I didn't think North Park needed another coffee shop, particularly along 30th Street. But when I walked into the newly opened Torque Moto Café, I immediately felt as though it scratched a neighborhood itch that's been developing for awhile. Like DNP just two blocks down, the small business occupies a converted craftsman home. While that restaurant is set up with dining and bar service in mind, Torque operates with more of a lounge mentality.
3604 30th Street, North Park
Again, I'm surprised. The name Moto and the small motorcycle sculpture over the entrance gives the impression it’s a place for bikers, and the café's female owners do ride. But if this place is just for bikers, then bikers enjoy more elegant, cozier settings than I realized.
The first thing to notice is the large, comfortable deck space wrapping around the front and side of the house. Upholstered, high-backed stools line the rail of the patio, complete with iron footrests for those who choose to sit with a view of 30th. Tables of various sizes fill the outdoor space, providing plenty of opportunity for socializing, working remotely, or spending a moment in reverie. For the latter, I'd suggest the cushioned porch swing to the right of the entrance.
Inside, the dining room is smaller, more intimate, with hardwood floors and furniture to match. It's easy to imagine a fire going in the fireplace in winter, and hours spent snoozing over a book. A counter to the rear accepts orders for food and coffee — a litany of drinks brewed with beans roasted by Coffee & Tea Collective.
The food's where it gets interesting, mostly because the limited menu offers something I've never seen before: casaba.
Not casaba like the melon, but casaba like cassava, the starchy root responsible for tapioca. It's more popular in South America than it's ever been here — the guys who added this dish to the menu hail from Brazil. It was described to me as being like potato, but more nutritious. The way it's served it looks almost like a grilled English muffin, though it's probably closer to a sope, the masa-constructed dish that consists of a small, thick tortilla dressed with toppings like a pizza.
Make that an upside-down sope. Beneath my casaba was beef chorizo and melted cheese, the chorizo somewhere between a sloppy joe and ground sausage. The meat was a savory and flavorful complement to the casaba's flakey tuber routine. It came off as less heavy than potato, with a similar yet milder flavor.
At 8 bucks or so, I'd have liked it to be a little more filling, even served with choice of fruit or salad. But next to a cup of coffee in these refreshing surroundings, I can see it working.
North Park didn't really need more coffee, per se, but it has been missing this sort of breezy outdoor coffee space. It's more akin to the laid back atmosphere of Golden Hill's Krakatoa than the industrial vibe of contemporary cafés, and for that I will pack my laptop and hope to spend a couple hours basking in a little craftsman comfort.