by Mike Corrigan
On a recent expedition to downtown Cheney, Team Inlander discovered Kafka Coffee House nestled into one corner of the ground floor of EWU's new campus housing complex, Brewster Hall. Initial impressions were formed as menus were perused. The interior was found to be clean, bright, inviting and spacious with a rich burgundy color scheme, lots of red brick, hardwood accents and attractive lighting. A fireplace set off one particularly cozy corner, which also featured a sofa and a bookshelf loaded up with games. Near a glass case filled with tempting baked goods, there was a table bearing a neat little pile of Kafka logo-bearing merchandise (knit hats, T-shirts, mugs, etc.). Elsewhere, seating mixed it up between tables and booths.
The team noted several EWU students communing intently with their laptops while they sipped java and noshed. We also noted the data ports built in to our booth. Kafka, we realized, exudes a sophisticated, thoughtful, literary atmosphere. Meanwhile, synthetic '80s pop (beginning with Whitney Houston's "I Wanna Dance with Somebody") wailed over the house sound system.
Though primarily a spot to achieve stimulant-packed liquid satisfaction (in the form of coffee, yerba and chai drinks), Kafka also offers a noontime selection of soups, salads, sandwiches and paninis.
Most of the sandwiches on the menu have slightly precious "Kafkaesque" names (betcha never heard that descriptor leveled against food before), such as the $4.95 "Metamorphosis": ham, Swiss cheese, lettuce, tomato and mayo on your choice of white, wheat or rye bread. The young woman assisting us from behind counter was pleasant and helpful, but at some point, a couple of the order details must have evaporated into the ether. Instead of the iced tea I'd chosen as my beverage, I was handed a water. And Sheri had to send her PB & amp;J (an economical option at $2) back to the kitchen to be grilled as she'd requested.
The paninis (all $5.95) come with what we understood to be a side salad. These consisted of what looked like one leaf of romaine lettuce torn up and arranged in a pile with a slice of tomato and a dusting of dried oregano on top. Really, it was more garnish than salad. The panini itself? We ordered two, the Tuscan (sliced ham, fresh mozzarella, olive oil and lettuce) and the Roma (sliced tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, Italian herb dressing and lettuce). As soon as we saw them, at least two of us cried out in unison, "That's no panini!" Seriously, a few light grill marks across thinly sliced French bread doesn't in any way justify calling what is essentially a grilled sandwich a panini. And for costing close to six bucks each, they were pretty skimpy. The bread slices were small and the fillings -- although delicious (fresh mozzarella is always a real treat) -- were a long way from generous. The Roma in particular could have been easily dispatched in just four bites. Both were rather soggy on the bottom as well.
The "Drunken Boat" sandwich (described as oven-roasted turkey, provolone, avocado, bacon, lettuce, tomato and mayo on wheat bread) was nicely presented, with a generous portion of turkey and bread that was fantastically textured and robust in flavor. My only gripe with it in fact was that the promised "avocado" was not avocado at all but guacamole -- which would have been okay if the guacamole had been the real thing instead of that prefab tub stuff.
The soup of the day ($1.95 a cup; $3.95 a bowl) was a decent version of minestrone with elbow macaroni, kidney beans, zucchini, carrots and sausage. It had good flavor, though the noodles were a little mushy -- a tasty and nutritious option for cash-strapped collegiate types. (Along those lines, there's also a half-sandwich and cup of soup combo for $5.95).
The coffee was stellar. Amy's Viennese exhibited perfectly velvety foam and wasn't overly sweet.
Though only a few months old, Kafka already has a lot going for it in terms of location, atmosphere, expertly drawn coffee and friendly service. Now if they'd only put more effort into the consistency and value of the food choices, this place would be something to literally write home about -- as in "Mom, Dad, I'm sick of the cafeteria food, so send money. I'll be taking all my future meals at Kafka."
Publication date: 02/13/03