Cafe Hey is the restaurant version of Pretty in Pink. It is my Andie Walsh. Inside the little shack, located right near 275 in West Tampa, a bevy of vegan coffee, baked goods, soups, salads, vegan sandwiches and breakfast items are slung together with ease. The restaurant walls are made of exposed brick that is worn and faded from years of sun exposure. These walls are covered with local art, music posters, murals and signs celebrating the regional foods that supply the business. Cafe Hey’s bathroom is one of the quirkiest that I’ve come across in the Tampa area. I love that the kitchen, at least the part that I could see from my seat, had writing on the wall. I’m not sure what it said but I imagined some sort of mad scientist chef in the kitchen at night jotting his recipes there in finely printed ink so that the daytime employees could easily find them. All of these factors work together to make Cafe Hey the kind of charming little place that is easy to fall in love with. The only problem is, the Andie Walsh effect. It is located on the wrong side of the tracks.
Instead of being surrounded by the fabulous parks and museums of downtown Tampa, Cafe Hey is a short walk (or long one if it is cold and windy) away in Tampa Heights. It is in a part of town that scares the bejesus out of some people because of how close it is to “vagrants” and “borderline unsafe” neighborhoods. Because of the location, every time I try to profess my love for Cafe Hey and plan an intimate visit, I am met with resistance from those nearest and dearest to me. Things like “if you want your piece of low grade vegan food, fine, take it, but you won’t have friends” or “if you’ve got a hard on for trash, don’t take care of it around us” roll of their tongues with ease. For years, this put me in a tough bind. I listened to them and dated only those restaurants on the right side of the tracks. I acted like everything was cool. But deep down, I felt empty. Finally, I grew the courage to tell my pals that I was crossing the tracks and they could come with me or stay behind. Only my wife and daughter rolled along. Imagine trying to start a revolution with only your wife and kid…
On our first visit to Cafe Hey the three of us set up shop right by the huge window that looks out on the street. It was chilly so both J-Fur and I ordered some hot drinks. I went with a specialty coffee (I can’t remember which one) with almond milk while she slammed the hot chocolate. Not being a huge coffee fan, I had hoped that whatever I ordered didn’t taste much like coffee. Unfortunately, it did. It warmed me well enough but it wasn’t as tasty as a bunch of sugar and almond milk would’ve been. J-Fur was pretty giddy over her hot chocolate.
J-Fur and I ordered sandwiches for the two of us, I went with the VLT and she ordered the Hummus and Veggies sandwich. For the little one, who was on a bit of an oatmeal binge at the time, we purchased a huge bowl of oatmeal with maple syrup.
J-Fur’s sandwich came out first. It was covered with hummus, pressed and included shredded carrots, cucumber, tomato and lettuce. The carrots and cucumbers were fresh and crisp. They paired nicely with the hummus and pressed Cuban bread. I wasn’t a big fan of the hummus, felt like it didn’t have much taste, but J-Fur was pleased with the outcome. Our daughter also seemed delighted by it though you could put hummus on a boot and she would probably enjoy the taste. That is how much of a hummus fiend she is.
J-Fur’s Hummus and Veggie
Cafe Hey’s VLT features Light Life bacon, lettuce, cabbage, tomato and Veganaise. It is served on Cuban bread from La Segunda Central Bakery in Ybor. I wasn’t expecting the sandwich to be amazing, I’ve done VLTs at home a number of times and have never reached anything more than pretty good status. But it only took me one bite of Cafe Hey’s version to realize that it was leaps and bounds better than any I had made at home. The pressed Cuban bread was nice and crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. The Veganaise just sort of melted into the bread making it impossible to tell one from the other. The lettuce, bacon, cabbage and tomato injected a speed metal jolt of juicy, salty, crispy and chewy into each bite. The sum of all those tastes? A sandwich that on the surface seemed so simple tasted absolutely divine.
The oatmeal was….well, oatmeal. There was nothing earth shattering about it.
Overall, I really enjoyed my first visit to Cafe Hey. The prices are a bit steep so it won’t be a place I can frequent too often. But now that I’ve crossed the tracks and shed some of those not so supportive friends, Cafe Hey and I will definitely see each other again. I hope to visit to try out some of their specialty events. I’m particularly eyeing the Not Just for Omnivores Brunch which takes place on the last Sunday of each month.
One last thing, if you are into quality service and people that are willing to wait on your every beckon and call, this place probably isn’t for you. They are very laid back and, for the most part, let you do things for yourself.
My trip to Cafe Hey was soundtracked by the old times tune “My Grandfather Could Make the World Dance” by Spencer Berger (aka Auditorium). Spencer spent the ages 9-12 performing on stage with a number of “large, sweaty, golden-throated dudes like Luciano Pavarotti and Placido Domingo in front of thousands”. Nowadays, Spencer’s auditorium of choice is his bedroom. His audience? Old He-Man action figures. While Spencer says it’s not quite as grand, he is thankful that it doesn’t induce nearly as much perspiration.