There’s a lot brewing

A sandwich at Pantry d'or.  

The word café always conjures up images of Paris — people poring over books with a cup of strong espresso, or catching up on the latest at quirky cafés on cobbled streets that serve as an extension of their homes. Surprisingly though, in Paris, 1,000 cafés shut down every year. Back home, however, Chennai’s independent, neighbourhood café scene seems to be growing amidst areas cluttered with popular coffee chains. A neighbourhood café — like in the popular 90s sitcom   Friends — is a place where friendships are formed, information exchanged, and where one can grab a quick bite or lounge for hours. Pop culture or not, cafés seem to be a much sought-after place in the city for business meetings or a shot of caffeine to kick-start the day.

While cafes primarily serve coffee and snacks, in Chennai, many of them also offer elaborate menus that include pasta, rice and meat. And then there are others, like The Stop in Adyar that gives people a place to play air hockey, Coffeetales in Anna Nagar that offers more than 40 varieties of Maggi noodles and Madras Square in Neelankarai which has a gallery showcasing furniture.

At the busy end of Kothari Road, stands the month-old Crisp Café (nestled above Cakewalk). Located in the heart of the city, Crisp’s exposed brick interiors, brightly painted yellow walls, framed posters of words that are marked by hashtags, chalkboard paintings of people sitting in cafés — all spell rustic. Raji K. Paul, general manager, says, “It has an old-time bakery feel to it that is very French.”

Crisp thrives on a fusion of flavours. There’s delicate red velvet pancakes, herb-crusted chicken, vegetarian paella, and for Dominique Ansel fans, the brookie, a mash-up of brownie and cookie that makes its debut in the city.

The Cake Box at Anderson Road, Nungambakkam, is another recently-opened café. It was started by Thomas Koshy, a 20-year-old student of Loyola College, who says, “Chennai lacks small hangouts and places that offer sit-outs in the open. So this came about.”

Cake Box has been designed to appeal to youngsters. There’s a painting of Bob Marley at one corner and a graffiti of radio at another. On the wall above the huge pastry counter are quirky quotes like, “I eat cake because it’s somebody’s birthday somewhere.” Thomas explains that the days of displaying the menu above the counter are passé, and instead picture windows display what the café has to offer. 

Pantry d’or, a new addition to the list of cafes in Anna Nagar opens at 8.30 a.m. to cater to joggers and early risers who are looking to move away from the ubiquitous filter coffee and start their day with a cappuccino. They have a lot of people coming in after their morning exercise routine to start their day with a platter that serves baked beans, bread, sausages, hash browns, choice of egg, juice… an entire English breakfast! Sulthana Fathima, the owner, says that she wanted to promote pastries and thought that a café attached to it would work well. The café offers a range of French pastries, freshly baked bread, and a selection of coffees, drinks and food to choose from. The whole place, stylishly done with a touch of gold and brown, sports an open kitchen with bar stools and sofas to lounge on.

With enough cafés cropping up, most places gain the loyalty of their customers due to their accessibility. Manoj Chandak, owner of Coffeetales in Anna Nagar, says 70 per cent of his customers are regulars. However, he suggests that proximity might not be the only deciding factor. “I had one customer who used to come from Neelankarai, at least three times a week for a whole year before he moved to the U.S.” In a suburb like Anna Nagar, where most people shut shop before 10 p.m., Coffetales offers a place for people to chat and lounge till well into the night.

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Printable version | Jan 28, 2022 5:11:56 AM |

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