Stopping in on an old (cafe) friend

Last updated 11:30 17/02/2012

We have discussed what makes a great café before - great coffee, proximity, friendly staff, great food - all of the above, ideally. But what about when familiarity has bred contempt, or at least indifference? Somewhere that you have been to a lot that has become just part of your routine - how do you see it through fresh eyes, and remember why you started going there in the first place?

On Sunday I walked Lola, the terribly spoilt dog, through the Petone Rec Ground to my favourite swimming pool - McKenzie Pool. After a few lengths (oh, okay, then, a modest 3km, just quietly, you know...), I felt I had earned a coffee, and maybe a muffin or scone. Or perhaps a cake. Oh, bugger it - let's have a proper lunch - I'm coming to see you, Go Bang Café...

It is my go-to café, within spittin' distance of my house. I go there for coffee on the weekend almost without thinking, but not often for breakfast, cos I'm actually not that mad about breakfast as a meal (or even a concept), and I am more likely to make lunch at home on a Saturday or Sunday. But today - I am going to go, as a fair dinkum punter. And order lunch - "brunch", if you will. And see how it goes - see if my "go-to" local café actually deserves to be my favourite local café.

I look at a menu, which I almost never do. I usually just have a cheese or orange and date scone. And I order coffee - over-extracted, as per my wish, without complaint (no rolling of eyes, no sneering contempt). The coffee is consistently good - this I know already. I grab a newspaper and make for an outside table, so Lola and I can spend some "quality time".

I order the hash cakes, with bacon, wilted spinach, aioli and poached eggs. Nice combo - faintly unusual, which I like. It arrives quickly, and is tasty and filling without being piggishly huge. The bacon is free-range. The hash cakes are flavoursome, and packed with coriander.

Now - some other café things I like: sauces on the counter that you can help yourself to - ketchup, hot sauce, Worcestershire sauce; when the staff bring your dog a bowl of water when you are sitting outside; salt and pepper shakers (actually, a pepper grinder!) on the table - just on the off chance that my concept of perfect seasoning is fractionally different from yours; napkins you don't have to ask for; when the staff come to clear your plates and ask "would you like another coffee - I can bring it to you?" (surely, this is the easiest way possible for a café to sell you another drink - why doesn't everyone do it?!); water (and glasses) you don't have to ask for; LOTS of newspapers (on a Sunday, especially); and an appealing array of baked goods.

Does Go Bang deserve to be my fave local café? Well, based on the utterly unscientific and entirely subjective list above, I totally think so. All those things I "like" above are things Go Bang actually does - and did on this visit. It fulfils most, if not all, of my needs, as a source of quick takeaway coffee or a full meal - and most things in between. I decide to celebrate this dawning of realisation with a peanut and chocolate slice (which the staff assure me is "really great" - not wrong there).

So, it's nice to take a longer look at somewhere you don't necessarily spare all that much thought for. It is really easy to criticise somewhere you eat out at - and you totally have the right to be picky, and expect good service, good coffee, and good value. But it's a tough gig, the café business. Hard work to maintain standards of service, quality and consistency. So I think it's definitely worthwhile, every now and then, just taking a step back from, and a good long, hard look at, your regular café - and deciding if you want to carry on dating. And - if you decide you do - show them a little love.

Where is your "go to" café? How long have you been going there? Why do you go there - and what do they have that keeps you coming back? And - what has been a "deal-breaker" that has made you "break up" with your regular cafe?

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ljlj   #1   11:46 am Feb 17 2012

Go to cafe for me is the Fridge in Kingsland, Auckland. The staff are super lovely and friendly, and the food is fantastic. Great counter food (shout-out to the salads and the macaroons!) and they do the best omlettes I've ever had.

Elle   #2   12:07 pm Feb 17 2012

DeLuca, Whangarei. Their breakfasts are fantastic! The food is always beautifully presented, with a sprig of fresh lavendar, or thyme, on top. They have little shot glasses of things to go with your breakfast, i.e. a shot of tomato and basil salsa (house-made) or a shot of salted caramel sauce (if you're having french toast), or cinnamon cream. Plus the meals are large, filling, and thoughtfully put together and balance flavours well. It's food I probably couldn't make at home (well, not without a fair bit of effort) and that's what makes it good, in my opinion.

I won't go back to a cafe that has bad coffee or service, and I 'broke up' with my last cafe when they changed hands and the 'side of bacon' order became that awful, rindless fake bacon you can buy at the supermarket for $10/kg. Ugh, I am not paying $5 for fake bacon!

Barry   #3   12:42 pm Feb 17 2012

Go-Bang sounds ideal, except that its a bit of a trek to Petone (from Dunedin). Here, my go to cafe shouldn't really cut it, because they don't actually cook food, just have cakes, pies, rolls and the like but I still go there three times a day - because it is one of two on the path between my car park and my office. The coffee is good and because I'm a multi-year three times a day regular, am well looked after by the staff. It also has one of the better views in Dunedin and has big floor to ceiling windows to capitalise on that. One other factor is that because people know its where I go, they can pop in on me, which is nice.

I actually broke up with the next door cafe on the basis that after a period of continuity with the staff, they had quite a high turnover of staff, which broke the mood.

MJ   #4   12:45 pm Feb 17 2012

The cafe at Kings Plant Barn at Porana Road.

We go once a week, and order the same thing every time.

Smoked salmon bagel for me (hold the capers) and a full big breakfast for hubby.

Nom.

Coffee fan   #5   12:47 pm Feb 17 2012

CoCo at the Roxy in Miramar... Consistently fantastic coffee, great array of cabinet and al la carte options and friendly staff (especially Ray and Jordan who seem to know everyone).

The bonus with the Roxy is its big size, when you have a pram there are a lot of places which you can't easily fit into (especially if you're meeting others with prams also).

Leon   #6   01:02 pm Feb 17 2012

I have three go-to cafe's depending on what I'm after and where I am.

Cafe Villa in Ngaio for a huge dose of potato, courtesy of their "wedges" which I would actually describe as being deep fried potato slices rather than a wedge. Their philosophy of attempting to fit as many slices as possible into a small bowl, and then overflowing that substantially onto the plate meets with my approval. Although if I want to get through a full serving and a bucket of coffee it requires stretchy pants.

Lemon Squeeze in Petone. Tiny place, basically a cafe in a corridor. Friendly, utterly reliable, cheap as cheap can be. The ingredients aren't the flashest quality in the big breakfast, but as it feeds two people I can forgive them (repeatedly). Pancakes with fruit gives you your entire weekend recommended dose of fruit. Very nice coffee. Been going there many many many years.

Cafe Thyme J'ville/Churton Park. Very nice quality food, always carefully presented, always delicious, serious size portions, and the red velvet whoppie cake/biscuit has to be experienced.

All of the above meet: friendly, good coffee, prompt service, FRIENDLY, nice food. Couldn't tell you what their magazine collection is like, cos I will read stuff on my phone anyway :-).

Chris W   #7   01:06 pm Feb 17 2012

@Jeremy Taylor - what's the theory behind ordering your coffee over-extracted? No sarcasm behind my question; I'm genuinely interested! :-)

GL   #8   01:20 pm Feb 17 2012

I can also testify as to the quality of Cafe Villa's wedges. Mmmm

amc32   #9   01:36 pm Feb 17 2012

elements cafe in lyall bay coffee is good, so are iced chocs lambs fry and bacon on sourdough toast = absolute heaven. and hash browns made to measure.

cafe villa? really?? i've been disappointed almost every time i have been there. do yourself a favour and make the effort to drive across town to elements.

Lizzie   #10   01:37 pm Feb 17 2012

My Current Go too cafe is Gotham in Chews Lane. whether i am flying through just grabbing coffee on my way to work or if i am taking a long lunch they are always amazing the staff are attentive and always friendly.

I slightly fell out of love with Midnight espresso, mainly because i finished a uni for the year and also all the gluten free things became vegan also and i am not a fan of tofu. So fiddels will win for this year.

Great coffee will always win


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