Walton Street Coffee: The food is fresh and the coffee is good
You have to love Walton Street Coffee and its boss lady, Zoe Anderson. Both are funky, fun, warm at heart - and dedicated to fresh, lively food and well-made coffee.
As you might guess from the name, the cafe is in Walton St in Te Awamutu. It's known to locals and attracts fans from other places. The building - looking a bit like an old rural hall - is set off the road, easy to miss. It was a bakery in the 1940s, then an electrical shop.
The lunch menu is handwritten on a mirror from an old wardrobe door, the breakfast fare is scrawled on cardboard by the counter, labelled "A menu of sorts". There are mismatched tables and chairs, lots of retro formica, glass milk bottle light fittings, vintage china, a piano, map drawers, expired library books, local art and collectibles, and some toothsome cakes and slices in the cabinet.
Lunch is ordered, assembled from scratch, a $10 bowl of goodness, brimming with texture and flavour: a fresh Vietnamese roll in a silky rice paper wrapper, laden with raw vegetables, herbs and black sesame seeds, tucked alongside a salad of avocado, grated carrot, toasted cashews, coconut and cumin, and another side of Thai salad topped with crispy, fried shallots.
There is dipping sauce of soy sauce, raw honey, fresh ginger, garlic and sesame oil for the roll. The carrot salad is beautifully dressed (see recipe), as are the noodles. It's crunchy, colourful, and dead cheap. The coffee (Rocket) is excellent.
How do they do it?
Anderson, 40, tells the story at the lunch table. It's mid-afternoon, the place has emptied out a bit, she can take a break from the kitchen bench.
She's the cook. She really needs another pair of hands, but wants someone like herself, who can taste a dressing or a salad they're preparing and pep it up accordingly. Anderson doesn't deal much in recipes, she trusts her tastebuds: "Who cares what the recipe says, good things are so simple." It's how she cooks at home, what she likes to do for her friends.
Anderson and her brother Alex previously ran Empire cafe in Te Awamutu, cooking bacon and egg breakfasts and other mainstream dishes. It was hard yakka, they did it for five years, they sold, and Anderson (a nurse by training, from a family that loves cooking), said "never, ever, again".
She had a break, then her old Empire customers Chris Lane of Big Kid Film Productions, and Carl Sheridan of Carl Sheridan Design, both based at the front of the Walton St building, suggested she do coffee there. One thing led to another, and eight months ago she started the cafe - strictly doing her own thing, and certainly not bacon and eggs, muffins or pies. "I'm only going to do what I want to do, what's right for me, " she says.
The cafe is open Monday to Friday, 6.30am-2pm, closed at weekends. When she gets more help, she'll look at going seven days.
Walton Street Coffee is a place to hang out, to eat fresh, clean flavours that change daily - advertised on the cafe's Facebook page - influenced by Anderson's travels in Asia, and what's in season. In the winter it was slow-cooked curries, daals and soups; in summer it's salads and smash. Smash is a combo of something like avocado, tomato, summer greens and feta; cashew and coriander dressing; and hummus, on warm pita.
There are takeout lunchboxes as well as sit-down meals. It's all vegetarian, but she doesn't make a big deal of that. It's just good food. If you're gluten-free, dairy- free, or have some other food allergy, Anderson will "make stuff up" for you.
She's told people not to pay if they don't like it: "No one's not paid."
Her ingredients are as local as she can get them. If she's short of lemons, rosemary, limes, etc, she puts the word out and the produce comes rolling in.
She's instituted the worldwide Suspend a Coffee movement at Walton Street, where customers can pay in advance for a coffee for someone who may be in need of a little TLC. The cafe chips in as well. Anderson and her customers give away about four coffees and two lunches a day, not necessarily to those who can't afford it. Reasons can be much wider than that, it's more of a random act of kindness. "This is not a gimmick, it's what we do all the time."
Anderson says her town has a culture of good-hearted people, and some amazingly creative things going on. "I love that about Te Awamutu."
And she's adding to the mix, in her own inimitable style.
Here's a creamy, nutty Walton Street dressing suitable for salads and smashes:
Ingredients 1 bunch of fresh coriander, stalks and all,
2 cups cashew nuts
juice of 3 lemons
6 cloves of garlic
1/2 tsp salt
some cracked pepper
Place all ingredients in a food processor, add a little water and blitz to a creamy consistency. Taste, trust your tastebuds, add a little more seasoning if needed.