Beat Street Coffee Co. began life as a food truck. Now it’s a sit-down restaurant offering breakfast, lunch and dinner with a slightly different name: Beat Street Coffee Co. and Bistro.
That’s a good thing for those who need their first cup of joe before their eyes are fully opened. Instead of having to pry your lids apart to find out where the vehicle’s going to be parked, you can set yourself on autopilot and head for North Main Avenue, where owner and barista Henry Leman can be found dispensing his brews alongside pastries, quiches and the like that are made by his wife, who is also one of the restaurant’s pleasant servers.
It’s also a good thing for those looking for a place to go after the sun sets for a glass or two of wine while relaxing on the restaurant’s spacious patio. I haven’t had the opportunity to enjoy the place at either time yet, but I have had dinner there twice and have come away so impressed with chef Jeff Wiley’s talents that I’m looking forward to return visits.
Wiley, who only works in the evening, has been a fixture in kitchens around town for the more than a dozen years, working for chef Jason Dady and in various venues.
For Beat Street, he has prepared a bistro menu filled with dishes that have a European foundation with an American sensibility. Right now, the selection displays largely a Spanish/Mediterranean touch, which reflects, in part, his work at Las Ramblas on the River Walk. But there were rumors afloat that French- and Italian-influenced dishes could be in the works, either when summer ends or when the chef feels like changing things up.
The menu is not so lengthy that you’ll get lost finding your way around. Small plates and salads slightly outnumber the large plates, though things might even out depending on the daily specials. Small or large didn’t matter to my friends and me on that first visit: We shared it all and managed to sample our way through about half before calling it quits.
It’s worth singling out a special that seems to be offered fairly regularly: fried branzino, which was presented whole, curving to fit the plate on which was dramatically situated. After a few momentary oohs and aahs, we descended on that in such haste that within minutes there was nothing left but bones — and those were picked over, too, including the cheek sockets for any moist morsel that might have been lurking. A side dish of Spanish papas bravas lingered only slightly longer.
Crab beignets with kernels of sweet corn were mighty good poppers with a spiky green mayo on the side, while a plate of crispy pig belly with apple, fennel, fried parsnip strips and an apple soda gastrique had the pork lovers (all of us, really) sighing in contentment. You can order the last dish without the protein, but why?
The sauce fan in the group was taken with the various examples Wiley employed, including the saffron- and garlic-based picada, a Catalan favorite, that was tossed with fideo or noodles with scallops and slivers of lamb on top.
A fresh red pepper sauce was served on favorite dish of the evening, the Chile Guero. The spicy yellow pepper was stuffed with several types of Spanish cheese and then wrapped with a thin slice of Spanish ham. It was so good, we took one taste and ordered up a second. (Interestingly enough, I had a similar cheese-stuffed chile guero later that week at Red, the restaurant in the Art Institute of San Antonio. It was OK, but it wasn’t quite up to Wiley’s example.)
On the second visit, I dined by myself, snug in one of the taller two-seat wooden tables that Leman made. I like the various heights of tables in the inviting dining space, which is covered with warm woods and bathed, during the dinner hours, in late-afternoon sunlight.
That evening began with gazpacho poured over a mound of crabmeat, avocado and tarragon. The cool soup exploded with bright, ripe tomato flavor and perhaps just a dash too much sherry vinegar, and it helped take the edge off the 100+ degrees outside.
The main course was practically perfection: a duck breast served medium rare with the slightest crisp edge to the skin on top. It was served over a cherry port sauce, and my first bite led me to think the dish would be too sweet for my tastes. But Wiley saw to that by serving it with a delightfully bitter mix of mustard greens in a confit seasoned with whole mustard seeds and earthy pancetta. Tart, freshly pickled Bing cherries and a velvety soubise, or onion sauce, finished off the plate. One drawback for some that I could see would be the size of the portion, which was on the smaller side and served without any bread on the side.
The two desserts — a chocolate pot de crème with strawberries and toasted coconut and an almond chai panna cotta — offer a robust ending to your meal. The chocolate had a slight edge, but only because the panna cotta we sampled on the first visit had a little too much gelatin, thereby lacking the silky sensuousness that makes it such a favorite.
To look at it one way, Beat Street Coffee Co. and Bistro is several separate places fused into one location: coffee house in the morning, soup and sandwich shop at lunch, and bistro in the evening, not to mention a late-evening place to gather. Yet, it can also be seen as a business that knows the needs of its clients at various points in the day and transforms itself into what it needs to be. For those looking for some exciting European flavors, then dinner is the time to check it out.
Beat Street Coffee Co. and Bistro
2512 N. Main Ave.
Breakfast, lunch, dinner: Tuesday-Saturday