Virginia Woolf once wrote that “One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.” She wrote these words after eating a less than desirable meal at a women’s college, following a talk she’d given there. Her groundbreaking feminist book, A Room of One’s Own was based on a series of lectures delivered to two women’s colleges at the time.
If patrons attend an author’s talk or book signing at Books and Books, they need not suffer the same fate as poor Virginia, as there is the Books and Books Café. For writers (and readers) to have an excellent independent bookstore where one can sit, enjoy a glass of wine and eat a good meal, is literary nirvana.
Mitch Kaplan, the independent owner of Books and Books who co-founded the Miami Book Fair International, traveled around Europe collecting ideas for a café to complement his book stores. The Café at Books and Books by James Beard award winner Chef Allen, is the result of those adventures.
The atmosphere is that of a cozy library, with black granite tables, wood floors and brown leather booths situated among shelves of books. Beaded lighting fixtures hang low, illuminating the space, while framed photos of authors hang on the wall inside, a reminder of the illustrious writers who’ve graced the halls of Books and Books. There’s also seating in the open courtyard, weather permitting.
The menu is divided into: Starters, Salads, Sandwiches and Desserts. Wine, craft beer, ice tea and lemonade are also offered, as well as herbal teas and frappes. It is a simple menu with basic food, done well, with a nod to vegetarian and vegan diners. Service is professional and helpful, but not intrusive.
Unlike Virginia Woolf, whose soup was “plain gravy”, Books and Books Café offers inventive daily soups, such as the split pea with croutons ($5) enjoyed on a recent visit. The bright green creamy soup was offset by crunchy croutons, served on the side. Other examples of starters are the granny smith and aged cheddar quesadilla ($7), ceviche ($11) and egg salad with toasted ciabbatta bread ($7).
Specialty salads include the expected Cobb and Caesar, as well as the less expected version of chicken salad. Curried chicken chunks are combined with golden raisins, mango, walnuts, and cilantro and served aside couscous and organic field greens. The Asian mahi ($15) features snow peas, carrots, tomatoes and ginger, over field greens. There is also a curried tofu salad ($13) for vegan diners.
Ms. Woolf dined on a “homely trinity” of beef with greens and potatoes. Compare this to a recent daily special of a trio of pork tacos, served with creamy guacamole, crisp tortilla chips, fresh salsa and a side salad. The thick strips of juicy pork were served on fresh, warm, grilled corn tortillas and adorned with fresh cilantro sprigs.
Under Features: Books and Books Café offers a Barcelona Board (prosciutto, manchego cheese, chorizo, grapes, apple, and hummus with rosemary flat bread) possibly inspired by Kaplan’s trips abroad, for $16. It is perfect for sharing with like-minded intellectuals, after a book club meeting or girl’s night out. Other selections are Cuban sliders ($11) and a smoked salmon and brie sandwich ($12).
Instead of the “hard biscuits and cheese” Woolf endured, there are tasty hot and cold bistro-style sandwiches. On a recent visit, the prosciutto panini with sliced tomatoes, red onions, mozzarella and tapenade was enjoyed. The grilled eggplant sandwich was also a winner; however more meaty eggplant slices would have been appreciated to fill the hefty ciabatta roll. It came smeared with soft goat cheese, roasted red peppers and camelized onions and paired with a side salad, dressed lightly with a tangy, whole grain mustard vinaigrette.
The grilled mahi sandwich features a nice filet of mahi with sliced tomatoes and red onion inside and guacamole and tortilla chips on the side. The turkey sandwich includes brie, sliced pear and watercress with mango chutney, offering a twist on the standard deli fare. Cold sandwiches- tuna, roast beef and crab salad are also available.
The saddest part of Ms. Woolf’s meal may have been dessert, which should be cause for celebration, but in this case was custard and prunes, with the prunes “stringy as a miser’s heart”. One need not resort to such a gloomy end to a meal at The Café. On a recent visit, a decadent looking vegan carrot cake was served at a neighboring table to oohs and aahs. Other homemade desserts include chocolate mousse cake, lemon meringue pie, fruit tarts and chocolate cupcakes.
These are perfect for enjoying with a cup of espresso ($2.50) or cappuccino ($4.50) and discussing the latest book, author, or film. For, as Virginia Woolf noted many years ago, “the human frame being what it is, heart, body and brain mixed all together … a good dinner is of great importance to good talk.”
Books and Books Café
265 Aragon Avenue
Coral Gables, FL
Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner 7 days a week