Tag Archives: Tallahassee

Chuan Cafe Spices up College Town

The sign outside the door of College Town’s new Chuan Cafe reads “Never Spicy Enough,” a statement some prospective diners may interpret as a challenge and others as a cue to order with caution.

Both are right — and wrong.

Chuan Cafe serves Sichuan cuisine, which is known for the heat of its chiles and numbing Sichuan peppers. The menu has a category for Super Spicy food and also indicates heat with the number of peppers but you can express your preference for more or less spice at the counter. You’ll want to ensure you’re on the same spice scale as the kitchen. If you have a timid palate, try the sesame chicken, vegetable dishes, fried rice or dim sum.

Chuan Cafe is an offshoot of the restaurant, Chuan Guo Wei, located in Chendu, the capital of Sichuan province in southwestern China. Tallahassee was picked for the restaurant’s first venture into the United States, partly because of family connections here, said manager Michelle Lin.

 

The Setting

The cafe is a natural for College Town. The place is contemporary, with a laid-back vibe, decorated with wood, exposed brick and industrial accents.

You order at the counter and are notified via buzzer when your food is ready. There’s no rush to leave. Seating includes a few communal tables with upholstered chairs and banquettes, perfect for study groups, and smaller tables around the perimeter of the room. On our visits, most of the diners were Asian, generally considered a sign the food is pretty authentic.

There’s free WiFi, and Lin notes that diners are welcome to graze, study or just read a book.

Dig In

When I stopped by the restaurant earlier this week, my third visit, I chatted with José Mendoza, an engineering professor at Florida State University, who’s already become a fan of Chuan Cafe. He was enjoying a meal of white fish with hot chile sauce, included on the list of Super Spicy dishes. “I’d eat here everyday if I could,” Mendoza said. “My wife is Chinese and she really loves it.”

I particularly liked his description of the tongue-tingling taste of Sichuan peppers. “They have an after-flavor that’s numbing,” he said, comparing it to the lingering flavor of a good cup of espresso. “It’s very pleasant.”

Incidentally, the Sichuan pepper is not a peppercorn but the dried rind of the berry-like fruit of the ash tree. You’ve likely tried it before because it’s one of the ingredients in Chinese five-spice powder (along with star anise, cloves, Chinese cinnamon and fennel seeds).

Along with its spiciness, Sichuan dishes are also sweet, sour, salty and smoky. There’s a Sichuan saying for this complexity, which translates to: “Each dish has its own style, a hundred dishes have a hundred different flavors.”

Chuan Cafe doesn’t have a hundred dishes but there are sure plenty of choices.

One of the best deals is a combo meal for $8.99. It’s served, Bento-style, with segments for a stir-fry or steamed dish, soup and dim sum. I had the “Giant Meatball,” a large orb of tender, ground pork that has a slight kick, served in a sweet-and-sour sauce. My sides were a flavorful cup of wonton soup, though similar to what you’d find at most Chinese restaurants, and plump pan-fried dumplings. Other dishes available as a combo include Kung Pao chicken, shredded pork with garlic sauce and spare ribs with sticky rice.

On another visit, my son, who loves spicy food, was happy with his aromatic bowl of Ma Po Tofu, a classic loaded with chunks of tofu and a sprinkling of ground pork and scallions. It had plenty of heat but it’s not a scorcher for those who prefer to fire up their taste buds.

– Chuan Cafe

House-made dandan noodles were also delicious, coated with a peanut and pepper sauce, topped with chopped pork and scallions.

The sesame chicken strips are a fun, shareable snack boosted by an orange sweet-sour sauce. For a light dish, try the Chinese crepe, made with egg and flour, filled with savory pork and scallions.

Sadly, the dim sum menu has already been scaled back but you’ll still find pan-fried and steamed dumplings plus binge-worthy pan-fried pork buns, soft on the inside with a slightly crisp doughy shell.

For dessert, try the “brown sugar rice crispy,” which brings strips of sticky rice pan-fried with a crisp coating, dipped into a brown sugar sauce for a sweet ending.

Chuan Cafe doesn’t yet have its beer and wine license but it’s not exactly hard to find a watering hole in College Town.

Prices

Soups $5.95 to $8.95; combo meals $8.99; noodles $6.95 to $8.95, entrees $6.95 to $11.95; vegetable dishes $8.95 to $10.95; dim sum $6.95 to $7.95; desserts $4.95 to $5.95.

Bottom line

Discover the bold flavors of Sichuan cooking at Chuan Cafe. Servings are generous, flavorful and the place has a casual, breezy atmosphere that will make diners of any age feel welcome. With dishes priced under $12, it also pays to be adventurous.

Tallahassee Table Rating
(Neighborhood Fare, Worth the Drive, or One of the Best)

Worth the Drive

Rochelle Koff writes about food and dining at TallahasseeTable.com, and on Facebook, @TheTallahasseeTable and Twitter @tallytable. Reach her at TallahasseeTable@gmail.com.

When you go …

Chuan Cafe
619 Woodward Ave., Tallahassee
850-727-0228
Open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily.

 

 

 

A Shot of Tequila

The owners of the former 101 Restaurant in Kleman Plaza are set to replace their former business with a new venture called Tequila Tribe. While Hurricane Hermine caused some delays, co-owners Adam Corey and Ryan Grindler are tentatively planning a soft opening for this weekend.

“We wanted to make it happen to coincide with the start of football season,” Grindler said.

Tequila Tribe will be a joint enterprise with the principal owners of El Jalisco, a family-run group of Mexican restaurants in Northwest Florida, but “it will be completely separate from El Jalisco,” said Grindler, who operates Tallahassee Hospitality Group with Corey. The two are the team behind The Edison in Cascades Park.

“We wanted to do something fresh and cutting edge, like the Edison,” Corey said.

Corey and Grindler abruptly closed 101 in May, blaming a variety of issues including declining revenue, aging equipment and the need for a new concept. “We made a decision to push the reset button,” Corey said.

“101 had a great run,” he said. “But the competition was greater with a lot of new, great places. Our equipment was getting old, the building stale. “

The business partners “struggled with the decision” to close so abruptly, Corey said, but they reached out to colleagues in the industry who said that was the smartest approach. “Once you make a decision to close, to go ahead and close immediately.”

Tequila Tribe will offer an affordable menu, with dishes under $20. Highlights will include guacamole made tableside, ceviche and rice bowls — a Mexican take on the popular Asian concept.

The restaurant will be “food-focused,” Corey said, noting the name refers to the area as well as the beverage, which is made from the blue agave plant native to Tequila, a town in the Mexican state of Jalisco.

While there’s no shortage of Mexican and Tex-Mex places in town, including the new chain Chuy’s, Tequila Tribe will offer “a completely different experience,” Corey said. ‘It will have a high-end Mexican theme with high-end tequila,” a combo that should be appealing downtown.

Tequila Tribe will eventually offer lunch as well as dinner and take part in the traditional Downtown GetDown block parties.

For now, the adjacent bar Mint will remain open though they plan to “ramp up things there as well,” Corey said. “That’s Stage 2.”

Ryan said he wouldn’t comment about an ongoing legal battle with a 101 co-founder to determine who may have to pay thousands of dollars to one of the restaurant’s former investors.

Despite the challenges faced by 101, Corey and Grindler said they are optimistic about Tallahassee’s culinary future.

“We’re super excited about where Tallahassee is going with food,” Grindler said. “The city is growing up. You can see it everywhere and our food culture is a big part of that.”

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Eat your veggies

By KATIE KENNEDY

At a restaurant as cute as the Sweet Pea Cafe, it’s easy to be a vegan and enjoy it.

A vegan diet avoids all animal products and consists of the best of earth’s bounties: fruits, vegetables, grains, and nuts. At Sweet Pea, aSWEETPEA SIGN locally owned vegan restaurant serving locally grown fresh food, anybody — vegan or not — can get a delightful meal that will not disappoint.

Sweet Pea is located on Tharpe Street, across the parking lot from Star’s Meat Market, one of Tallahassee’s oldest monuments to meat. (Oh, the lovely irony.)

The Pea’s casual order-at-the-counter service creates a relaxed and personable atmosphere in a quaint and cozy place. In addition to the SWEETPEA MENU BOARDbooths and tables inside, they have several outdoor tables.

Nothing is commercial at Sweet Pea. From the mosaic tables to the mismatched mugs and the colorful chalkboard menu board, everything has its own special touch.

Sweet Pea collects its produce from nearby farms such as Lake Seminole Farm, The Best Little Greens, Ripe City Urban Farm, Full SWEETPEA OUTSIDEEarth Farm, iGrow-Whatever You Like, and Red Hills Small Farm Alliance.

Sweet Pea, which serves only brunch and lunch, features various specials every day. The menu is simple and authentic, with rich foods that are packed with flavor but leave you feeling light and happy rather than ready to nap on the floor. If you’re not used to eating vegan, your preconceptions will melt away with your first mouthful.

During our visit, we enjoyed a delicious Tofuevos Rancheros, a Brady Brunch, Falawesome, and the Spicy BLT with tasty sweet potato fries and a carrot ginger slaw.

SWEETPEA MY BREAKFSTThe Tofuevos Rancheros were rich and savory. This dish emulated Huevos Rancheros but replaced the eggs with a tofu scramble. This brunch option included two toasted corn tortillas topped with “cheddary cheeze” — a vegan substitute for dairy based cheese — brown rice, beans, scrambled tofu and veggies, salsa, and sour cream. Yum!

I especially enjoyed my Spicy “BLT,” which included blackened SWEETPEA 'BLT'organic tofu, lettuce, tomato, and spicy mayo on organic wheat bread. The tofu was cooked perfectly — nicely seasoned with a pleasant consistency. Sometimes tofu can be too dense, too fluffy or mushy. But this tofu was not that way. (One can eat anything when it is seasoned properly!)

You also can enjoy a Fair Trade cup of coffee with almond or soy milk with added Stevia, a natural zero calorie, zero sugar sweetener.

We visited Sweet Pea Cafe with my younger cousin Adeline, who

Adeline Thames
Adeline Thames

recently became vegan after being a vegetarian for years. She chose the lifestyle after learning about the way the meat, dairy and egg industries treat animals. She told us she wanted to do her part to reduce unnecessary torture for animals.

In addition, she said, factory farming uses tons of greenhouse gases, fuel, energy, and nonrenewable resources. Along with the eco-friendly benefits, being vegan also has great health benefits, including reduced risk of heart disease, kidney disease and liver failure.

Although Adeline was the only person in our group of five who was vegan, each of us was pleasantly surprised by these healthy, flavorful Carrot tablemeals.

While eating vegan may seem difficult and complicated to maintain, it is a lot easier than most people think. If done right, eating vegan also saves money. The three cheapest things you can buy are soy, rice, and corn.

And the vegan’s verdict on Sweet Pea Cafe? Yummy!

We loved dining at Sweet Pea Cafe. As one of our meat-loving friends said, “I would definitely eat here again. Now, I want to grow out my hair and put on Birkenstocks.”

If you go…
Sweet Pea Cafe
832 W Tharpe St
Tallahassee, Fla., 32303

Katie Kennedy, a native of Tallahassee, will be entering her senior year at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minn. She is an intern for Tallahassee Table.

Katie Kennedy


 

Front Porch to Table 23

Cherry-red curtains have been hung and delicate chandeliers are aglow. Finally, there’s life at the former Front Porch, which has been vacant since last summer.

Table 23, owners Mandy and Joe Lemons. RKOFF
Mandy and Joe Lemons, owners of the new Table 23. The restaurant is to open in June in the old Front Porch location.

I’m sure that, like me, a good many folks have sadly passed the deserted restaurant, wondering when someone would eventually take over this iconic building.

Wonder no more.

New owners Mandy and Joe Lemons have tentatively set June 20 as the opening date for their new Table 23.

Sitting in the future main dining room, surrounded by boxes, boards and busy workmen, the couple took a break last week to talk about their vision for this latest incarnation of the Carroll House, which was built in 1924. It’s just my first impression, but I left feeling that if anyone could make this work it would be the Lemons.

They have years of experience in the restaurant business, have hired good people, understand the business and creative sides and are putting their heart and soul into making Table 23 work, with the simple premise: Southern Porch, Table and Bar. Plus they have five children. That takes commitment!

.For starters, here are some things you’ll want to know:

  • Table 23’s top chefs will be Brian Knepper and Brandon Miller. Knepper, who trained at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, worked at the famed Commander’s Palace in New Orleans after graduation. He was executive sous chef at Tallahassee’s Cypress and most recently was the executive chef at the Governor’s Club. Miller grew up in the restaurant business (his parents founded Miller’s BBQ in Morven, Ga). He was a corporate trainer for Bonefish Grill and worked with Joe Lemon at the Tallahassee branch for 12 years, most recently as culinary manager.
  • The menu is still being finalized but will feature dishes with a Southern twist, with influences stretching from Texas to Virginia. You’ll find oysters, gumbo (reflecting Knepper’s N’awlins experience), shrimp and grits, barbecue (but it’s not a barbecue joint), casual items like burgers and tacos, bar bites and upmarket entrees, primarily steak and seafood.
  • Prices will vary, with smaller items (about $8) and burgers (about $11), and entrees priced from the teens to low-$30s.
  • Expect a daily happy hour but not a nightclub atmosphere. The full bar will feature wine, (including a pear sangria); beer (including craft offerings) plus some interesting cocktails, like their Pecan Old Fashioned, featuring Michter’s Whiskey, pecan-infused syrup, black walnut bitters and burnt orange peel. They’re touting drinks with fresh-squeezed juice and drink prices ranging from $6 to $12.
  • The building, which can accommodate about 300 people, will offer space downstairs and upstairs for private events.
  • They’re now hiring servers and bartenders, creating about 80 jobs overall.
  • The front manager will be Chris Aiello, whose career includes management and wine consulting, catering and experience as kitchen manager of Orchard Pond Organics, general manager of Wine Loft and a former manager at Bonefish Grill.
The original Carroll House, circa 1924, soon to be the site of Table 23.

The couple believes their corporate background is a prime asset in launching this local venture.

Joe, 47, has 23 years’ experience working for Bloomin’ Brands Inc., which owns successful chains including Outback Steakhouse, Bonefish Grill and Carrabba’s Italian Grill. Say what you will about mega restaurant corporations, they do provide a great deal of experience and training, Joe said.

“I’m very money savvy, very conscious of budgets and expenses and staying profitable,” said Lemons, who was managing partner at Bonefish in Tallahassee.

Joe said he’ll be handling the business side and let his two chefs tackle the creativity. Still, expect the Lemons to be on premises. It won’t be an absentee ownership.

“I think most people want to be their own boss, taking the skills you’ve learned and applying them for yourself,” Joe said. “I never wanted to do anything but work in restaurants.

“My mom and grandmother were really good cooks and I learned from them,” he said. “I used to get cooking equipment and cookbooks for Christmas.”

When the Front Porch became vacant, the Lemons knew they had found their dream spot.

“I love this building,” Mandy said.

“For eight years, this has been something we’ve really been working on and thinking about,” Mandy said. “But the timing was never right.

“This one already has what we need — parking, a great location, a lot of history and it’s in really good shape,” Mandy said. “This is a place that people want to come to.”

She should know. Mandy grew up in Tallahassee and remembers the place as the former Chez Pierre. The couple met at the Outback Steakhouse, which Joe opened in Tallahassee. He was the manager and Mandy was a waitress. They were married three years later and their five children are ages 4 to 15.

If you’re wondering about the name, Table 23, the number has a lot of significance for the Lemons. They have two girls and three boys — 23, get it? Joe was 23 when he went to work for Bloomin’ Brands and worked for them 23 years. Mandy was 23 when the couple married. Psalm 23 (The Lord is my shepherd) is the favorite of Mandy’s and both their grandmothers.

While there’s a lot to do, the restaurant is in good shape despite being closed a year, the Lemons said. The Front Porch closed last May, reportedly after a fire. A Tallahassee Democrat article stated that a malfunctioning butane burner activated a sprinkler head.

Joe said employees weren’t able to turn off the sprinkler and the place sustained water damage. It never reopened.

Most work being done is sprucing up, making some changes like adding metal to the outdoor tables. The biggest job is redoing the kitchen and replacing all the equipment.

As for the menu, the Lemons said they aim to be “locally relevant” when possible, which means “if we can pull in something for that season for a week of specials we will.”

But they’re not attempting a farm-to-table concept. “One, it’s expensive, hard to execute at a high-volume restaurant and a lot of people claim they’re doing it when they’re not,” Joe said. (See the excellent exposé by Tampa Bay Times Laura Riley.)

One of their prime goals is to make Table 23 feel “hospitable.”

“We don’t want to become a special occasion restaurant people visit once a year,” Mandy said. “We want our customers to keep coming back. From the second someone walks in the door we want their experience to be amazing.”

So do we!

If you go…
Table 23
1215 Thomasville Rd., Tallahassee, 32303