The truth of the matter is that in the large town of Tuam there is not much to choose from in the way of cafes and restaurants. When asked for recommendations of where to go for the best food and atmosphere, my advice would have been to pack some sandwiches to eat in your car. Pedros was, for a long time, the safest bet for somewhere to take the kids, until Lumberjacks Woodfired Pizza came along and offered another choice. Still very few places for a town of that size.
Fast forward a few months and some exciting new openings — things are looking up in the second largest settlement in County Galway. Gather, a new wine bar and bistro, shows early promise. There is Browne's Gastro Pub, a haven of exquisite small plates and craft beer very much deserving a visit. Best of all, follow the smell of fresh brewed coffee and across the carpark from SuperValu. Here you will find Damien Cosgrove's excellent coffee shop, Leaf and Bean.
As the good people of the town sleep soundly in their beds, Damian and his team at Leaf and Bean are hard at work to ready the shop for opening at 8am, when breakfast and the local workforce's morning coffee fix are available to eat in or take away. The coffee, served in robust glassware, is easily the best in town. There is a short but well considered hot food menu and friendly, efficient, table service. The menu is presented on clipboards and breakfasts range from simple homemade brown bread served with jam and butter or nut butter, priced at €1.95, up to the café's own twist on a classic Irish fry at €7.50. Organic porridge with a variety of toppings, buckwheat granola, buttermilk pancakes, and a range of poached egg and omelette dishes are also on offer. Smoothies and protein shakes complete the pre-noon offering.
After midday choose from salads and sandwiches with daily specials for variety. Freshly made, inventive soups such as orzo and broth top the lunch menu; no dreary cream of veg here. Sandwiches include black bean quesadilla or falafel wrap, priced at €6.95, while salads are spinach, haloumi, and chorizo, or Asian sprouted bean salad, both €7.95. Lunch specials include chicken and vegetable skewers with wild mushroom sauce, Vietnamese tofu coconut curry, or chorizo baked beans with eggs, all served with various slaws, salads, or flatbreads.
All of the bakes and scones are made in the small kitchen. Sweet treats range from the virtuous, such as sugar-free raw date and coconut energy balls, to the purely indulgent Maltesers or carrot cake. Scones range from chocolate and almond to blueberry with fresh cream and berries. There are not too many frills and fancies to speak of, just really good cafe food made fresh daily in the back, and sold with a smile at the front. Leaf and Bean is about delivering healthy, natural, food and great coffee in a relaxed and enjoyable atmosphere. All the eggs are free range and the team use direct trade coffee and organic produce wherever possible, remarkable then to note that nothing on the menu creeps over the €8 mark.
They endevour to use local Irish suppliers and source ingredients of high quality and freshness, such as Lizzy's Homemade Jam, made in nearby Caherlistrane, or Galway Goat Farm cheese from neighboring Dunmore. In return the locals in town and the surrounding areas have been quick to support the fledgling new business, open only since the beginning of September last year, and this rustic cafe has quickly become a popular meeting place and part of the community. This is the kind of place where members of the triathlon team load up on protein shakes, young families take a break from shopping over fluffy pancakes and baby-chinos, and works from local artists are exhibited on the walls.
Leaf and Bean was first in leading the charge in Tuam's culinary renaissance. If every town and village in Ireland had a cafe like this, supplying the people with freshly baked treats, hearty meals, and providing a meeting place with good coffee, then that would be a very good thing indeed. Possibly the best thing to come out of Tuam since the Saw Doctors.
Leaf & Bean Cafe, Tuam, Co Galway, www.leafandbean.ie, phone 087 618 4080, Tweet @heyleafandbean.