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Tuesday, November 12, 2013

A True Room 39 Post

Last time I was at Room 39, I was actually bumming their internet to finish up a few writing assignments, as well as some work stuff. This time, I'm here because they were just too gosh-darn accommodating and nice about the whole thing that I just had to come back. Their Foursquare hinted towards the Oven eggs, so I just had to give them a go. Plus, they have Harney  & Sons tea...and we all know I'm a sucker for Earl Gray.

Room 39 on UrbanspoonThe tea is served with steamed milk, which comes in a proper little stainless steel kettle. The tea cup is more of a mug, which is mismatched with the saucer, but only a really anal prick like me would ever truly notice. The tea is even served with an adorable little demitasse spoon, which is usually reserved for espresso and coffee drinks.  The tea already comes in the mug, however, with the tea bag, so you can't do the "proper English way" of scalding the milk with the hot tea, which changes the flavor...but one would argue that with steamed milk it doesn't matter. Which it kind of doesn't, really. But, hey, today you learned something about the 'proper English way of tea', didn't you? The thing that matters is that they know what they're doing.

Let's talk about the ambiance. We have "exposed brick" wall on the left, which appears to be genuine-ish, and we also have exposed vents, a historical-esque ceiling with chipping paint...and warm, European-style flooring and bistro tables and chairs. A few of the chairs are chipped on the backs or the leggs, but that only seems to add to everything. They were going for Euro-bistro, and they got it.

The entrance is a curtained-in area to brush away the bitter Kansas City cold, and lots of flyers from the local area are left there for comers or go-ers. On the walls are, what appear to be, vintage prints and paintings by a local artist, all priced accordingly. Many Westport/39th street area restaurants advertise with their local artists on consignment deals, which is mutually beneficial to both parties. (Not only do you get low-cost artwork for your walls, but you get to help the community out.

The servers I've had each time I come here are lovely pixies with black dresses, stockings, and one has tattoos. (The one with tattoos also has the most-adorable dimples I've ever seen.) They're knowledgeable, friendly, and casually well-mannered. They're relaxed; they don't hover over you, which is amazing. But they did remember me, so that's a good feeling.

The oven eggs were completely delicious, and super-filling. The fruit was fresh and melded well. The gruyere was cheesey, the salami was salty...an overall tasty dish, impressive in its simplicity. I can see how they would go well with truffle oil, but I honestly don't care for the stuff, myself. I know, I know, I should pass my Chef-card forward...but, darnit, I can't put truffle oil on eggs. Potatoes? Sure. Asparagus? Why not. Eggs? No, thanks. I'm a purist.

All in all? Not bad at all. I enjoyed the food, the wait staff was very friendly, the wifi is fast, and the atmosphere is pretty cool. I think it's the perfect 'dining alone' experience. I don't know if I'd want to come here with another person, necessarily, but I wouldn't not want to come with another person.

The place is satisfying in and of itself. It makes me feel like it could be a tiny little bistro somewhere in Marseille, or something. It's chill. And the food is good. It's a good, little bistro. So I'll be back. Maybe with another person. But I'm comfortable dining alone, here, so that will always be a good sign.

And someone should check out the Room 39 in Leawood, so I can know what it was like without taking the trek all the way down there. I mean, seriously, this is right down the street from my house.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Main Street Coffeehouse

Choco-vanilla soy mocha
For those of you who know me, know that I love coffee. This shouldn't come as a surprise, since (I think I can say with utter confidence) nearly every Chef on the planet has some kind of vice. Mine happens to be caffeine. This can come in the form of coffee, coca cola, and/or chocolate. Has it got caffeine? Give it to me. Ideally, in an IV that I can just wheel around the kitchen while I'm peeling peaches or kneading bread dough. I get major headaches if I don't get my caffeine, right behind my eye, so when my BFF JJ asked me to come down to the Main Street Coffee House, the coffee shop she's been working at and check it out, I was totally down.

JJ and I have been friends since the very beginning of Culinary school. She was, in fact, one of the very first friends I acquired three years ago when I first moved to Kansas City. We're tight. Plus, she's having a baby right now, so I have got to cram in all the time I can with her before the little one comes along.Not that we won't be tight after the baby, mind you...but I'm not the most maternal woman on the planet. I mean, no offense to babies, but it's awkward when we lock eye contact.

Main Street Coffee House on Urbanspoon Anyway, JJ is having a little girl come this spring, and she and I are getting our friendship on before her little bundle of joy comes. JJ has been a barista for over ten years now, so if she's making coffee, then I can say for certain that it is going to be good. She knows how to run every machine under the sun, perfectly tamp that tamper-thingy, and make the shot of espresso with that elusive crema on top that says: "Hey, you did this right." This woman knows coffee like the back of her hand, and she, like a well-trained sommelier, can tell you every note of every flavor in every kind of roast she might taste. She also has a hyper-developed sense of smell since her pregnancy, kind of like the little rat from Ratatouille, and it's the best she can do since no caffeine can come in contact with her for awhile.
It's an espresso. I don't have a giant hand.

Walking into the cafe, which(if you couldn't tell by the title of this blog) is called Main Street Coffeehouse, you get that immediate warmth that all coffeehouses should have. Nice red walls, a decently-sized wooden stage for performances, a big blackboard with a menu written out in colorful chalk...you know, the kind of coffeehouses you see in movies. It also has these really cool black wrought iron(or at least it looks like) chandeliers that give this oddly-cool Spanish feel.

It also has a REALLY cool area out back to sit in!

It was slow-ish when I came in, so JJ put me in an apron and took me behind the counter to show me how the machines worked, little tricks and tips about espressos and the new coffees from the Roastarie that they'd received. For those of you whom are unaware, The Roastarie is this big, wonderful local coffee roasting company that serves for Kansas City. Generally speaking, if you have a signature coffee blend from the Roastarie, you've gotten an immediate thumbs up from the KC public. Here in Kansas City, we fancy ourselves localvores, and a signature blend is a good thing.

She made me several things, such as mochas, lattees, drip coffees and French pressed coffees...all from varying roasts. To be honest, they were well-executed, but the roasts themselves were decent-to-fair at best. They were honestly just a little too acidic for my tastes, and one of them kind of reminded me of that weird, soapy mouth-feel you get when you drink water from a glass that your dishwasher didn't rinse properly. I truthfully didn't care for the coffees themselves, but the coffee drinks were pretty darn good. The lattes had a firm foam, the mochas and signature drinks were not only well-executed but had a really good balance of heat, body, acid, and sweetness...so I was happy. And then came the food.

Room 39 on Urbanspoon
Room 39 is gooood!
Many coffeeshops shouldn't be thought of as restaurants, and we should all just accept that. A coffee house should serve coffee and pastries, and just concentrate on that. Heck, I'm at Room 39 right now, and that's a cafe/restaurant that just happens to serve coffee and pastries, but they're still awesome and accomodating enough to let me type away at the end of the counter like a madwoman, using up their WiFi like any other coffeeshop would do. (Seriously, though, they're really cool there and I highly recommend them. All of the food that's gone out of the kitchen looks consistent and they make a pretty darn good soy mocha. Plus they let me plug in my laptop into the outlet behind the counter so that's a big thumbs up. Check them out if you're ever in the Westport area.) But Main Street Coffee House is just that: a coffeehouse. They make all of their pastries in an offsite location(technically, that may not be 'in-house', though it is claimed to be), and all from the same woman who makes pastries locally for the area. Here's where I'm going to get annoying and entitled and technical. Strap in.

Roast beef bagel sandwich
I was honestly starving when I got one of their bagel sandwiches(roast beef and horseradish), so it tasted amazing on the first bite. When hunger wore off, I began to see a few technical flaws. First off, it was just straight, raw horseradish spread on the bagel, so that was overwhelming to start with. The onions were unevenly cut white onions(whereas red would have been better), and the lettuce I got was pretty, but the storage of the lettuce and the quality I had seen of it was kind of sketchy, in my book. Granted, it was a teeny-tiny fridge under the counter, and I know it was probably just the best they could come up with, but I think one should strive for perfection if you're going to serve food.

The bagels were decently well-made, and consistent. The pastries were pretty-darn poorly displayed and tucked away behind a too-tall magazine, though, and mislabeled. I was able to sit down with one of the managers and asked about why they had labeled a muffin as a cupcake, and why--in Gods' name--was there misshapen pipette of frosting on a  pumpkin muffin with a random Brach's pumpkin candy on top. He had said that it was a combination of the pastry person's doing, and that people like cupcakes. Here's the thing, though:

A cupcake and a muffin are two entirely different things. A muffin is a quickbread. A cupcake is a cake. A freaking cake. HUGE difference! They're not only made differently, but the ratios of ingredients are totally not interchangeable. This is a huge annoyance with me, especially after spending so much time learning the differences while in school. One could argue: "Hey, the general public doesn't care." Well, they should care. They should care what they're putting into their body, and they should have the right to know that what they're eating isn't a cupcake, but a muffin with frosting(ugh) on top. It's a muffin, guys. Put some struesel on it and call it good.
Cafe! Ole! (Haha, no seriously, though, it's au lait.)

The cafe au laits(a coffee-free steamed milk drink) were super-tasty, and JJ (along with the other staff) like to make signature flavors. The one she had come up with on that particular day was called a Hayride. It was a pumpkin caramel-y cider-y tasty thing that was so good I asked for another one to go.

The menu on coffee was well-rounded, and had a really large variety of cleanly-presented flavors and syrups to choose from. The food menu was kind of jumbled together with a few mistakes that only working culinary professionals might notice, but I don't think that your average joe would really care about the menu size or weirdly inconsistent menu names. In the midst of the bagel sandwiches called "roast beef" and "hummus and cucumber" was randomly "the Da Vinci Code", and under the sandwich menu was a whole section of varying peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. One was called "The Elvis" which featured "peanut butter, banana, fluff(marshmallow?), bacon, and no jelly, and the Nutty Nutella was just peanut butter, peanuts, and Nutella, no jelly. It's really anal and kind of annoying, I realize, but why advertise a section of signature PB&Js if they're not going to have jelly on them?

Menu was okay, but could have been cleaner...
I couldn't speak for the customer service without being biased on that day, since I've known the acting barista for over three years now and she's one of my best friends. The other barista on duty(who, apparently, was a manager there, too) seemed like a nice enough guy, but I overheard a few things he was saying to the customers that honestly just sounded like he was pulling random answers out of his ass. There's no shame in saying 'I'm not sure, let me check,' and I just don't know if he seemed like 'manager material,' to me. I had since been back a few times to just kind of check in without JJ knowing, and the other employees were pretty nice, as people go, but as baristas? I could take them or leave them. Not horrible, not exceptional...normal, I guess.

All in all, the Main Street Coffee House rates as "Not bad at all." I wouldn't go out of my way for it, but I certainly wouldn't call it anything dreadfully special. I give it a 7 out of 10. It marks fairly high on decor, pretty darn well on coffee drinks, medium-ish marks on coffee choices itself, and not-so-hot on food and pastries...mediocre, I would say. So just go for the coffee. The espresso is good, the mixed drinks are good, and all the menu really needs are a few tweaks here and there to turn mediocrity into something better: good food. There's nothing stopping this place from becoming something amazing. Change the menu, tighten some things up, get a better roast blend...little things.

Will I go again? Sure, to see JJ and maybe pick up another mocha. But I won't be back for any food.