Service, variety, and atmosphere set Brew-Bakers Caffe apart
Brew-Bakers Caffe is a little bit like one of the specialty coffee drinks it serves: A mix of ingredients gives it a unique flavor.
The small café offers bagels, bread, and flavored cream cheeses just like Panera Bread, the popular bakery chain. It serves up many varieties of coffee and espresso drinks, as does caffeine king Starbucks. But it has the feel of a neighborhood coffee shop where friends meet to hang out and read the newspaper over their morning coffee. Stir these ingredients together and add good food, and you have a winning combination.
Brew-Bakers is located in a strip mall on Iles Avenue in the space formerly occupied by Bixby's Bagels and, more recently, Higher Ground. Many menu items have stayed the same, such as the chicken chili, but new owners Lois and Mike Bloechle and Ron and Deneen Omer have made a few changes, among them new Sunday hours.
On a recent weekday morning, a group of middle-aged women played cards and a college student with a backpack full of books downed coffee while doing homework in the relaxed atmosphere.
"A lot of businesspeople like to hold meetings here," says Lois Bloechle, who, with her husband, owned the Cookie Factory in White Oaks Mall for 16 years. "It's quiet; there's not a lot of hubbub."
Brew-Bakers offers one of the best coffee selections in town, with as many as a dozen flavors of coffee -- among them bourbon pecan, vanilla bean, and raspberry -- available at any given time. Espresso beans are ground on-site. The café features a variety of specialty espresso drinks -- my favorite, the Jumpin' Monkey, is made with iced espresso, milk, banana, and chocolate. Hot tea, cocoa, chai, and seasonal drinks such as apple cider are available, as are whole coffee beans.
The café offers a variety of bagels, including berry, sesame, onion, whole wheat, sun-dried tomato, blueberry, and chocolate chip. Cookies, muffins, cinnamon rolls, scones, Cheesecake Factory cheesecake, and brownies are sold as well. Breakfast offerings include a plate with scrambled eggs, bacon or sausage, and toast. You can also order a bagel topped with smoked salmon, cream cheese, tomato, and onion or eggs, bacon, ham or sausage, and cheese. I've had the breakfast on an English muffin more than once. The service is fast and the food hearty, superior to any fast-food equivalent.
Sandwiches include ham, turkey, roast beef, grilled chicken, chicken salad, and tuna salad. The vegetarian sandwich is made with an interesting blend of cream cheese, artichoke hearts, lettuce, red onion, cucumbers, and banana peppers.
The spicy Thai chicken is my favorite sandwich. A thick layer of shredded white meat is topped with lettuce, cucumber, light veggie cream cheese, and a side of Thai peanut sauce that gives the sandwich a rich, spicy kick. You can have your sandwich on bread, wrapped in a flavored tortilla, or on a bagel.
Brew-Bakers offers a chef salad; a Caesar salad, which is served with smoked salmon or grilled chicken; and a spinach salad. I recently tried the spinach salad with a cup of soup for lunch. The fresh baby spinach greens were topped with plenty of crispy bacon pieces and chopped eggs and served with a hearty helping of baked garlic bagel chips -- an interesting, refreshing substitute for croutons.
Chicken chili is served daily in addition to two other daily offerings such as chicken noodle and vegetable beef. The flavorful, filling chili is a thick, rich, tomato-based stew full of beans and chunks of chicken. I prefer white chicken chili made with white beans, but hamburger lovers will find this version so good that they'll never miss the beef.
The café faces stiff competition from other bakery/café/coffeehouses, but Bloechle says that the atmosphere (plus the dozen coffee flavors) sets her place apart from the rest.
"We're local, and we can provide personal service. People really like the service here," she says. "We're a neighborhood place."
Brew-Bakers Caffe is located at 1941 W. Iles Ave.; 726-2300. Hours are 6:30 a.m.-4 p.m. Mon.-Fri., 7 a.m.-2 p.m. Sat., and 8 a.m.-2 p.m. Sun. Catering services are available. Orders may be placed ahead and picked up at the drive-up window.
Spice is nice
A new store in town is hoping to bring some spice to the capital city -- at least some spices that weren't available before.
Wild Thyme Spices sells more than 150 spices, dried herbs, and seasonings. The store's offerings include olive oils, flavored loose teas, chocolates, sauces, and soup mixes.
Tastings are held every Saturday from 11 a.m.-2 p.m.
Wild Thyme is located at 2625 W. White Oaks Dr.; 698-0029. Hours are 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Mon.-Fri. and 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sat.