Nancy Williams' first foray into the restaurant business is the 7-month-old paean to European coffee and healthy eating, The Cup, located in part of the old Bluebonnet Bakery space along Camp Bowie Boulevard.
You want to like The Cup. You really do. With a dearth of locally owned coffeehouses, many of us gravitate to the Ubiquitous Chain Coffee Place merely by default. What's more, here you can actually order a cup of coffee made from Italian beans as a "large" rather than a "venti." Ah, the irony of it all.
There's much to like about The Cup. From the homey black-and-white checkerboard floor to its handsome red patent coffee bar, the space is appealing if a little stark. Winter-themed glass ornaments hang from the ceiling and coffee-shop art from the walls. A single couch occupies a third of the indoor dining space, but out back, Williams has a nice patio area for the warm-weather months, when the only thing that will do is a good iced latte.
The morning we visited was one of those rare winter days. Rain persisted so we stayed inside and ordered a breakfast sandwich ($4.25), a carrot muffin ($2.50), an energy bar ($1), a small cappuccino ($3.75) and a large drip coffee ($2.49).
Williams says that clientele from the exercise studio next door love the energy bars, and I can see why. Filled with dried fruit, oats and what looks like flax seeds, the bars are soft-cookie-like in appearance and taste. About the size of a deck of cards, one bar was not filling enough on its own, so I moved on to the carrot muffin, made in-house. The muffin's top was dark in color as though it had spent a minute or two too many in the oven, and the insides agreed. Although it was studded with shredded carrots and had a nice mixture of spices, plus chopped walnuts, it was dry.
The sandwich was an interesting amalgam of flavors: egg, rosemary, ham and Gruyere cheese wedged in between two discs of cinnamon apple flatbread. But the ham was slightly too overpowering, rendering the rest of the ingredients almost mute. A little salt could have amplified everything in a good way.
Interestingly, the lack of salt was an issue on another visit. This time, I stopped in for a quick weekend midafternoon bite. With nearly two hours until closing time, I walked into an empty store and employees were cleaning up. The smell of cleaning solution is not a good preamble to a meal in my book, but I was hungry so I ordered a cup of tortilla soup ($3.50) and the vegetarian panini ($6.75). The soup was a miss: Although it was advertised as having no tortilla (chips) in it, what remained was a hearty/heady mix of barley, tomatoes, onions and dark-meat chicken. Although it smelled great, the broth needed seasoning. The rest of the ingredients made for a mushy nonstarter of a meal.
The panini was better. Sun-dried tomatoes, artichoke hearts, spinach, Parm and Gruyere melded together between two small slices of Pugliese bread, which is similar to ciabatta. It was a solid sandwich, but tiny (slightly bigger than palm-sized). A small cup of bean salad was an idiosyncratic complement: black beans, black-eyed peas and corn commingled in a vinaigrette quite nicely.
The Cup's coffee is the standout here, as it should be. My cappuccino was a near-work of art with its frothy foam, and on many other visits, we've enjoyed the standard drip coffee.
It's obvious near-west side residents seem to love The Cup. (Who doesn't love a neighborhood coffee shop?) What it may lack in stellar food, it makes up for in its very existence. I'll drink to that.