Lake Country Escapades: Cool Beans Espressos offers great coffee and great food

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By: Loren Shaum

Loren Shaum

Located in a renovated garage on Huntington Street just south of beautiful downtown Syracuse, Cool Beans Espressos offers, arguably, the widest range of coffees, mochas and lattes in all of Lake Country. Owned since Jan. 1, 2012, by Tina and Jake Harlan (and using Tina’s many years of experience with the previous owner) the Harlan’s have made this quaint coffee shop/restaurant a local go-to place for coffees, teas, unusual drinks, breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Drinks for everyone

Cool Beans serves a medium roast coffee from Drowning Goat (offered as regular or decaf) and a deep roast from Sumatra. They mix and match any number of customer selected ingredients for any coffee, mocha, latte, macchiato or cappuccino. Plus, there is a different coffee special each week from a different origin. For example, over the holidays Cool Beans offered Kona coffee from Hawaii in bulk or by the cup.

There are at least 25 different mochas and lattes available in the restaurant or via the drive-through window. “Many coffees offered will change based on seasonal ingredients,” said Tina Harlan. Cool Beans uses a French press to force the coffee to concentrate, offering coffee in its purest form.

The Americano is an espresso that you can get iced, and as strong as you want. Using cool names like red eye, black eye and dead eye, you can get one, two or three shots respectively.

Summer favorites include flavored iced lattes and ever-changing flavored teas. They also offer various fruit smoothies.

Great breakfast

Using clever, local names such as Hungary Warrior (A nickname for Wawasee High School), Lakes Edge and Syracuse Sammy, the restaurant offers six egg dishes ranging from a three egg omelet to a breakfast burrito. The most popular is the Lakes Edge. This beast of a meal, often ordered by my grandson, consists of two eggs prepared your way, choice of meat (sausage, ham or bacon), hash browns (order them extra crispy) and toast. It’s too large for me so I got the down-sized version from the kids menu, called Cool Beans Round-up. It’s about a half of a portion and only one egg.

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Also highly popular is the house-made biscuits and gravy. A full order is a monster plate of four biscuits slathered generously with thick, pork-sausage infused gravy. I recommend a half serving!

House-made buttermilk pancakes are also a staple and simply the best in the area. During the warmer months, Cool Beans serves their one-of-a-kind, wild huckleberry pancakes. Their huckleberry source provides these delicious, plump berries starting in early April. You can get various fresh, seasonal pancake flavors including apple, apple-pecan, pumpkin, blueberry and strawberry.

Another favorite item for us is the Bam Bam French Toast or served just as a slice of toast from the kids menu. This thick slice of cinnamon swirl bread is delicious either way, but especially good as French toast.

You can also build your own à la carte breakfast from the sides.

Lunch came later

In 2013, Cool Beans initiated their lunch menu. Since then it has grown to include eight paninis, four different sandwiches (no burgers), three wraps and a huge chef salad where you can select your ingredients from a list. Also offered are a vegetable only panini and a vegetable wrap.

Customer favorites are the chicken bacon ranch panini and its equivalent version in a wrap, but I opted for the ham and cheese grilled sandwich. This sandwich was enough for two. Nicely grilled between two Texas toast bread slices, it was clearly a quarter-inch thick ham slice (the menu says shaved ham, but this thick slab of goodness was definitely a keeper on this cold winter day) with perfectly melted Swiss and cheddar cheeses. You can choose any number of vegetable condiments for a small price addition. I chose tomato, onion and lettuce. The vegetables were lightly warmed during the grilling process, but the lettuce still retained a nice crunch. This sandwich was so juicy and tasty it needed nothing else.

The same menu applies for dinner and is also available for carry-out.

Home made soups

Tina has recipes for a wide variety of soups, of which two types are offered each day. The day I was there, they had chicken pot pie soup and the highly popular white cheddar poblano soup. Having had the latter, I went on the wild side with the chicken pot pie soup, and it did not disappoint. Thick and creamy sauce with large chunks of chicken and vegetables, this soup was seasoned perfectly. The only thing missing was peas.

When offered, Tina’s chili sells fast, so you need to get there early. Using the traditional ingredients of ground beef, vegetables and kidney beans in a tomato-based stock, I’ll have to get back to sample it.

Sourcing locally

Cool Beans incorporates as many local ingredients as possible often changing the menu seasonally. Fresh, locally grown spinach is one ingredient used in specials for both lunch and dinner and breakfast. They frequently purchase from farmers at Syracuse Artisans and Farmers Market during the warmer months, as well as other local venues. Several of these exceptional farmers are featured in my book: “Farmers in Lake Country.”

Rise ‘n Roll Bakery in Middlebury provides breads and cinnamon rolls. Cool Beans offered their splendid pastries until Rise ‘n Roll moved to franchising.

It’s a Family Affair

Besides local ingredients, Cool Beans works hard to employ local teens from Wawasee, Fairfield and West Noble high schools, offering job opportunities they might otherwise not have. They employ seven full-time employees including chefs Wendi, Kerri and Jose. Five more are part-time.

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The restaurant is truly a family affair. Of the Harlan’s seven children (the oldest is a graduate student in biology at Cornell), five have been active in the restaurant. The youngest, at age 3, is a favorite around the restaurant and is often greeting frequent customers he recognizes.

Hours are from 5:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday to Friday; from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday; and from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. Breakfast is served until noon on all days except Sunday, where they have extended breakfast until 1 p.m.

Anyone wanting simple quality with daily variations should consider a road trip into Lake Country to try this gem. In the summer, they will even open the garage door so you can enjoy a nice summer breeze while sipping on an iced latte.

 

For more dispatches from the dining scene in Kosciusko County from Loren Shaum, subscribe to the Lake Country Escapades email newsletter.
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