Off-Mass: Basil Leaf Cafe

There aren’t many restaurants that can claim humble beginnings out of a small gas station mini-mart. Truth be told, you probably know exactly which restaurant I’m referring to, don’t you? No longer confined by the gas station décor of its past, Basil Leaf Café is hugely successful at its new location on West 9th Street (to no one’s surprise). While I regret that I never paid a visit to the gas station version of this excellent Italian cuisine, one thing is for certain: I will make up for it – twofold – in visits to its downtown location.

Yep - located in the old Joe's Bakery spot.

Come in! Come in! And peek at the menu.

Voted as best Italian restaurant in the Best of Lawrence 2014, Basil Leaf Café has a serious fan base and I can understand why. My partner and I headed there on a Saturday for lunch, and while I was immediately impressed by the affordable menu, the positive impressions were just beginning. The interior is cozy, decorated with reclaimed wood, wine bottle light fixtures, and flooded with southern light. The overall vibe is welcoming and comfortable, like that of a small town diner. There are no formal menus at Basil Leaf Café (it was a pleasant surprise to avoid the fussiness of table menus), so we placed our orders at the entryway counter before taking our seats.

See what I mean? So cozy, so pleasant.

Nothin' beats fresh flower + a sunny view.

Acting fast, I went for the Cajun Penne (if it’s got a kick, I’m usually sold), and he played it creamy with the Tortellini Cordon Bleu. It seemed like no time at all before we were face to plate with steaming deliciousness from heaven above. Our dishes not only smelled superb, but were also picture perfect. I was temporarily in awe of the presentation before my stomach cried out for attention, reminding me of the purpose of this visit. With that, conversation died entirely as we savored every bite of our fine Italian meals.

Cajun Penne. Don't let the plate fool you - this meal is HUGE.

Chicken Cordon Bleu. It's like out of Cooks Illustrated. Seriously.

The Basil Leaf Café has so many great things going for it. The prices, the cozy feel, the quality and presentation of the meals – it’s all spot-on. What’s more, the service is excellent and the fresh table flowers were the garnish on top. While we dined in for a late lunch on a Saturday I know the evening crowds can get pretty intense, so be prepared to wait if you’re set on dinner. Just know this: the food is worth the wait!

Find Basil Leaf Café at: 616 W. 9th Street, Lawrence Kansas 66044. [785.856.0459]

You can also find me in the Lawrence Journal World’s CheckOut publication which prints weekly on Thursdays.

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