My favorite local restaurant is The Cafe, a restaurant that manages to be several things at once. The restaurant has its own bakery that produces amazing breads – baguettes, ciabatta, sourdoughs, etc. – and stunning desserts. The kitchen also makes their own sausages and cured meats and focuses on using local produce and ingredients whenever possible. They have a few menu staples and recurring dishes, but most of the menu rotates about every 6-8 weeks and is usually supplemented by a daily omelet, a couple of soups, and a special or two.
When The Cafe opened in 2003, there was nothing else quite like it in Ames (that’s still true). I first ate there not long after it opened and immediately fell in love. It’s got a funky decorating style heavy on cork (on the walls and tabletops) and an eclectic music selection that jumps from The Beatles to Nora Jones. To date I’ve never had a bad meal there – I’ve had questionable service a couple of times and I’ve had dishes that I didn’t particularly care for (sometimes you’re going to try something new and not like it, especially since I love to try new things), but the food has always been properly prepared and well executed. Like most regulars, I have my favorites, during the winter they serve a killer mac and cheese (which surprises me because unlike most people I have never really liked mac and cheese) and during the spring they have an unbeatable rhubarb crisp served with homemade ice cream. I don’t usually order dessert when eating out – at most restaurants dessert isn’t much of a priority – but I always save room for dessert at The Cafe, as does almost everyone I know.
Last year I had an opportunity to follow around The Cafe’s head pastry chef, Amanda (she’s since left for another position), to photograph what happens behind the scenes. I went on a Friday morning because that’s the day that the pastry department finishes the minis (small, intricate desserts) for the weekend service. On weekends The Cafe serves more varieties of desserts (they usually have maybe 8 or 9 desserts, but on weekends they crank it up to about a dozen). This usually includes a few mousse cakes, a creme brulee, a couple layer cakes, a few cheesecakes, maybe a bread pudding or tiramisu, and maybe a parfait.
Amanda showed me how they keep their recipes, ingredients, and space organized. After I was done photographing that day I sorted through my photos and put together the slideshow below. If you happen to be in Ames I suggest checking out The Cafe and definately leave room for dessert. I have their website listed with my links and they always host a current version of the menu, so check it out.