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Back Buzz - February 23, 2004

pumping heart Food Fusions, 76 Barber Road, Commonside, Sheffield, South Yorkshire

Back in the 1990s when I lived in Seattle I became spoiled by all the espresso cafes within very close walking distance of my home. Caffé Vita was a 5-minute walk if that, and Caffé Ladro and Uptown Espresso were only twice as far at the most. This, of course, was in Seattle, the take-away-espresso capital of the universe.

Now that I live in Sheffield my expectations have dwindled down to simply hoping I can find one or two satisfying espresso cafes within a 30-minute walk. I proudly accept that I live just up the hill from Sheffield's Beer Triangle, with a host of wonderful real ale pubs (the Cask & Cutler, the Hillsborough Hotel, the Gardeners Rest, the Kelham Island Tavern, and the Fat Cat, to name a few) within easy walking distance, and many other good pubs in Walkley and Crookes. And I'm deliriously happy that there is a cafe very close to me (Take Five) where I can get a decent cup of cafietiére coffee.

So imagine my salivating excitement when I was walking through Walkley and Commonside recently and suddenly spotted a Gaggia espresso machine through a window. The window belonged to Food Fusions, a new cafe next door to the launderette in Barber Road. Since the cafe is open only at lunchtime and it was already late afternoon I made plans to return and investigate.

It was a Saturday lunchtime when I returned. Four male students were eating breakfast at the window counter, and I shared a table with the only other customer, a woman with pinkish-orange hair and a toothy garden-gnome smile who was eating couscous from a plastic container. When I ordered an "espresso macchiato" the proprietress looked at me quizzically, asked me what it was, and then asked me how to make it. She was so eager to learn a new drink she even asked how to spell it. This, to me, is a very good sign.

My macchiato was served in a pleasing purple espresso cup with white interior, and it was prepared just right with the perfect plop of foam. It tasted a tiny bit anaemic, but that may just be the beans. I didn't see an actual coffee grinder, so they could be using pre-ground coffee which would tend to reduce the flavour. I did notice a Fair Trade poster on the wall, however, so at least the proceeds from the coffee go directly back into the coffee-growing community. When you drink a lot of coffee this always makes you feel better about it.

With a name like Food Fusions you can expect something slightly more interesting than the average neighbourhood cafe fare. The menu features breakfast, sandwiches (made with bread cakes, baguettes, or ciabatta), soup, and Mediterranean and vegetarian specialities. The sandwiches include very appealing choices such as chicken, avocado, and lemon; sun-dried tomato and mozzarella; prawn, spring onion, and avocado; pastrami; and feta cheese. I suppose this is where the "fusion" comes in -- although I didn't see anything of the nuclear fusion variety. If you're expecting plutonium burgers you'll have to go elsewhere. There's bound to be some trendy bar on Ecclesall Road where they advertise "fission food"...

Food Fusions offers a fusion of atmosphere as well: a cool urban feel blended with neighbourhood friendliness. The decor is white and purple with chrome accents, and the magazine rack on the wall seems an invitation to take your time and enjoy your coffee or meal. Smoking is not allowed, but it is a very tiny cafe. A friend of mine who's a Sheffield native told me there was once a very greasy spoon on this spot. Fortunately Food Fusions seems wonderfully fresh with no trace of grease.

As I finished my macchiato the students left just as the pinky orange woman was smashing her plastic couscous container into noisy bits. But she kept smiling like a gaudily-coloured garden gnome. And then I noticed the book she was reading: Business As Unusual. Was she actually studying to be eccentric? I suppose some people have to work harder at being eccentric than others, even in eccentric-loving Britain. Some of us are just blessed by being born with no hopes of ever being anything other than eccentric. We don't even have to make ourselves look like garden gnomes.

Speaking of garden gnomes reminds me of a conversation with my Bay Area friend from last year:

As you know, I have been delivering pizza fliers door to door around Sheffield for a friend's cafe. Yesterday I delivered a flier to a nearby house whose front garden is full of gnomes. Throughout the year and a half that I've been in Sheffield I've seen this gnome garden go through different phases, sometimes populated with a large grouping of proud, happy, clean, upright gnomes and other times, like yesterday, reduced to a tiny number of sad, tired gnomes lying on their sides in overgrown grass.

What is the story behind this gnome garden? The next time I see the residents out front I'm tempted to ask them for an interview. Why do the gnomes occasionally disappear? Have they been kidnapped, like the gnome in Amelie? Have they been stolen for profit, like the gnomes in Box of Moonlight? Are they part of a travelling gnome show? Have they moved to the back garden? Are they in hibernation? Are they inside watching videos? Are they part of a huge cocaine smuggling ring? Are they the Gnomes of Zurich, taking frequent holidays to visit Sheffield? Or are the residents practising the ancient art of gnome shui, changing the number and positioning of the gnomes throughout the year to bring luck and prosperity to the household?

An alternate meaning of the word gnome is "a pithy and sententious saying, generally in verse, embodying some moral sentiment or precept." Perhaps the residents are gnomists, expressing their poetry with garden gnomes as opposed to words.

There are so many possibilities it boggles the mind. Perhaps it's simply a case of ergognomics, i.e. "therefore gnomes". I wonder what my Unkletom, Doctor of Dithonomics, would have to say about this...

Your note captured a brilliant insight into why all those high-powered sequencing machines have been cranking away for years at research labs in the Washington DC area. They may have identified all the components in the human g-nome, but they haven't figured out the important things: who created them, what they're for, where they've been and where they're going. Initially I had trouble remembering to pronounce the first syllable in genome with a long e, but your spelling fixes that problem. And I own some stock in Human G-Nome Sciences and never knew what I had. (Why aren't there pictures of g-nome gardens in the annual reports?)

As for your missing g-nomes, I wonder if they too might be eager to get some exercise and to earn a little cash for a pint or two. Perhaps, like you, they are out walking the neighborhoods distributing fliers. Would they target only the households where their own kind live? More likely they are publicizing gnome-owned and operated restaurants serving food that would appeal to the general populace. What would that be, gnome cuisine? Maybe you'll run into some of these on your rounds.

On the other hand, many of them could be on vacation, perhaps making a pilgrimage to their sacred site which is, of course, Gnome, Alaska.

I've been tempted to stage some kind of rotating gnome diorama on the little strip behind our trailer at work. Trouble is, the things are damn expensive. Even the lesser quality gnomes at Long's Drugs are $30 and up. I guess there might be a reasonably priced started set in the Archie McPhee catalog. But it would be really nice if some of those traveling gnomes would sense my intentions and just show up some day with all their baggage and props.

Who's to say just where these gnomadic types wander? Certainly Alaska is the obvious big draw. But could there also be immigrant populations in as wide-ranging spots as Viet Gnome and Gnomibia?