Monkeez Brew offers new choice in T-ville

by Dave Roberts

“I’m going to kill Kenny.”

Those were the words flashing through my mind as I stepped inside the subject of this week’s column, Monkeez Brew. From the name I had thought, as no doubt did our graphic designer who suggested this place, that it was a bar and grill. Instead, it’s the coffee kind of brew, and it’s not a particularly big place either. But we’re already here in Thomasville after a half-hour drive and I’m starving, so Danny, our photographer, and I head over to the counter to see what’s on the menu.

Located in what makes up the downtown area of T-ville, on the same block as a natural foods store and across from “the big chair” (which is exactly what it sounds like: a gigantic Duncan Phyfe upon which Paul Bunyan might sit comfortably), Monkeez is attempting to inject a bit of an upscale aesthetic into the neighborhood, according to a clipped-out newspaper article displayed prominently on the wall. To that end, the décor screams tasteful at an earsplitting pitch: simple but elegant high-polished, cherry-colored wooden tables and chairs; thatched fans hanging overhead; pebbled glass vases with sunflowers. It has all the trappings of a yuppie coffee bar except the yuppies.

They’ve been open less than a month and the lady behind the counter tells us business has been great. They’ve cornered a niche market. On one of the racks behind her, next to bottles of flavored syrup, sits a trophy for Best Chili, won in a recent cook-off. It’s not on the menu, but hoping to find something worth writing about I ask if they have any. It was all eaten yesterday.

I don’t drink coffee, never had a taste for it, and yet I’m attempting to review a coffee bar. Since I wouldn’t know good coffee from filter squeezings, rather than stab blindly at the teeming host of java-based options handwritten on the board above I order a hot chocolate instead, along with a panini-style turkey sandwich. Danny orders a grilled cheese. We sit at one of the round tables. I take notes while he takes pictures. The barista brings our sandwiches over and, our expectations lowered by the discovery that it’s not really a restaurant, we’re pleasantly surprised. The turkey is moist and flavorful, and the crunch of the pressed and grilled bread adds a delightful texture. Danny, who was expecting some Velveeta between two slices of white, remarks that this is a pretty good meal for two bucks. While mine is slightly more expensive, I can’t help but concur. The sandwiches, with generous helpings of potato chips and crisp pickles, are definitely our money’s worth.

We eat and talk about the town. Let’s face it: it’s small. In the 2000 census the population came in at 19,788. Like Lexington and High Point, it’s famous for its furniture industry and little else, the impetus for the 30-foot armchair across the street (from which the nickname “Chair City” is derived). The rest of the block is pretty plain by comparison. I try and stifle my New York pretensions, but if Monkeez is trying to bring some urban sophistication to this little place, it’s got its work cut out for it.

Our sandwiches finished, all in all not bad – as Danny puts it, at these prices, if this were around the street from my house, I’d eat here pretty regularly – I head back to look at the dessert case and opt for a pumpkin square and a rum ball. The former’s pumpkin flavor is faint – its topping of chopped walnuts makes more noise on my tongue ­- and it has a texture that appropriately enough recalls the slight dryness of pie crust. The rum ball, on the other hand, is demanding in its flavor, like a shot of Bacardi stripped of its alcoholic burn and rolled up in chocolate; it clears out any other lingering flavors on my palate and insists on having center stage. Even the chocolate surrounding it is a timid back-up singer compared to its dominating presence. I wonder to myself just how much of the alcohol has been removed, and if enough were eaten would they show up on a breathalyzer test. (Ed. note: it would)

At first sip the hot chocolate scalded my tongue, but it’s cooled just enough for me enjoy the flavor. It is serviceable, not as distinctive as the other items on the menu, and doubtless not nearly as interesting as the coffee selection would be to a veteran drinker, but nothing to complain about. I take a few more sips and decide we’re ready to go.

As I’m getting up, a lady at the table next to ours asks me if I went to Brown Middle School. After I tell her I didn’t, she hands me a small pamphlet, a religious tract entitled “The Burning Hell” with flames on the front cover. I wonder for a moment whether she actually thought I went to Brown before handing it back, politely suggesting she not try to recruit converts to a religion of ostensible love through a message of fear. While it’s off to a good start at hipping this place up, Monkeez definitely has a tough row to hoe.

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