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Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013

Clever Name, Good Soul Food

Breakfast and lunch at Coffee Makes You Black

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If Bradley Thurman’s objective in naming his eatery Coffee Makes You Black was to elicit a chuckle from patrons, mission accomplished. It’s a hoot of a name. But jokes, however amusing they may be (how would coffee make anyone black?), don’t make a sound basis for a restaurant’s success.

Fortunately, CMYB has more going for it than its moniker. The outside atmosphere and interior ambiance are a study in contrast. The former has all the imposing formality of the bank the building once was, the gray Roman columns only interrupted by an almost inconspicuously small lighted sign with stylized logo. Inside lies an invitingly airy space with tables and chairs (black, of course), none too close to each other on a light tile floor. Photographic portraiture of notable African Americans, from President Obama to Muhammad Ali, adorns the higher reaches of the walls, while bookshelves chocked with an eclectic selection of reading material (with some emphasis on history and spirituality) take up a good share of the lower wall space.

Background music runs a gamut from The Last Poets’ militant proto-rap to current adult R&B and fusion jazz, with hometown hero Al Jarreau’s mellifluous jazziness making an occasional welcome appearance as well. Some of the furniture gets moved the first Friday of every month for live jazz, giving CMYB a connection to coffee houses of the ’50s by providing a space for local musical culture.        

Funny thing is, though, that CMYB isn’t primarily a coffee house by the strictest definition. A variety of sandwiches may be had, but unique iterations of soul food entrées leaning toward traditional breakfast fare make an indelible mark on the menu.

Fish may not be many people’s first pick for morning protein, but those people may never have had salmon croquettes ($3.50) to start their day. CMYB’s rendition of the dish consists of pink salmon cakes mixed with flecks of veggies, a velvety inner texture complementing a heavenly outer crispiness. Order it with grits—pleasantly filling with a bit of butter and hot sauce on that starchy Southern staple.

Looking at other patrons, it was difficult not to spy the chicken and waffle combo ($7.91) some were munching. Ordering it on a subsequent visit proved worthwhile. CMYB offers a genteel version of the dish popularized with whole pieces of fried fowl, here with two sizable, slightly spicily breaded white meat tenders placed atop a deep-pocketed Belgian pastry taking up most of the plate. Pour some syrup (or honey) on the bottom element, daub some of that most versatile condiment—hot sauce—on the meat above it, and a nigh-intoxicating amalgam of tastes and textures ensues.

The coffee? Made from Colectivo beans, it’s a rich, mellow brew with just a touch of bite, making cream almost redundant.

Save for later Friday hours to accommodate a fish fry and live music, CMYB’s hours are geared more toward breakfast and lunch.

 

Coffee Makes You Black

2803 N. Teutonia Ave.

414-562-5225

$-$$

Handicap Access: Yes (through kitchen entrance)