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Coffee collective: Amocat Cafe in Tacoma brews up community in food and drink. And soon it will make wine.

Post by Sue Kidd / The News Tribune on Oct. 6, 2010 at 9:42 am | 2 Comments »
October 6, 2010 1:22 pm

The Il Manzo roast beef panini, front, and Al Capone, rear, are sandwiches made by Europa Bistro in Proctor and served at Amocat Cafe on St. Helens.

I don’t know what I like best about Amocat Café, a newer coffee house that opened in June on St. Helens.

Is it that it’s a gathering place and showcase for artists and community? Is it because it has nooks and crannies perfect for meeting friends or talking business? Is it because of the truly delicious Europa Bistro sandwiches and salads in the refrigerator case? Is it because owner Morgan Alexander intends to make and sell his own wine?

I pick all of the above.

Amocat is a full service coffee café serving light eats, beer and wine. Owner Morgan Alexander’s commitment to promoting and serving locally made food and products is evident. His tea is from Mad Hat Tea in Tacoma. The coffee comes from Valhalla. And beer comes from Washington and other Northwest breweries. And did I mention the fantastic sandwiches from Proctor’s Europa Bistro?

And if you see Europa sandwiches or salads offered at a coffee shop near you, do pick them up. They’re a bargain for the quality. I also spotted them at Clancy’s coffee over by the Washington State History Museum last week.

On my visit to Amocat, I tried Europa’s Il Manzo sandwich ($4.65), a chewy ciabatta roll encased layers of tender roast beef scented with a whisper of rosemary, a smear of cream cheese infused with rich Gorgonzola, and sweet caramelized onions. The Al Capone ($4.65) came on a rustic, chewy grilled bread and was loaded with salty prosciutto and unctuous artichoke hearts, the salty-earthy flavors glued together with mozzarella, basil and olive oil. A couscous salad ($5.75) pleased the vegetarian in our group with a healthy helping of kalamata olives, Feta cheese and sundried tomatoes, the flavors brightened by a lemon vinaigrette. A grilled chicken Caesar ($5.75) is one of those ubiquitous salads that rarely impresses, but Europa’s version is very well done for a prepackaged salad that doesn’t taste like one – crisp greens, beautifully grilled and sliced chicken breast, a Caesar dressing that popped with lemon and wafted heavy on the garlic.

The atmosphere is laid back, inviting, the space artfully appointed. Three seating areas offer different configurations for groups small and large. Funky artwork, pins, T-shirts (locally made) seem to always be for sale (just check the cafe’s Facebook page for a current inventory). In case you didn’t catch it, Amocat is Tacoma spelled backwards. Alexander has a great sense of humor; check out the logo in the window from the inside looking out.

Here’s where things could get interesting for Amocat. Owner Alexander soon will be making wine. Or he will after his license to make wine is approved. It will be too late for this year’s crush, but expect to see it by next year’s crush. I emailed Alexander a few questions about the wine he’ll make. Here’s what he said:

What kind of wine will Amocat be making?
“Amocat will focus mostly on red blends with an eye towards making new and innovating creations. We’re not interested in creating “cult” wines for $150 a bottle – although we have nothing against that! We’re more interested in creating affordable wines for everyday people.”

Where will you get your grapes?
“We use fresh picked grapes grown in Eastern Washington sourced from a variety of vineyards.”

Where will the wine be made? On site, or someplace else?
“The wine will be made on-site in very small batches – at least initially.”

Describe your winemaking processes.

“My cooking has been described as ‘mixing contents.’ I like to mix it up. I’m very interested in how different cultures use (the) same or similar spices and how some of the approaches of different cultures mesh well together – like Mexico and India for example. The same goes for my wine making – I’m interested in experimenting with techniques that are either long lost in the wine making world or come from other methods of food and beverage production. For example, I’m very interested in an old technique from Italy where the grapes are partially dehydrated before being fermented. This affects the depth and complexity of the wine and creates a totally unique flavor profile.”

Tell us about your winemaking background.
“I made my first batch about 9 years ago and was totally hooked. I had made beer previously and had been intimidated by the idea of making wine – even though I’ve always liked wine more than beer.
While I find the end result in the wine making process more mysterious than beer making, the process is far simpler. There are so many variables with making beer, you really have to stay on top of everything the entire way through. But in making wine, you are more like a shepherd guiding the grape juice on its way to completion. Aside from yeast selection and oaking, there should only be the slightest influence of the maker on the finished product – it really is about the primary ingredient – the grape.”

Amocat Café
Where: 625 St. Helens, Ave., Tacoma
Hours: 7 a.m.-3 p.m. Mondays, 7 a.m.-7 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays, 7 a.m.-8 p.m. Fridays

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