Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Feast Bakery and Cafe

When I walked into Feast on the corner of Henderson and Hillside I was incredibly surprised by the decor and style. I honestly thought for just a moment that I was in a different city. The decor was minimalist, but expertly executed, with a very trendy but not pretentious feel that reminded me more of a bistro in Chicago or San Francisco than a corner bakery/cafe in a foot traffic unfriendly corner of Bloomington.

The first thing you are greeted with once the general feel of this corner cafe hits you is the bakery case. Now fair warning about the bakery case. My first adventure with Feast was on a Friday evening, and my second was the next evening. The case was considerably more empty Saturday evening than Friday. Friday it was overflowing with creme brulee bars, and pies, and hand pies of both the meat and vegetarian variety. The following day there were a few of each type of hand pie left, the dessert pies were completely missing, and the majority of the bars were gone. Now none of these items were the sort of baked good that I would expect to be baked every single day. There weren't doughnuts or bagels, or other items prone to going stale easily. My word of warning is to go early in the weekend, or to call ahead and ask how full the feast case is, you may arrive with limited options, but let me assure you they will all be quality options.

The first night at Feast I had one of their tamales ($7.50 for the plate, $4.50 ala cart), which are known as a specialty of the establishment. My tamale was filled with a green chile and chicken mixture and was out of this world. I spent several of my formative gastronomical years in Austin Texas, and every Christmas the tamales came out. It was a tradition, and church parties, house parties, everywhere there were tamales and I fell in love with them. Making them is a labor of love, and so while I have endeavored to do so a few times on my own, much like ravioli I can do it at most once or twice a year. So I am always on the lookout for a quality tamale in Bloomington, and this was unquestionably the best example I have found thus far. The dough was delicate, and not dried out. It was fresh, beautifully wrapped, and came with a side of thick corn chips, salsa, and the best guacamole I've ever had. The guacamole had several dollops of a seasoned sour cream mixture, in a beautiful presentation and it made the entire experience.

I also got to try a bit of my partner's sandwich, and this is where we discovered the true expanse of Feast's offerings. The sandwich was a tempeh reuben ($9.50), and it was outstanding. The balance of flavors was excellent, and while tempeh in no way replaces all of the culinary dynamics of corned beef, it was a beautifully balanced sandwich, and I could easily have seen myself having sated myself completely on this vegan option.

Finally we tried two of their desserts, the first was a peanut butter chocolate pie (dessert prices and offerings vary), that I really have no words for. Now it is important to know that I detest most peanut butter desserts. Not because I do not like peanut butter, or think that it is a problematic dessert ingredient, but because Jif, and Peter Pan, and Reeses have ruined the American palette when it comes to peanut butter. Peanut butter should taste like peanuts. That is the beginning and end of that story, and too often desserts feature peanut butter that tastes like confectioner's sugar, with some other unidentifiable ingredient that must be adding some of that very strange texture. This pie had a layer of peanut butter confectionery that tastes not just of peanuts, but of the very earth they came from. It was rich, and thick, and heady, while not being overwhelming, and truly tasted of it's ingredients.

The second dessert I tried was tiramisu. Now here is where you as the reader will discover that I am a heartless reviewer, I have already betrayed that the first dessert I tried was something I expected not to like, the second dessert is no different. Tiramisu is a delicate, delightful balance of sweet, and rich, light, and elegant. It is a dance of compatible, but disparate flavors, and depends on a perfect cream texture for the cheese portion, and a ladyfinger/cake portion that is soaked in espresso just enough to inbue moisture and flavor, but not enough to turn the receiving confection into mush. In short, one little messup can ruin it and almost no one gets it right. The tiramisu at Feast was perfect. I have not had the privilege of going to Italy yet, a point of great sadness for me. My partner Solomon has though, and we split this little piece of heaven and he could not rave about it enough having never found any Tiramisu to satisfy him at all after the one he had in Italy. I could go on, but I think that pretty much says it all.

You may have noticed that unlike my usual format I skipped service in my review. That is because I really just couldn't put off talking about the food. Feast is a hybrid cafe, restaurant style establishment. You order at the counter, and they bring you your food. So service is minimal, but incredibly pleasant, and prompt. This style of restaurant doesn't lend itself to quite the detailed review that a full service establishment does, but I can say I had absolutely no complaints.

Ambiance: 5 of 5
Service: 4.5 of 5
Food Quality: 5 of 5
Flavor Quality: 5 of 5
Cost/Value 5 of 5