When a colleague raved about the chocolate chip cookies at Taste Café, I was unmoved.
Oh, I was positive that the cookies tasted just fine. I had been to the new downtown café and catering business owned by mother-daughter team Jane and Hannah Heber. But we had just discovered the most wonderful chocolate chip cookie recipe at home via Cook’s Illustrated and I thought any attempt at comparison would just be unfair.
I was wrong. Now, I’m raving.
Crispy cookie lovers should steer clear – but if you love thick, chewy cookies stuffed with gooey chocolate, detouring downtown to the café is a good bet.
The crispy exterior of the cookies ($2.25) gives way to a buttery, barely baked center that left me with the feeling that should apologize to my colleague for ever secretly doubting the veracity of her report. They also make oatmeal raisin ($2) and Whiteout cookies ($2.25) stuffed with Guittard white chocolate chips, walnuts, oats, golden raisins and coconut.
The cookies are exceptional, and it’s not an exception. The nectarine frangipane tarts were as delectable as they were beautiful – nicely sweetened with airy, crispy crust. I scraped up every last bit of homemade caramel topping to eat with the brown sugar pound cake.
And I’ll confess that my heart sank a little when there were no mini chocolate cupcakes swirled high with vanilla buttercream frosting ($1 mini/$2.50 standard) in the case when I dropped in last week. Co-owner Hannah Heber is the pastry chef. Dawn Dartnell assists with cake decorating.
I’ve been tempted to keep ruining my morning workout by dropping in to the café for treats, but reluctantly ordered other menu items. During busy lunches the wait at the deli counter can begin to feel long, but it allows time to admire the baked goods, salads and comfort food favorites.
The daily soups, sandwiches and panini ($8.50 to $9.95) are easy winners but a burst of hot weather fueled my appetite for salads. The rotating offerings haven’t disappointed. Chefs there have something of a penchant for making pedestrian come to life with bright citrus flavors, the zing of vinegar dressings and other fresh additions.
During a recent visit, my salad sampler ($9.50) included a fresh vegetable salad with tender-crisp green beans, tomatoes, edamame and kalamata olives tossed in a tasty herb vinaigrette. The tabbouleh salad had a nice mixture of herbs, including a refreshing hit of mint and tender bites of chicken.
The star of my take-out container was a caprese salad – penne pasta coated with delicious sun-dried tomato pesto, fresh tomato, creamy mozzarella bites and basil chiffonade. Salads are $3.25, $5.50 for a half pint container or $9.95 for a pint.
It is easy to see why the more substantial Asian Chicken Salad ($5) is popular. The chicken, asparagus, red and yellow bell peppers and scallions, coated with a peanutty dressing, also can be ordered in a spinach wrap ($8.95), served with the house salad.
The standard salad greens served alongside entrees are dressed up with shaved asparagus, gorgonzola, spicy walnuts and balsamic vinaigrette. I enjoyed the chewy texture of the wheatberry salad studded with dried cranberries, herbs, raspberry vinaigrette and a zing of citrus zest.
My dining companion scarcely shared his Bobotie, a warm dish that hails from South Africa that put any of Mom’s best casseroles to shame ($11.50). The warming combination of ground beef, curry spices, onion, apple, apricot and raisins creates a satisfying savory yet sweet combination. The mango chutney served alongside provided another complementary burst of flavor.
If you’re looking for other warm comforts, Taste also offers a grown-up mac and cheese ($10.50) with gruyere, pecorino and sharp cheddar; chicken, beef or salmon pot pies ($9.95) topped with flaky crusts; and lasagnas, both traditional ($10.50) and vegetarian ($10.50) with layered spinach, mushrooms, roasted pine nuts and a bit of nutmeg.
Owner Jane Heber conspires with chef Brian Brumfield on many of the café’s offerings.
Comparing menus from earlier visits to more recent dining at Taste Cafe, I noticed the prices have gone up a bit since the opening in February – up to a dollar on many entrees. I hope it’s the last uptick or it will send already indulgent lunches out of my mid-day budget. Heber says it became clear that they would need to raise prices early on.
“We use all of the very freshest ingredients all the time and we found that if we were going to stay in business that we were going to have bump the prices,” she says, adding the bakery uses no mixes and goes through an average of 50 pounds of butter in a week.
Beyond breakfast scones, muffins and gluten-free breakfast bars – don’t even get me started – there’s a rotating offering of frittatas ($2.95) and stratas, breakfast panini ($6.50) and baguette topped with egg and smoked salmon ($5.75).
I tried a sausage roll ($3.50) with my Doma coffee. The sausage in puff pastry was accented with a nice mixture of Dijon and sage. The golden layers were tasty, but microwave warming left it a bit flaccid and it made me long for a crispy bite straight from the oven.
A recent e-mail update from the café means I’ll have to visit again to try the croissants with French jambon and cheese ($3.50) or the new Waldorf chicken salad. Fans can follow the mouthwatering details on what is happening in the café kitchen via e-mail, Facebook and Twitter. The Web site, tastecafespokane.com, includes their taste buds blog of specials and other goodies.
Bottled beer and wine are sold and the café began offering sidewalk seating this week. Jane Heber says eventually they’d like to open for dinner, but they’re also considering a Sunday brunch. She says she’ll survey customers via Twitter to see what they want.