In the Air Force, when you’re stationed at a base overseas, service members receive an orientation on how to comport ourselves (behave) in that country. We’re cautioned about cultural do’s and don’ts. We’re introduced to American terminology and conduct our host country members might find offensive. Above all, it’s emphasized that we are ambassadors for the United States, that our behavior reflects on our country. We’re admonished not to perpetrate the “ugly American” stereotype that some countries have about the fruited plain. If you’re not familiar with the term, here’s how Wikipedia defines it: “Ugly American” is a stereotype depicting American citizens as exhibiting loud, arrogant, demeaning, thoughtless, ignorant, and ethnocentric behavior mainly abroad, but also at home.
When my Kim and I travel under spacious skies, we see ourselves as ambassadors for the great state of New Mexico. We’re kind to wait staff and other diners at every restaurant we frequent. We engage “local indigenous personnel” (a term from MASH) in friendly conversation and express genuine interest when we ask questions about them, their restaurants and their cities. Invariably not only do we get great service, but they reciprocate our interest. Lately, however, it’s become more difficult to act like an ambassador for the Land of Enchantment. Sadly, the “Breaking Bad” stereotype of Albuquerque is pretty prevalent. What are we to say? “It’s not quite that bad.” “There isn’t quite as much meth use.” “There aren’t quite as many murders.”
No, my friends, it isn’t always easy to be an ambassador for our great state. We seem transparent when deflecting talk about meth and shootings with our attempts to sell them on our sunshine, weather and the state’s natural beauty. It was especially hard in Twin Falls, Idaho where we luxuriated in fabulous coffee from a wonderful cafe. We sat outside on the patio where we didn’t see a single down-on-their-luck person lying on the sidewalk. Not a single car drove up and down the street with a stereo blasting away at jet plane decibels. Most of the vintage buildings weren’t occupied by bars; in fact, we didn’t see any. Best of all, we didn’t see or hear any crime being committed. Passers-by were friendly, most of them lavishing lots of love on The Dude, our debonair dachshund.
Quite naturally it made us wish Albuquerque was more like Twin Falls, Idaho. As someone who’s always been proud of my home state, it’s tough for me to admit there might be better places in which to live. Even if Albuquerque was more like the panacea we wish it was, there’s still so much to love about Twin Falls (including the cascading falls for which the city is named). In fact, the only disparaging words we heard by residents with whom we speak was how much they disliked that so many Californians were moving to the state. It’s a sentiment the great people we met at Boise shared.
Elton John may have finally decided his future lies beyond the yellow brick road. We’re hoping our futures include further visits to the Yellow Brick Cafe. On an early morning when we were jonesing for a great cup of coffee, we found so much more. We found the type of coffee shop every city should have in a neighborhood every city deserves. Owner Kathy McRae and her staff invite guests to “stay a while and experience our unique seasonal fare sourced from some of Idaho’s top food and beverage producers.” As a farm-to-table exemplar, the Yellow Brick Cafe “supports local farmers, ranchers, dairies, breweries, wineries, cafe roasters and more.” They pride themselves on “having the highest quality breakfast, lunch, and weekend brunch in the Magic Valley.”
Just words? No way! It was obvious from our chat with the staff that they take farm-to-table to heart. It’s declared loudly and proudly on the cafe’s website: “Here: dishes are crafted with love and intention, DOMA coffee pumps through our veins, and cold press juice is a way of life. Here: our guests feel welcome, nourished, and want to stay for hours. Here: every employee, every guest, and fellow local businesses are part of the YBC Family. We are all in this together, so we aim to help our community and support each other in health and success.” Frankly, we were only interested in coffee when we arrived, but after luxuriating over two brimming cups of some of the best coffee we’ve ever had, we didn’t want to leave.
The coffee and tea menu is rather robust, but it’s replete with the usual suspects: espresso, Americano, cappuccino, latte, mocha, etcetera. Look to the “Drink Specials” section of the menu for the most extraordinary coffees and teas you’ve likely ever had. When you see the name of a coffee prefaced by DOMA, you’re in for coffee brewed by the DOMA Coffee Roasting Company of Post Falls, Idaho. It’s smooth, complex and absolutely the type of coffee you would want to wake up for every morning. Notes of caramel and chocolate resultant from the careful blending of select coffees from South and Central America create sheer magic.
You know you’re a native New Mexican when even the coffee you enjoy is tinged with the incomparable bite of chile…or at least something that bites back. The Hot Islander (DOMA espresso, steamed whole milk, mango, Fresno chile simple syrup) is such a coffee. It isn’t just the heat that stands out. The sweet-tangy essence of mango lends just a hint of citrus. Surprisingly (and I never notice this) the frothy steamed whole milk) not only eliminated any residual bitterness from the coffee, it actually lent a cool creaminess. This was the hottest islander since Ginger Grant (or MaryAnn if you prefer).
My Kim’s choice was the Salt-N-Pepa Caramel (DOMA Espresso, whole milk, caramel, housemade pink peppercorn simple syrup sprinkled with sea salt), one of the best cups of coffee she’s ever had. In recent years salt and caramel have been so overused as to become passé (though not as much as pumpkin spice). If every coffee tasted like this one, there should be a rebirth of the salt and pepper pairing. The only thing wrong with coffee this good is that you’re bound to finish it quickly. Not that there’s anything wrong with ordering another. Nothing at all!
The longer we lounged in front of the cafe, the more we reasoned that if the coffee is that good, the food must be great as well. In between sips, we perused the menu and decided to find out. From among the four salads, my Kim selected the ricotta beet salad (steamed beets, quinoa, candied pecans, citrus segments, pomegranate, white balsamic vinegar, olive oil, preserved lemon ricotta, arugula), a cornucopia of delicious freshness. Every element of this salad resonated with flavor and freshness. Every bite was a joy. Beets ranged in color from deep purple to light watermelon. The flavor of the beets varied too with the deep purple pieces as sweet as candy. The rich ricotta provides a wonderful foil to the acidic arugula and the pomegranate provided both a crunchy delight and a unique flavor.
“Bowls” aren’t normally “my thing,” but the six bowls on the menu invited me to try something different. My choice was called Zen Noodle (seared ahi tuna, soba noodles, snap peas, local citrus ponzu, asparagus, radish, baby carrots, roasted pistachio), perhaps because when eating the dish, you get a sense of relaxation and not worrying about things that you cannot change. Or maybe it’s because the ingredients coalesce into such a harmonious balance that every bite offers deliciousness and surprise. The variety of flavors and the freshness of ingredients makes this not only a zen dish, but one that’s bound to make you happy. Snap peas and baby carrots, in particular, are among my favorite vegetables and to have them both in one dish was a reward.
Our visit to the Yellow Brick Cafe was an unplanned surprise, but one of those surprises that turns out to be memorable. This is a cafe we’d love to have in our neighborhood.
Yellow Brick Cafe
136 Main Avenue N.
Twin Falls, Idaho
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LATEST VISIT: 5 June 2023
# OF VISITS: 1
BEST BET: Ricotta Beet Salad, Zen Noodle, The Hot Islander, Salt-N-Pepa Caramel