Caviar & Bananas, a gourmet café and market, recently expanded its horizons and opened a location near the Vanderbilt campus on the bend where Broadway turns to 21st Avenue. The trendy black, white and gold chain attracts both students and locals. Known for their fresh ingredients, unique flavors, and convenience, Caviar & Bananas has mouths watering all over Nashville.
Stepping up to the New York-esque shop, one can’t help but be impressed. The café is modern, spotless, and well put together. Stylish black and white umbrellas line the exterior of the building providing shade for the customers seated at the tables underneath. Everyone appears happy with their meal, and some even take pictures.
However, as the saying goes, “don’t judge a book by its cover.” Once inside the restaurant, most of the appeal of Caviar & Bananas dissipates. Customers are immediately met with long lines, not only by the entrance, but throughout the entire cafe. In fact, goers can’t even register if music is playing due to the chaotic noise echoing throughout the restaurant.
Ironically, these crowds are a product of the chain’s attempt at efficiency. The restaurant is split into five sections: a salad bar, a pre-prepared foods/sandwiches station, a bakery/coffee bar, a gourmet candy stand, and a payment kiosk, each of which is easily missed.
Once the customer orders their meal or drink from a particular section, they receive a ticket. Each patron must bring the ticket to the payment kiosk to pay instead of paying at the actual station from which they receive the food. This concept is difficult to grasp for first-timers as the payment kiosk is easy to overlook. The timing of payment is also completely ambiguous, although customers are expected to pay before chowing down. It would be easy to forget to pay entirely.
Dining and dashing probably wouldn’t financially impact the chain, however. The prices range from breakfast items at $3 – $6 to lunch, dinner, and pre-packaged foods ranging from $8 to $12. For the easy-to-make deli sandwiches and salads they offer, the prices are ridiculous, especially for someone on a college student’s budget.
The sandwiches and wraps offer a decent amount of food, whereas salads and baked goods leave much to be desired. The food varies in quality, as well. Salads and baked goods are a safe bet for quality: the greens are clearly fresh and the pastries are soft, warm and straight from the oven. The same cannot be said for the sandwiches and wraps. While some sandwich bread and wraps are tough and chewy, others are soggy and disintegrating. This quality control issue seriously detracts from the already poor ambience of Caviar & Bananas.
The one thing this cafe does provide is amazing flavor. Each dish is sure to include a fantastic array of ingredients, with most meals serving a pleasurable mix of sweet and salty. Patrons know to add condiments and dressings to their fare. It’s arguably the best part of the entire shop.
Caviar & Bananas leaves diners with a neutral feeling when they leave, not the aim for most successful restaurants. Customers’ tongues may have tasted a sweet symphony of flavors for a fleeting second, but these sensational moments are quickly diminished by the sheer confusion and chaos of the cafe. Other factors such as price and quality control exacerbate this disappointment. Anyone who loves this specialty market is clearly bananas.