(Photo by Kathy Tran)

Hidden heaven

Surrounded by trickling water fountains, vibrant flowers and plants and an eclectic art gallery, The Café at North Haven Garden feels like a secret oasis despite its proximity to North Central Expressway. This Eden will give you your fill of what Chef Roe DiLeo calls, “Food as fuel, not something to stuff your face with.”

In a bustling Italian family brimming over with relatives, DiLeo quickly came to understand that “if you didn’t help out, you didn’t eat.” She says, “As you got older, you were allowed to touch more expensive ingredients. Starting out, you only got to cut onions.”

This is was the spark that lit her passion for food, which carried her through numerous culinary adventures.

DiLeo got her start cooking bar food at Henry’s Majestic, which prides itself on fried comfort food, but she wanted to experience every aspect of the culinary world.

“I wanted to work in fine dining, so I took a pay cut and worked for Nathan Tate, just making salads,” she says of the creative culinary force behind Boulevardier and Rapscallion. “That’s all I did, every day, was make salads. But I learned everything I needed about running a fine dining kitchen.”

When the 66-year-old nursery North Haven Gardens decided to add a café to its property last year, it tapped DiLeo to lead the kitchen. Inspired by the natural setting, she highlighted a healthy and refreshing palate that gives you energy to garden.

“I call us a green kitchen. We don’t cook with butter. None of our soups use cream,” she says.

DiLeo kind of loves running out of food. Every ingredient is selected fresh, meaning some are no longer available  midway through the lunch rush. It’s a good thing, she says, because it means that people love it.

DiLeo wants to know if her food is tasty, but she doesn’t always trust asking a customer since people tend to be polite.

“This is so creepy. I literally watch people eat my food,” she says. “I want to see the look on their face as they take a bite. That first bite tells you everything.”

(Photo by Kathy Tran)

One of her favorite items on the menu is the hand-sliced turkey sandwich. It’s  topped with lettuce, tomato, red onion, smoked Gouda, avocado and honey mustard. DiLeo roasts the turkey herself, and the tomatoes are grown on a farm in Wylie.

DiLeo says that she loves the combination, because “the sandwich gives you perfect bites.”

Did you know: Chef Roe DiLeo has enjoyed her 15 minutes of fame, plus a little more. She competed on

“Hell’s Kitchen” going head to head with Chef Gordon Ramsay, as well as Food Network’s “BBQ Bliss,” which was filmed at White Rock Lake.

The Cafe at North Haven Gardens
Ambiance: Tranquil garden
Price Range: $6-$27
Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily
7700 Northaven Road