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Back Buzz - April 8, 2007

pumping heart Hercule Cafe, 203 Crookes Road, Crookes, Sheffield, South Yorkshire

Because I've been so busy and stressed out these days, I decided to save some time this month by finding a cafe close to home to review. And to save even more trouble I decided on a cafe that's only a slight detour from my daily walk home from work. Located in the centre of Crookes is the tiny Hercule Cafe. When I first moved to Shefffield this appeared to be just another sandwich shop, with its only distinguishing feature being the fact that it was a Belgian sandwich shop. A friend told me it had recently changed management, which I assume is why it's gone through a change of image.

The menu boasts "A taste of the Mediterranean closer to home". Is this Crookes' answer to Commonside's cafe which a reviewer once described as "a little corner of Provence"? Or is it another result of global warming? What's Belgium doing down on the Mediterranean, anyway? Has France gone underwater since I last read the newspaper?

The cafe consists of a long deli counter on one side and a small number of tables on the other. We sat at the window counter with a view of the Co-Op Market framed by Merlin Estate Management on one side and Casanova Italian Restaurant on the other. When I ordered a latte and two double espresso macchiatos, my request was met with confusion by the woman behind the counter. Eventually the barista came over to ask us what exactly we meant, so we explained to him how to make a macchiato. Ah, well, whaddya expect? Not every cafe in Yorkshire can be espresso savvy.

The presentation was a bit worrying. Rory's latte was served in a café au lait cup, but the two double macchiatos came in regular coffee cups. The shots were weak and a little sour as if the beans had been scorched. But what was I expecting? This is Crookes, not Ecclesall Road. But even if my workmate Paul thinks that Crookes is overrun with elderly people on sticks, I'm sure the denizens of the Cobden View, the Ball Inn, the Punchbowl, Noahs Ark, and the Old Grindstone would heartily object to that description.

Hercule does have an attractive menu. Breakfasts come in all forms, including vegetarian versions, and they offer breakfast paninis, salads, lunch paninis and baguettes, rarebits, and sides of olives, papatas bravos, and nachos. They also sell Belgian chocolates. I was especially attracted to the dark chocolate truffle in the display case shaped like the Sphinx. But when I asked the woman behind the counter about the chocolates -- ie. what was inside the Sphinx -- she claimed complete ignorance. Too bad... perhaps this is just a growing pain. Or at least I hope so. I would definitely buy a Sphinx truffle as long as I knew what was inside. Could this be a modern Riddle of the Sphinx?

Speaking of riddles, every time I think of Hercule Cafe I can't helping thinking of Agatha Christie's detective Hercule Poirot. I know this is unfair, I'm sure there are probably a few Belgian people named Hercule. And it might even be a common name for a Belgian cafe, similar to Gino's or Pancho's or Pierre's or Joe's. But why is it not called Cafe Hercule, or at least Hercule's Cafe? Is it because of what happens these days to punctuation, with all the haphazard and wayward apostrophes? Is it so whoever this Hercule is or was will not be confused with the mythological strongman? After all, it only takes one typo in the Yellow Pages to turn Hercule's into Hercules forever.

And while I'm speaking of riddles, here's a recent e-mail conversation with a workmate about losing things in taxis and writing about vegetables:

Have you ever experienced an incident with a leaky sausage in the back seat of a taxi? Have you ever run out of ink while trying to inscribe an important world-changing message on a cucumber? It's quite difficult to write on a cucumber even with plenty of ink, as I once discovered while penning song lyrics on a cucumber I found in a taxi. Cucumbers are too waterproof to make good writing paper, which reminds me that the only thing I ever left behind in a taxi was an umbrella. I have to admit I have never written a song about a cucumber. Not even a gherkin, nor any sort of pickle. I believe I've never mentioned "raita" or "tatziki" in a song, either. Considering all the different kinds of of objects I have actually written songs about -- protons, corpses, multiple choice tests, muscles and drugs, Venetian blinds, bullets, black holes, leaky boats, tissues, etc. -- I'm surprised I've never been poetically inspired by a vegetable. I think it's about time to change my ways.

I don't think I've ever left anything in a taxi. But then I've not caught many taxis. Pubs, that's a different matter. I've caught several pubs. Many scarves I've left in pubs. And my light meter. I left my light meter in the Cask & Cutler. I got it back, of course. I imagine the barman having spent the month going around the place in a red tunic, flipping out my light meter towards the cat now and again, and occasionally asking his chest to beam him up.

The vegetable song is an under-explored genre. Though you seem to have done more than your share for under-explored genres.

I used to have a '70s Sheffield Wednesday scarf bearing the legend "We All Agree Charlton's Promoted Owls Are Magic". I lost it in a crowd at a school-boy international at Wembley in 1990. I was profoundly upset. Other things I have lost include earrings, cassettes, pens and a sense of direction.

Funny you should mentioned the genre of vegetable songs. When I was first in university I was in a rather ecletic band called Midge & The New Nairobi Trio, which performed in a few locals bars and coffeehouses and even appeared on the radio. This quintet grew out of a duo, i.e. me on vocals/guitar/mandolin/kazoo and my friend Phred on vocals/kazoo. We were joined by my boyfriend Gary on guitar/mandolin/vocals, his housemate John on clarinet, and his other housemate Dan on rhythm stick. Our repertoire included songs by the Bonzo Dog Doodah Band, Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys, Van Dyke Parks, Leon Redbone, and a lot of one-hit novelties along with a few Tin Pan Alley classics. And two of our songs were "Rutabaga Boogie" and "The Eggplant That Ate Chicago", which I suppose, if performed in this country, might have to become "Swede Boogie" and "The Aubergine That Ate Birmingham". So there definitely is a vegetable song genre.

But now that I think of it, I don't believe I've ever heard a song about tofu. (I did design a tofu t-shirt, though -- I mean a regular t-shirt with a tofu design on it.)

I've also lost many earrings, almost always one of a pair. And pens and keys and glasses. I even lost my car once, in a vast monotonous carpark (but I finally found it). I have occasionally lost my sense of direction, and several times I've lost my way home, and I've even lost my dignity one or twice. I rarely lose my sense of humour but I occasionally lose my lunch.

Is there a Lost Items department for storms? Here is a song about Tofu:

Cos of you,
I'm clogging up
The downstairs loo.
Because of this
I have now sworn
To drop tofu
And go with Quorn.

It's mostly instrumental. I like your tofu song! I think you should record it. This could start whole new genre of meat substitute songs.