It’s 7 a.m. at Piattello Italian Kitchen, the new be-seen restaurant in Fort Worth, and the place is filling up with customers. Lunch service doesn’t start for hours, but the restaurant is buzzing with people there for one thing — coffee.
“We had a bunch of square footage over here where the bar is,” says chef-owner Marcus Paslay. “Without any other real coffee shop in the vicinity, I thought a coffee bar would be a good choice and a great way to increase our hours of operation.”
Reminiscent of places like Portland and Seattle, where java seemingly is its own food group, in-house coffee bars are a percolating Tarrant-area restaurant trend. Paslay is one of several area restaurateurs paying closer attention to higher-quality beans and brew methods and offering coffee beverages — not as after-dinner drinks but as legitimate draws to the eatery.
Italian food and coffee are also natural partners, Paslay says, with coffee shop staples like the cappuccino and cafe latte originating in Italy. He keeps his coffee menu simple, using locally-roasted beans from Avoca Coffee Roasters and selling a few breakfast pastries at the counter.
“We wanted to stay pretty traditional — cappuccinos, espressos and lattes,” Paslay says. “I didn’t want to get too kitschy with it, so there are no Starbucks-type drinks.”
In Keller, Seven Mile Cafe (www.sevenmilecafe.com) opened in December as a breakfast and lunch diner that doubles as an espresso bar. Husband-and-wife duo Kevin and Josi Klingele, California natives who opened the restaurant’s original outlet in Denton five years ago, visited with coffee roasters around the country to educate themselves on varieties and the roasting and brewing process.
“We always knew coffee was going to be important,” says Josi Klingele. “We wanted to make sure we were serving quality coffee to match the quality food.”
The couple sources beans weekly from Stumptown Coffee Roasters in Portland, where she visited for a training course to learn about the coffee and meet the purveyors in person. Stumptown staffers also meet with her employees for ongoing education on brewing, troubleshooting and menu pairing.
Like Paslay, the Klingeles felt quality coffee was lacking in their area. Josi Klingele says customers are definitely paying more attention to coffee and appreciate Seven Mile Cafe’s focus on providing an excellent cup of joe.
Coffee really isn’t an afterthought for our customers anymore.
Josi Klingele, Seven Mile Cafe owner
“Coffee really isn’t an afterthought for our customers anymore,” she says. “A lot of them are ordering their coffee before they get their meal and ordering not just drip black coffee but getting a latte, a mocha or shots of espresso, really as a complement to their meal. They’re asking where we get our beans, why we’re serving this type of coffee and what makes our coffee so special.”
She says another reason customers are more concerned with coffee choices is that there are more varieties from which to choose. Diverse selections used to be primarily available on the East and West coasts, she says, but roasters are now expanding throughout Texas. And like wine, coffee can be complex, with distinct flavor profiles dependent on origin.
This can provide for exciting and educational menu pairing opportunities for restaurateurs.
“If you’re ordering our mushroom barley risotto, I might suggest you try a Guatemalan coffee with a lot of body to pair well with the cream in that dish,” says Scott Gonzales, who owns the newly opened Gather Cafe & Coffee with his wife, Morgan, in north Fort Worth. “For our French toast, I would recommend single origin African beans on a Chemex pour-over. The light, berry, fruity notes will work well with the maple syrup.”
Gonzales and members of his team spent six 35-hour weeks with staff from Avoca to learn everything they could about coffee, he says. He wanted Gather’s focus on coffee to match the focus on the comfort food-centric menu, which offers breakfast, lunch and dinner items like chicken-fried New York strip.
I want this experience to be relational with the customers. I want people to come in with an open mind and ask questions.
Scott Gonzales, owner, Gather Cafe & Coffee
“Other places might be more about speed and repetition when it comes to coffee,” Gonzales says. “I want this experience to be relational with the customers. I want people to come in with an open mind and ask questions.”
While dialogue with baristas can open the door for a more elaborate coffee-drinking experience, Klingele says ordering shouldn’t feel overwhelming.
“I think people get intimated when they go to a coffee shop and there are all these different brew methods,” she says. “It’s really about your taste. If you don’t like it, then it’s not for you. Try something else.”
One of the most important things customers should realize, she adds, is that all black coffee is not the same.
“One of the biggest misconceptions about coffee is that it’s something you need to load up with a lot of sugar and cream to make it taste good,” she says. “People are starting to realize that the flavor can really speak for itself, and it’s actually really delicious.”
Tips for Building Coffee Beverages
Cappuccinos, lattes and cortados: Pull a 2-ounce double espresso shot from an espresso machine. The streams of espresso should resemble a mouse’s tail. Foam and steam 6 ounces of whole milk by immersing the steam wand in a frothing pitcher and forming a whirlpool.
Cappuccinos: Assemble beverage in the cup with a ratio of 1 part espresso, 1 part steamed milk and 1 part foam.
Lattes: Assemble beverage in the cup with 1 part espresso and 2 parts steamed milk. Add just a touch of foam.
Cortado: Assemble the beverage in a smaller vessel with 1 part espresso and 1 part steamed milk.
— Piattello Italian Kitchen, 5924 Convair Drive, Fort Worth, 817-349-0484, www.piattelloitaliankitchen.com
Gather Vegan Mocha
• 1/2 ounce vanilla-infused simple syrup
• 2 tablespoons Avoca mocha powder
(available at Gather Cafe & Coffee)
• 12 ounces hemp milk, steamed
• 2-ounce shot espresso
Place syrup and mocha powder in the bottom of a coffee mug and gently stir. Add espresso and stir again. Pour in steamed milk and serve.
— 12420 Timberland Blvd., Fort Worth, 817-379-2915, www.gathertx.com