CHOW HOUND: Melon Bean Eatery
Imagination and creativity help in the hardscrabble restaurant industry, and Melon Bean Eatery - which opened on Buffalo Road in late January - taps both with a special marketing target not usually seen in coffee shops: kids. Owner Andrea Hughes is proud of the fact that this isn't "your Park Ave coffee shop," she says, and credits her strong sense of family as the reason why. Hughes even combined her two girls' nicknames to create a cozy yet whimsical moniker.
Tucked near an industrial section near Gates Center, Melon Bean certainly has the look and feel of a Park Avenue café - brightly colored ceiling and walls, framed pictures, interesting coffee selections, and a wide variety of sandwiches. What sets it apart is its dedication to the younger crowd, with a play area and a special kids menu featuring, among other things, crustless "sammies." There are special nights to replicate the activities Hughes and her husband do with their kids at home - Fridays are craft nights, for instance.
Hughes decided to go family-friendly because when her kids went out to eat, they only wanted to go to a few select places - strictly for the balloons. With her eatery, she wanted to serve healthier options, and still have it be fun for the kids, yet relaxing and enjoyable for the parents.
Before those of you without kids write Melon Bean off - as a person who isn't normally drawn to places that cater to kids, I had a slight shudder as well - the business does a great job of making those of us without little ones feel at home too. The kids' area is nicely sectioned off, providing a slight sound barrier. Plus, the kids are kept occupied, which means less fussing, so you can enjoy your coffee.
The pricing is economical, with all sandwiches under $6, kids' sandwiches less than $4. Menu ideas came from tinkering this past year in the kitchen and testing the sandwiches out on friends and family. The ham, pineapple, and cream cheese panini came close to fabulous; slightly warming the pineapple and cream cheese made the flavors burst. We also tried a regular turkey sandwich, which was a healthy and filling option. The salsa and hummus are homemade, begging us for a return visit.
Hughes already has ideas on how to further develop Melon Bean, including a potential story time option. We were impressed by the consistently upbeat attention given to the customers, from the friendly welcome, to asking how we enjoyed our meal. It's not Park Ave, but a return visit is sure to be in my future.
Melon Bean Eatery is located at 1308 Buffalo Road, and open Monday-Saturday, 7 a.m.-8 p.m. For more information call 235-2940.