Stopping in on an old (cafe) friend

00:07, Feb 17 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.

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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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