World Café Live at the Queen in Wilmington, Delaware
Hitting A High Note: Musical performers share the spotlight with a solid menu at World Cafe Live at the Queen.
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The kitchen did manage to bring out the best in humble chicken, mixed as tender chunks with cumin and white beans in a creamy bowl of white chili, or dusted with spice on a blackened chicken sandwich. The sandwich, constructed on house-baked foccacia, came adorned with roasted corn and black bean relish and snow pea shoots—a harmonious blend of textures and temperatures.
Jones and the Upstairs Live crew had some exciting ideas to galvanize their casual fare, but a few failed to fully materialize. Like the dull-brown, beer-onion gravy that pooled atop a petite New York strip, which didn’t enhance the meat much, and added only an off-putting visual component to an otherwise quality steak. The tender chop was quality enough to stand on its own, especially aside white truffle-Parmesan fries and grilled
asparagus spears larger than Shrek’s fingers.
At times, well thought-out dishes fell short because their flavors simply weren’t assertive enough. Others seemed boilerplate when compared to livelier plates. Colorful and aromatic Bourbon Street shrimp, flecked with bits of scallion, tomato and sizable pepper flakes, came up a little limp in the flavor department when no real strong voice rose above the sizzle. I would’ve loved a plate of fried calamari if it lived up to the punchy smoked tomato-and-peppercorn dipping aioli. Instead, the crispy rings felt characterless in their flat glaze of lemony herb butter.
Assertiveness was no issue for Cajun chicken pizza. A delicious mix of chorizo, tomato, roasted corn, and smoked cheddar perked all tastebuds like feedback fuzz on a speaker, and firm crust held strong beneath a creamy remoulade. But as the pie cooled, its crust took on an impermeable chewiness.
I struggled equally hard through a fried, curry-flavored rice cake, whose starchy outer layer took considerable elbow-grease to penetrate. The flavors worked, but the soggy bok choy-mushrooms mix that topped it didn’t, and a smear of Thai chili sauce strained to be heard amid the chaos.
Still, the creations of pastry chef Aileen Kranyak always presented a fun and playful closing track to a meal. She wisely built her rich, pyramid-shaped chocolate and peanut butter mousse structures atop a layer of feuilletine (crispy flakes of praline-like goodness) to lend a candy bar vibe to the composition. And her riff on coffee and doughnuts—creamy, coffee-infused panna cotta that jiggled beside a dense, maple-glazed doughnut—was perfectly cinnamony and cakey, even without the bacon sprinkles.
Jones and his crew have the World Cafe’s Upstairs Live off to a rocking start, and there’s room to crank up the amplifier even louder (dare I say, to 11?). A small amount of tightening could help, but so could more assertive flavors. Less drum rolls and more cymbal crashes. More AC/DC and less Air Supply. The fist-pumps will follow.