you choose the latter, it will be well packaged and only slightly less appealing.

The lunch menu is extremely focused. It’s also covered with drawings of dogs, which seems like a bit of a weird choice. You can pick from four types of bowls: noodles (peanut or ginger-scallion), rice and salad. If you want to, you can dress them up with any or all of three proteins: chicken, tofu or egg. That’s it. The rest of the menu, which takes up the front and back of a sheet, consists of lunchy cocktails—including the lovely New York Sour, made with red wine, that will make you want to run your tongue all over the inside of your mouth—sake, beer, wine and a small selection of soft drinks, tea and coffee. Who needs more choices?

Pretty much all of these things are also on the dinner menu, although not the egg-and-veggie fried rice, which comes with carrot, onion, broccoli, sugar snap peas, a bit of chili paste and dashi, and is maybe the best thing available at lunch. The only complaint is that the restaurant’s elegant, Japanese-style chopsticks don’t work so well for the shoveling motion required for fried rice. It’s the most expensive of the four bowls ($10), but it also doesn’t need an add-on. You could get the masa fried chicken ($4) and work it in, but it wouldn’t make the dish any better. The chicken is good, but it’s not transcendent or anything, and on the whole the restaurant is continuing in its general vein of vegetarian dishes that are superior to those involving meat.

The salad bowl consists of a kale and thinly sliced brussels-sprout creation—dressed with fish sauce, palm sugar and lime juice—that is an ode to brassica and one of the very best things Donna Chang’s does. The two noodle options are tasty, but if you’re looking for something greasy and wheaty, know that they are on the refined side of the spectrum. The peanut noodles, served cold with sesame, chili and cucumber, are not too sweet, as they are most places. The ginger-scallion ones with black sesame and wok-seared greens hit their flavor notes a little too hard, as does the fried tofu.

The cage-free egg you can add to any dish is beauteous and perfectly cooked, but does it add $2 worth of goodness? That’s up to you to assess. The continued focus on intentionality and something that’s just a hair up from minimalism remains admirable.

SWEETS: It’s easy to miss Cakewalk (688 S Milledge Ave., 813-917-5689), a new sweet shop in a historic house, even though it’s right there on Milledge Avenue at Springdale. The cute little space packs a lot into a section of a room it shares with Andree’s Bath and Body.

It doesn’t bake anything in house. Rather, it sources from area bakers who are good at different things. You can get cakes from Hoosier Girl (based out of Monroe and also retailing its cakes at the Farmview Market, outside Madison) or Savvy Cakes (in Statham, previously reviewed in Grub Notes with much praise), gooey bars from the latter, baklava, fancy-looking iced cookies from Deborah’s Specialty Cakes, Italian chocolates and more, plus coffee and tea. Owner Jennifer Mitchell has samples of each cake ready to go in little plastic containers, like shot glasses of sugar that help you decide what you want a bigger piece of: pound cake, strawberry cake, yellow cake with boiled chocolate icing, etc.

Want something gentler than a cup of coffee? The tea offered is from a company called Tea Drops, which grinds the leaves finely and presses them into cute shapes that dissolve almost fully in hot water, no tea bag required (although you should either keep swirling your cup or avoid the last sip). Cakewalk also sells a lot of gifty stuff—cute socks, vintage glass candy containers shaped like dogs, dog treats, magnets, boxes of chocolates, etc.—and if you want to order a custom cake from any of its vendors, you can do so through the store at no extra charge and save yourself a trip out of town. The store is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m.–5 p.m.