Friday, November 14, 2008

Village Cafe - Eating local in the BCS

Despite the presence of a major university, Bryan-College Station Texas, my home off and on for the last 28 years, isn't exactly known for being progressive. That's what Austin is for, right? Regardless, in the last 28 years, I've seen some very welcome changes as it becomes more accepting of both people and experiences that don't quite conform to the accepted "norm." Culinarily speaking, the "norm" in this town is beef, beef and more beef (it is Texas, after all).  It's not like when I visit my mother-in-law in California. For heavens sake, I can get a really tasty veggie burrito at an amusement park! Here at home, they only eat veggies if it's swimming in butter and bacon. As you can imagine, being a vegetarian here can be daunting and you have to be seriously dedicated if you plan to eat out. 

A few weeks ago, knowing I was a hard-core, local-organic-veggie loving freak, my friend Sharli gave me a flier announcing the soon-to-be-open "Village Cafe." The flier boasted "natural, organic, gourmet, local" food. My only question... How soon can they open?

Well, the official grand opening was last Friday, so when another friend recommended a girls lunch out, I jumped at the chance to sample the Village Cafe. Bring on the veggie love! The Village Cafe is located on 26th street in downtown Bryan (so far so good - it's within biking distance) in  a small shopping center across from Mr. G's Pizza. It was the lunch hour, but there seemed to be plenty of parking along the street(won't be a problem when I'm on my bike). Having just opened, there wasn't a sign on the exterior of the building, but we knew the address, so we were sure this was it. That's a picture of the shopping center above because I know all you locals are going to check it out, right?

As soon as I walked in, I knew I was going to love this place. A local artist's work lined the walls (a new artist is featured each month) leading back to additional seating in the rear of the cafe. Seating included traditional tables as well as couches and lounge chairs for times when you just stop by for a chat and coffee with friends. The decor immediately provided a relaxed but classy atmosphere. Tables were covered in colorful linen tablecloths, many of which were also adorned with gorgeous displays of fresh flowers. It was calm; it was relaxing; it was welcoming. 

Upon entering, I recognized a woman eating at the front table (she works at our local natural food store and took the NWEI Voluntary Simplicity class with me a few years ago). She admitted this was her first meal here as well and she seemed as excited as we were to be there. Not quite sure how to proceed, we walked the the counter where we met the owner who explained some of the dishes to us and waited to take our order. 

...Let me just stop here and tell you that the menu is impossible. I mean seriously. EVERYTHING looked ABSOLUTELY MOUTHWATERING. How was I supposed to make a decision? Eek! If you were in the mood for breakfast, you could have waffles, french toast, quiche, muffins, juice, coffee, expresso... Hungry for lunch instead? How about a list of sandwiches (mostly veggie, but one included meat), soups and salads. And get this - its ALL homemade. Yep - even the bread!

Right, so we needed to make a decision. Hmmm. Well, I'm trying to eat Vegan these days (to see if it makes any difference in my health) so we asked a few questions to help me narrow my choices. In the end, we decided to order two meals and split them in half so we could enjoy both. Are you ready for this? Roasted Eggplant Panini with a Roasted Red Pepper Caesar Side Salad and Jazzy Rice Dolmas with a side of Asian Slaw. Is anyone drooling yet? I'm salivating just remembering it...

We were told fresh bread was baking and it would be about 20 minutes before the panini came out, but that the dolmus would be brought to our table shortly. We got our water glasses (yep, they were REAL glasses), filled them from the self-serve water pitcher where we also picked up our CLOTH napkins and REAL silverware (are you following me on this - no disposables - I was in heaven!). 

We seated ourselves towards the front of the cafe, relaxed and sipped our waters. As we talked, I made note of the thought that went into every detail of the cafe - From the raw sugar made available for tea to the coffee that lined the shelves in the kitchen  - they were from the roaster at our local farmers market. You know, I write an awful lot about mindfulness on this blog and if I had to give you my initial impression of the Village Cafe, it would be sincere mindfulness. I do believe I was already hooked and I had yet to take my first bite.

In no time at all the first plate was delivered - the Jazzy Rice Dolmas and Asian Slaw (aka tender rice and flavorful pine nuts wrapped in gorgeous green leaves with a side of long strands of crisp cabbage and carrot in a light asian sauce). We ate slowly, savoring each bite. So far, so (deliciously) good! But then It came (and I can still hear the choir of angels sing upon It's arrival) - The Roasted Eggplant Panini and Roasted Red Pepper Caesar Side Salad (aka Heaven). The salad, I don't know about since there are eggs in caesar dressing, I let my friend enjoy that, but I can't imagine it could have come close to the perfection in this one little sandwich. Ok. I realize I'm being a little dramatic here, but it was THAT good.

The bread, we were told, was nothing more than whole wheat (although she admitted to using pastry flour in this loaf) and in between each slice were the most flavorful roasted veggies (eggplant and squash) that I've ever sunk my teeth into. Absolutely amazing and my top pick of all the delicious foods we enjoyed during the meal. Fabulous! "Natural, organic, gourmet, local" is definitely working for them!

After the meal, we continued to relax and enjoy the atmosphere, but eventually the lunch crowd trickled out and soon, we got up to leave as well. I made a quick stop at the counter to add a tip to the tip-jar and speak to the owner one more time. I complimented her on the amazing food they had prepared. She reiterated that everything was homemade adding that the plan is to offer foods consisting of 20% local, 50% organic, and the remainder from conventional sources. Of course, she reminded me, this meant that it was difficult to have a take-out menu as many of the dishes depended on what they were able to secure locally. But when I think back on the quality of the food they prepared, who needs a static menu? This is REAL food, prepared with skill and mindfulness, dynamic and mouthwatering. 

If you love good food (and you are reasonably local) make a point to check out the Village Cafe. The owners are friendly and caring, the atmosphere welcoming, and the food is out of this world! And don't forget, supporting local business and food resources is good for us all (including Mother Earth). So check it out!

Have a great weekend everyone and, as always - Happy (and mindful) eating!
The Village Cafe is located at 210 W. 26th Street in Downtown Bryan. They are open for breakfast and lunch M-F 7:00AM - 5:00PM and Sat-Sun from 10AM - 5:00 PM. Or check them out on the web. See you there!


Mon @global homestead said...

I couldn't be more envious if somebody demanded, 'Mon, be more envious'.

Living in a place that is naturally more simple is fantastic, but oh how I miss the awareness that comes from the other places. The cafes here have never heard of eco-friendly, and panini would be considered exotic, lol.

Next time you pop in there, please have another panini for me.

sharli said...

I can't wait to try it out! And...I would never refer to you as a freak! :)

Theresa said...

This place sounds wonderful! And from your pictures it looks so warm and welcoming too. I hope it gets good support from the community so it can stay open. My favorite organic local veggie-friendly restaurant closed just lately, so I really hope yours has more success.

Whenever you mention how things are in your home state, I can't help but notice how similar they are to my province of Alberta - it's all about beef, ranching, big trucks and (tarsands)oil! It can get disheartening for a left-leaning vegetarian type like me. Sometimes I think of moving, but then I think that it's places like ours that need different viewpoints the most.

Have a great weekend!

Heather @ SGF said...

mon - Yeah, this new restaurant is pretty exotic here. I'm hoping the community has progressed enough and we can get the word out enough that the Village Cafe can stay afloat. It really is a great place to hang out and enjoy good food. And as for having a panini for you. No problem! I'll get right on that. Mmmm. :)

sharli - Let me know when you want to check it out. We can go together.

theresa - you know, I've thought of moving too. It just feels like this place doesn't fit me well, but at the same time it's a very inexpensive place to live, we own our home outright, and Dave has a good job. So we're staying, at least for now, and just keep reminding ourselves that this place becomes more progressive BECAUSE we, and other progressives, stay here and try to make a difference. It may be happening slowly but compared to when I moved here in 1980, it's a HUGE difference.

Sorry to hear your local/organic restaurant closed. What a bummer. :(

Jennifer (of Veg*n Cooking) said...

That place sounds wonderful, I love that they have the local art up too. There is a restaurant here that does that too, and they even make seat cushions from old plastic bags, pretty neat.

It sounds like it was a great experience and also like it is a great place to have in the less-than-progressive place you live. I hope the vegan thing is going alright for you, and remember, if you have any questions, you know where to go. ;-)

Heather @ SGF said...

jennifer - it really was amazing. I was talking it up at the farmers market this morning. Hopefully, they keep a steady business. I'm sure planning on going back.

So far so good with the whole vegan thing. To be honest, it's been easier than I thought it would be. Especially once I found some good alternatives at my favorite restaurants. Thanks for the encouragement and the support!

Going Crunchy said...

Whoo-hoo! Sounds like you have a great new place to visit. I'm loving the pictures of your food.

And I'm blog surfing right now before I go grocery shopping, so I may have to steal some ideas! Shan

Green Bean said...

Oh man! I hope some place like that opens around here. It's great to see more and more of these types of businesses open up.

Heather @ SGF said...

going crunchy - steal away! That's how I get all my ideas :)

green bean - It was exciting! I'll have to plan another lunch there soon. Downtown was dead for a long time but things are starting to pick up. They are in a pretty good location downtown so I'm hoping things stay active enough to keep them afloat. All the more reason to visit often, huh? :)

texasmcvays said...

Thanks for the post we are looking for a place to sell our products especially our eggs. As a Berkeley grad...this looks like the kind of place we will enjoy!I miss California eating and the hippy atmospheres! I'll start plugging the joint after we visit on the conservative organic/localvore side of BCS! It is definitely hitting a much need niche! Thanks again for the post.
McVays @ Rooster Hill (Micro) Farm!

Heather @ SGF said...

TexasMcVays - I'm so glad you found the site and the Village Cafe. You're just going to love the cafe! The staff are wonderful and fun to talk to, and the food is absolutely delicious! Hope it's also an opportunity to find a buyer for your products. You should also try Brazos Natural Foods and maybe talk to the new store that is taking over the Appletree on Briarcrest. That store is becoming a local/organic natural food store and I have heard they are talking to suppliers in the area for food sources.

Have a great holiday!