Café Coco is an eclectic (in the truest sense of the word) coffee shop and restaurant in midtown Nashville, typically brimming with hippies and Vanderbilt students at all hours of the night and day. The shop is open 24 hours, so you never quite know what you're going to get when you walk in.
Since Cafe Coco is a very unique place, we thought we'd share with you our first encounters with the shop.
L:. I'm pretty sure it was semi-late on a Friday night during my very first semester in college, and I went with my roommate, who was and is admittedly much more free-spirited and artsy than I am. All I remember is it being very crowded, very dark, and I was huddled in a doorway in the glow of neon lights wondering what kind of Oz I had just stepped into.
E: My first Coco encounter was in high school. I claim Nashville, but really I was a suburbs kid and my friends were suburbs kids. We rarely ventured "downtown," but I had one friend who would constantly attempt to make us more "cultured." One such attempt began at Café Coco. We suburbanite youth-group kids had never before encountered hippies in real life (this was pre-hipster. Though, the usual group at Coco are probably more hippie than hipster even today). It was definitely a cultural experience.
The shop is located off Elliston Place in an old house with a huge front porch/garden area. Eclectic is really the only word that comes to mind. Glass top tables are decorated [term used loosely] with business cards, menus, movie tickets, and whatever else patrons had in their pockets.
Café Coco is not the most intuitive coffee shop. At least one person asked us where to order. The cool thing about Coco, though, is that they realize it isn't easy. Therefore, they provide signage with instructions. Lots of signage. Like this one, which greets you as you walk in:
Here are some other tips from our experiences:
Parking. There is metered parking on the streets nearby, which you can use for free outside of business hours. You can park in the lot beside the shop, but be sure to pay the $2.
SIDEBAR by Laura: I did not notice this requirement until about halfway through our visit when Elizabeth mentioned she parked on the street because it was free. Threatened by a photo of a tire with a boot clamped onto it posted near the entrance, (a photo I had NOT noticed previously) we figured I should go rectify the situation. I trudged out through the [sprinkling] rain to the pay station, where I was met with a giant metal box with numbered slots in it. According to the directions, I was expected to perform manual labor like FOLD DOLLAR BILLS and SHOVE THEM IN A SLOT with a "bill pusher." Who do they think I am? I thought. Why can I not slide my card like a normal American? This is so degrading.
Elizabeth, being paranoid about all city parking and towing, parked on State Street. It almost always has spaces and is less than a block from Café Coco.
Another thing: Café Coco does not take cards for orders less than $10. They do have an ATM, which is fee-free for up to $20, but your bank may charge. Just a heads-up.
Overall the shop is in dire need of more information. We had so many questions, and very few of them were answered, despite what seemed like hundreds of chalkboards posted around the shop and the five-page menu. So maybe it wasn't in need of more information, so much as different information. Answers to questions like, what kind of cookies are these? Do you have chai tea? How much is the gelato? Are these bananas gluten-free? I mean WE NEED TO KNOW.
The shop was packed, even on a Sunday afternoon. Despite this, there was only one barista/bartender on duty. To be fair, they warned us on the sign (pictured above) that there is often only one barista on duty, so you can expect a wait. But why not just go all in and employ another person? We're asking.
This meant the barista had to run the cash register, take food orders and make drinks. And let us tell you, they should not have split her focus.
We had to abandon the fedora count on account of this not really being a "fedora" kind of crowd [In fairness, there was one fedora, but it was worn by a woman and looked like it was from Target, so it doesn't count]. We decided to go with a dreadlock count instead.
Dreadlock count: 1
Café Coco has a full menu--breakfast, lunch, dinner, beer, and coffee--that we think they serve all 24-hours they're open, but that was not abundantly clear. Elizabeth has tried several items and can recommend pretty much all the things she's had. The Turkey Rockefeller is one of their famous hot sandwiches; it has turkey and melted swiss, covered with spinach artichoke dip, and loaded onto a croissant. It's super healthy. You can get a frequent buyer card for many things at Café Coco, the Rockefeller being one. Tenth one is free! [Centennial Hospital, known to be Nashville's leading cardiology hospital, is nearby.]
E: I ordered the iced chai latte, which was not on any of the menus/chalkboards I read (two things you should know: 1. I read almost everything I can. 2. I was in line for a while--plenty of time for reading). I just risked judgment and shunning and asked if they happened to have a popular beverage. The bartender/barista acted as if there was a chalkboard devoted to chai lattes alone [there was not.]--of course they served them.
It was delicious. The taste was a little different, but I couldn't put my finger on what, exactly, the difference was. There was maybe a citrus tone? With hints of a Nashville sunset in the Spring. [In case you didn't realize--and I don't blame you--that was my "Wine Taster" impression.]
I liked it and it was only $2.50. I may have to stop in more often.
Tea Taste Rating: 9
L: I ordered a 12 oz vanilla latte with almond milk and two shots of espresso. I had to risk judgement as well to ask for almond milk, but I was fairly certain I had heard a drink order called earlier containing almond milk.What I learned between this experience and my drink at Barista Parlor was that it turns out I don't actually like almond milk in my lattes. I like it in my cereal and poured into my coffee, but not in lattes.
This latte tasted a lot less like creamy, slightly sweetened coffee goodness and more like burned almonds mashed into a pulp, then strained into a cup. Then frothed. I'm fairly certain there was no vanilla to be found.
Latte taste rating: 2
Basically, we both ordered from the Secret Menu, which we didn't know existed. We're just that good.
L: I also chose a giant chocolate chip cookie to enjoy, but when I got it back to my table it ended up being oatmeal raisin. Heavy on the raisins. Now, I don't mind oatmeal raisin. I actually like it. But for many people in the world, this would have been a travesty of international proportions. I would like to remind you that this incident COULD have been avoided if there were SIGNS indicating what each baked good was.
Cookie deliciousness rating: 9
Latte art grade: negative a billion. Just look at it:
The cups at Cafe Coco, you will notice, were not branded, but rather manufactured by Dixie. Not good for Instagram purposes.
Service was okay, but not fantastic. See previously mentioned one-barista rule. The woman who was working was nice enough, but not overtly cheery or friendly. And it took a solid five minutes or so to make my drink. Usually not a problem if someone else is running the register, but we could sense the judgement glares on the backs of our necks from the guy behind us, who was likely already judging us for ordering from the Secret Menu with absolutely no confidence and for taking pictures at a decidedly non-touristy location. We're considering getting T-shirts that say "it's cool; we're bloggers."
Disheveled facial hair count: pretty much everyone. Bedhead is part of the uniform.
It should be noted that we were at Café Coco on a Sunday afternoon this time. There were several people there decidedly not in the hippie genre. That is usually the case. Café Coco is one of the best people-watching places in Nashville because of the variety of patrons.
Level of uncomfortableness upon walking in: 5
Level of pretentiousness: 8. A different kind of pretentiousness than Barista Parlor, but the "you get what you get and you will like it" attitude of this shop definitely translates to pretension.
Despite the pretentiousness and the lack of information, Café Coco is still one of Elizabeth's favorite places in Nashville. The food is good and fairly inexpensive, as well as the drinks. The porch is a lovely place to sit when the weather is nice. We will provide snarky commentary for any establishment, but we still recommend this one. Just ask a lot of questions.
Have you been to Cafe Coco? Have you ever eaten a sandwich with spinach artichoke dip on a croissant and lived to tell the tale? Start from the beginning and don't leave anything out.