On a recent Saturday evening, I broke out of my usual weekend routine and headed to The Coffee Bar in Parkersburg. The words “coffee bar” and “evening” in the same sentence may raise a few eyebrows, but trust me—this pairing was molto delizioso
Many of you already know The Coffee Bar for its fair trade, small batch roasted coffee that is served by trained baristas. Or maybe you’re familiar with their lunch menu – artisanal foods made completely in-house using local vendors and fresh ingredients. Now you can add fine dining to the list, and in my opinion this special needs to be a regular feature.
Owners Zak and Amy Huffman are self-professed travelers and foodies, visiting different cities and regions to check out trends in the restaurant industry. During their travel they saw coffee shops that evolve into restaurants for the evening, and thought the MOV would be receptive to such an idea. The secret was bringing the same high standards for their lunch menu to the dinner menu, without simply creating larger portions of the lunch dishes.
When Mandee Pogue (The Kitchen Wife) came on board as the dinner chef, they knew they had a winning partnership. For the evening dinners, the goal is to offer a limited menu of excellent meals instead of a multi-page menu that tries to cover every cuisine. As Zak explains, “If we are going to serve a steak, it better be the best steak that person has ever had. We have no ‘filler’ items. If it’s on our menu, it’s the best we have had of that item.”
My group visited The Coffee Bar during their special event to promote the new dining experience. Our ticket included a four course meal and a sampler of wines to complement each course. The minute we crossed the threshold, the evening felt special. The venue is understated elegance, a bit urban and comfortable at the same time. Brick walls, abstract art, dim lighting and linen clad tables all help to elevate the experience without being pretentious. The staff is friendly and attentive, even spreading our napkins for us; in a corner, videos of live musicians playing provided a hip ambience without being obnoxious.
The meal began with a choice of two appetizers—a bread and dipping trio or a charcuterie platter. We chose the platter and were treated with a wonderful selection of meats and cheeses, garlic stuffed olives, even Washington apples with local honey to drizzle. Prosciutto, summer sausage, and pepperoni were paired with fresh cheeses that included tomato basil goat cheese and a firm horseradish cheese.
The wines for the evening were provided by the Toscano In Appalachia Winery, which operates from the Point Park Marketplace. Carmine Defeo and his wife Pam were friendly and knowledgeable, and served each wine with a short explanation of its origin. Full disclosure—I am not a wine snob. If I like it, I drink it, and usually I avoid the drier red wines. Our first sample was Amore, which was both dry and red….and excellent. And that was just the beginning; each course and wine sample was as outstanding as the one before.
The salad choices were a house salad with house-made dressing or a cranberry pecan salad with house-made balsamic vinaigrette. Our group of three tried the house salad with balsamic vinaigrette, with avocado ranch, and the cranberry pecan salad. No meager side salad with the basic bland greens at The Coffee Bar – instead we enjoyed large salads of crisp mixed greens, cucumbers, and tomatoes drizzled with fresh dressing that is oh-so-much better than bottled. The wine was another red that was the perfect mate for our salads.
Gordon Ramsey himself would not be able to fault that steak.
What a tough decision for an entrée, choosing between Angus Filet Mignon, Wild Salmon Fillet and Vegetable Stir Fry. My companions had the filet mignon while I had the salmon. It’s easy to see why Zak didn’t clutter the menu with trendy exotic dishes. The filet mignon was cooked to a perfect medium, slow cooked and topped with garlic butter. Gordon Ramsey himself would not be able to fault that steak. My salmon was every bit as good, and seasoned with a blend of Cajun spice and orange marinade for a delicious piece of seafood.
Side dishes are available Ala Carte and served family style to share, so we had the Aged Cheddar and Herb Whipped Potatoes along with the Corn Casserole. The corn casserole got rave reviews, but I was too busy enjoying the potatoes to try it. I’m a bit finicky when it comes to whipped potatoes—can’t stand them too thin or too lumpy. These were just right, and I loved the extra bit of cheesiness from the aged cheddar.
I was treated to a white wine to pair with my salmon, while the beef eaters were served a red. My Tedesco Bianco was crisp and light, and definitely enhanced my enjoyment of the salmon. The Defeos use a very low amount of sulfites in their wines, so their White wines are very delicate. Pam explained that all their Red and fruit wines are totally natural with no additives.
For dessert, we ordered all three selections to share—Zak’s Favorite Brownie, Italian Affagoto and a Traditional Sundae. The brownie was a masterpiece—made from scratch with peanut butter icing, topped with vanilla ice cream, whip cream, peanut butter sauce, chocolate chips and pecans. The Italian Affagoto was doppio espresso poured over vanilla bean ice cream, and the Sundae was vanilla bean ice cream with your choice of topping. We each partook of all three desserts, and I can honestly say I couldn’t name a favorite. Each was just the right amount of cool sweetness to end a perfect meal.
Unlike many restaurants, Zak buys all his food from local businesses and farms. You won’t see him buying frozen or pre-made items from a semi-truck.
From start to finish, this dining experience was outstanding. What elevates some restaurants above others, why do some places have that “it” factor? At The Coffee Bar, the difference begins with the ingredients. Unlike many restaurants, Zak buys all his food from local businesses and farms. You won’t see him buying frozen or pre-made items from a semi-truck; in fact, until he started serving ice cream he didn’t even own a freezer. He talks the talk of shopping local and supporting small businesses and walks the walk of buying from those businesses. You’ll probably see him perusing local farmers markets in the warmer months, ensuring a menu full of fresh dishes. And when Mandee works her magic with those ingredients, the result is a delicious meal you won’t soon forget.
Apparently, our wonderful dining experience was not unique. The feedback from others who attended the event was overwhelmingly positive. Rave reviews for the food, the wine and the venue have pretty much sealed the deal—The Coffee Bar is the new dinner place in town. With a liquor license expected in July, Zak is making plans to accommodate larger crowds while keeping the standard high. The Coffee Bar is like the little black dress—able to go from day to night with class and style. And luckily for us, I think it will be in fashion for a long time.