Monday, February 11, 2013

Cool Beans Java Cafe

316 Locust Street
Hillsboro, Mo.
Mon-Fri 6AM-8PM
Sat 7AM-4PM
Sun 8AM-2PM
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We found this place a few weeks ago, driving through Hillsboro. They’d put out portable signs with fingers pointing down the hill from BB, across from the courthouse. I drove by one afternoon and checked the hours.
A week later I stopped in for a cup of coffee, and noticed a wall-sized chalkboard filled with sandwiches, soups and the like. I struck up a conversation with the owner, there wasn’t anyone else there at the time. He said that he’d bought the place a few months back and was working to improve the place, out with the preprocessed offerings, in with quality meats and fresh produce. I bought a small coffee and he offered to let me taste the chili. I like it, I liked it a lot.
So for a couple of weeks now we’d made plans to try a meal there. Last week I picked up a debilitating head cold and Angel had some dog duties, so we didn’t go out at all. It was going to take a special effort to get a meal there because of their hours. We’d have to do lunch.
We don’t normally get together for lunch, if we lunch at all. Angel has the dogs, and for me, I often have Write Club meetings or errands or cemeteries or something, so lunch at the household is pretty much a thing left up to the individuals to fend for themselves as they get time.
The Place:
On the hill that drops down from BB right behind Los Portales. So Cool Beans now wins the status of the place closest to our house, by about sixty feet. Parking is adequate, at least on weekends, but it is slanted. Getting in and out of a big SUV is either a climb or a steep drop.
You step down into the cafĂ© and immediately realize that this is not a sports bar, it’s not a fine restaurant, it’s not fast food, and it’s not a converted auto parts store, this was a coffee shop, a little urban, a little Bohemian.
There were several small tables, several tall Bistro tables, as well as a few easy-chairs with side tables for sitting and relaxing. They offer free wi-fi, of course, it’s a coffee shop. One could easily just drop in, grab a coffee and perhaps a muffin and just sit and surf or read, as I did on Saturday morning. No rush, no pressure. I used to go to Hardee’s a couple of Saturdays a month to just sit and chill. But Hardee’s, as good as their coffee and sausage biscuits are, just isn’t homey and cozy. It’s plastic and industrial.
As a coffee shop Cool Beans is exactly the kind of place that Starbucks, et al, tries to be, pretends to be. But how would it be as a place to eat?
The Food:
French dip and minestrone soup
We headed inside, we’d managed to arrive Sunday around noon. We’d tried on Saturday around two but the place, believe it or not, was packed to the rafters, standing room only.
On Sunday there a few people there, but it wasn’t crowded.
We glanced over the chalkboard, asked a few questions about sizes of things and about the bread, the owner was patient, friendly and helpful.
I ordered the Philly cheese steak with chips. Angel asked for the French dip, half-sandwich and the day’s minestrone soup. For a side she asked for the veggie cup, a cup containing fresh, snack-sized carrots, celery and broccoli. I would have asked for that instead of chips except for the fact that it had broccoli. (blech). The veggie cup comes with  ranch dip if you want.
Adam chose the chicken bacon ranch sandwich and cheddar chips.  Each meal came with a pickle.
For drinks, it was tea, sweet tea and for Adam, a French Silk Mocha.
I know! Who would have guessed that? He doesn’t even like coffee!
I made a big deal out of his choice, I even questioned his parentage and patriotism. He just smirked like I was from another planet.
Philly Cheese Steak
We sat at a small table near the door and watched the place, people coming and going. A blonde lady with her small, thick-spectacled son, a couple of young Goth types, a couple of ladies that seemed to be related, and another middle aged couple that took their order to go.
I looked around the joint, it was perfect for its function. Dark carpet, a couple of green walls and a couple of textured yellow  ones, a few miscellaneous photos and tasteful prints. The side tables next to the easy chairs held ceramic tea pots for decoration. The tables were pale wood, the curtains and easy chairs black. Someone with a good, but easy-going eye outfitted the place. They didn’t go cheap nor regimental. It was like someone’s house, functional, good quality furniture that didn’t necessarily match, but it went together. On the soffit  overhead was a quote hand painted in script. “Dreams are necessary to life” ARL (unless I wrote that down wrong) I’m not sure about the ARL, but it’s an Anais Nin quote. Nin was a Bohemian writer and early activist in the feminist movement. I found this a little ironic, since before the feminist movement, women made sandwiches for their men like good wives should, now we mostly have to make them ourselves or buy them at cafes like this one.*
The sandwiches were made to order, unlike the sausage biscuits at Hardee’s. I’ve sent back a few of those after they sat around too long and turned into indestructible chew-toys.
The wait wasn’t bad at all. It wasn’t fast-food franchise fast, but it wasn’t snooty restaurant slow either.
They called our order and Adam and I jumped up and fetched.
The sandwiches were served up in plastic baskets lined with paper. The chips were upper-quality branded bags. The pickles were nothing fancy, but then, why would one need a fancy pickle?
The bread was the first thing we noticed. It was pretzel bread. Essentially the recipe for soft-serve pretzels, without the big chunks of salt, in the shape and size of hamburger buns. Pretzel bread is denser than white bread and holds up very well even with a sloppy sandwich.
We popped open our chips, Angel snapped the fresh veggies and we dug in.
Her French dip was served with a small ramekin of au jus (Gesundheit!)**. Which with her recovering arm still in a brace, she tipped over and spilled into her basket. When she went to try her pickle she was disappointed because it tasted like beef.
Chicken Bacon Ranch sandwich
The soup looked great, and Angel said it was. This was not canned soup, you just don’t see chunks of veggies and meat and pasta like this in canned soups. Angel sopped up every drop of it.
The size of the sandwiches was perfect for a lunch. It wasn’t piled thick or too bready. The meat was thicker sliced than typical deli meat and cooked juicy and perfect. The peppers and onions in mine still had texture and taste, the cheese was melty and smooth. The pretzel bread added just enough yeasty flavor to make it unique and tasty, not overpowering. 
Not as big as a Subway sandwich, or even a six inch Subway sandwich, and not as crowded with superfluous toppings. It was a simple, yet classy and tasty, and thoroughly filling Philly cheese steak.
Adam thoroughly enjoyed his as well, even while washing it down with a fru-fru girly drink.
Comparing Cool Beans to Starbucks isn’t fair. If anything this place is more like Panera, or St. Louis Bread Company, except better. Once again Panera only pretends to be Bohemian and urban cool. This place really is. It has original sandwiches and soups, which the owner says he’s working to add to and improve all the time. The location is superb, except for the fact that it’s in Hillsboro which means it’s out of reach of a lot of you poor saps out there. For me, the location is great.
We spent just under thirty bucks, more than fast food, but the quality and freshness were worth every penny.
My tea was great, Angel’s said hers seemed to taste old after a while, but that could be the illness  talking, she inherited my head cold.
Sometimes places open that you hope are as good as you want them to be. This place is. In fact, it’s better. I really want this place to be successful, it’s a good idea. I only hope that the small population of this little town can maintain it. Sure, it's out of the way for many of you, my dear, devoted fans, but if you're looking for something cozy, comfortable, affordable, relaxed and delicious, you should make the effort.

* Making sandwiches: Yes I will pay for this, count on it.

** Gesundheit does not mean ‘Bless you’, it’s German for ‘good health’.  Why we say something like that at all when someone sneezes is a mystery to me, we don’t offer blessings or good health when people belch, cough or fart, why does a sneeze get special attention?

Cool Beans Java Cafe on Urbanspoon

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