Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Coffee Zone, a.k.a. Yanis Coffee Zone

Yanis Coffee Zone, up on High Street, is one of the many downtown lunch spots frequented by State Workers. It’s been here since 2003 and has quickly become a favorite spot with its good coffees, fresh food, free wireless Internet (first in JC to offer it), and charming proprietor.

Its billing as a “Mediterranean Grill and Coffee House” pretty much tells you what to expect: It’s not a trendy-smooth contemporary Starbuck’s-type place; instead, it’s got that Mediterranean–Middle Eastern feel of sincere hospitality. The owner’s personality flavors the ambience, not some highly paid, big-city, commercial-interior-decorating firm.

And, of course, the word “grill” tips you off that real food is served, in addition to the standard coffeehouse coffees and other beverages you’d expect (espresso drinks, Italian sodas, teas, chai, and so on). The house drink is something called “Rocket Fuel,” which I want to try at least once, but probably shouldn’t make a habit of. I suspect I have what you’d call an “addictive personality,” so I should just avoid it.

In the past few months, I’ve discovered Yanis’s Turkish coffee, which, like most traditional Middle Eastern coffees, is unfiltered and always ends up with the sludgy grounds at the bottom of the cup (anyone want to read my coffee grounds? it’s a form of divination, you know). This Turkish coffee is best, I think, when you order it with a bit of sugar, which brings out the sweetness of the cardamom and whatever other secret spices it has.

Additionally, there are lots of miscellaneous bakery items—cheesecakes, brownies, bagels, muffins, scones—as well as baklava, basma, and rugalach. You’re probably beginning to suspect that Taisir Yanis, the owner, is Greek.

You are wrong! He is Jordanian, and this summer he gained his U.S. citizenship. There is a video clip on the Coffee Zone’s Web site of him reciting the lyrics to “I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy” in celebration of the event. It is pretty funny.

This has been a big summer for him, as he has expanded his restaurant’s kitchen and thus its food offerings. Until now, most of the offerings (beyond bakery goods) have been salads and sandwiches served on a pita, from the gyro to the roast beef to the falafel. There’s also hummus and spinach pie. That sort of stuff.

But now they’re serving full breakfasts—omelets, wraps—including a feta omelet with onion and parsley that comes with a pita, in addition to the bakery goods.

And they’ve expanded their sandwiches, salads, and sides and now also include Mediterranean pizzas, available with Zatar spread and ingredients like gyro meat, feta, tomatoes, olives, and so forth.

Most recently I’ve been coming to the Coffee Zone to enjoy the “Yanis Sandwich,” which has about all the most typical Mediterranean food items on it: lettuce, onions, tomato, gyro meat, falafel, and hummus. (Okay, no feta, but I’m sure you could get it added.)

In some ways, it’s about what you’d expect on such a sandwich, but at the Coffee Zone, it’s all done a little bit better. The slices of gyro meat are a little bit thicker. The hummus is fresh (I’m pretty sure) and very creamy and mild. The falafel is like none I’ve had before, in both flavor and crumbly, light texture—it must be homemade, too. The slivers of red onions have been doctored up with spices—Yanis tried to tell me that it was a “secret blend,” but he did acknowledge, when I pressed him, that indeed sumac powder was involved and that it was a blend of five ingredients.

I’m not quite a “regular” yet, but I’ve enjoyed myself each time. The serving staff, even the local teens who work there, are generally friendly and cordial. And Yanis is downright gracious; his smiles are broad and genuine, and he addresses his customers as “My Friend.” The music playing in the restaurant is an almost wildly eclectic mix of genres—I think it’s his own iPod collection of jazz, country, rock, Middle Eastern, and swing.

I feel comfortable when I’m there, like I’m at a friend’s house. Such things mean a lot to me when I eat out.

Both my thumbs are up: Go, man, go!

Yanis Coffee Zone on Urbanspoon


Anonymous said...

Julie, you sold me! Let's hit this place next time I'm in town!!! -Paul

Merry@St. Louis said...

Hi, I have put a link to this review on my blog item on Merry@St. Louis about Yanis Coffee Zone. I hope that is OK, but if not please let me know at merry.st.louis@gmail.com. I love your blog.

Julie said...

Thank you for your kind words, and I appreciate the link. As of October '09, I still feel new to this blogging thing, as well as to publicly reviewing restaurants. Thanks again.

Taisir said...

hi ..this is taisir yanis owner of yanis coffee zone my friend just send this link ...i love it ..thank you sooooooo much for a great blog ..and next time you come to the shop its my treat ...just to say thank you

Julianna Schroeder said...

Thank you, Taisir, though you have to know I don't write these things so I can get free food! I meant every word I said!