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Brunelle is delectable quest

Posted: July 10, 2014 at 2:13 a.m.

A half serving of a tuna sandwich comes on a richly textured hoagie roll at Cafe Brunelle.

The one downside to Cafe Brunelle is that it can be hard to find for first-time visitors who don't carefully read the directions on the website.

A sign posted along the Promenade at Chenal's main drag, proclaiming the restaurant to be "around the corner" and bearing a westward-pointing finger, confused us; we went all the way down to the Promenade's west end, which faces its movie theater, and looked around that corner. It took about 15 minutes to find the cafe ... so far, the only establishment that faces the back of the shopping center.

Cafe Brunelle

Address: 17819 Chenal Parkway, Suite C-29, Little Rock

Hours: 8 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Saturday, 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday

Cruisine: Coffees, sandwiches, soups, pastries

Credit cards: V, MC, AE, D

Wheelchair accessible: Yes

Alcohol: No

Takeout: Yes

(501) 448-2687; Cafebrunelle.com

Which means diners looking out the large windows, or sitting al fresco in front of the cafe, have a gorgeous view of ... the back parking lot.

But Cafe Brunelle is a nice place to get away from the hustle and bustle and enjoy a good cup of coffee -- and more.

Described online as "a locally owned coffee shop with a European twist," Cafe Brunelle's interior resembles the apartment of the cool, well-paid friend you secretly envy. Its HGTV-show interior is modern and clean. White, high-backed, built-in seating is a sleek companion to the free-standing earth-tone chairs and small white tables. A unique wall, bearing a blond hardwood finish, flows into the matching storage shelves behind the counter. White light fixtures resemble mini lampshades with jumbo tassels dangling from them.

The cafe offers the "regular" coffee drinks ... drip and brewed plain coffee, espresso, cappuccino, mocha, latte and cafe au lait, along with their iced versions, chai tea, hot chocolate, smoothies and beverages called the Tokyo Fog and London Fog. Mochas are offered in white, caramel, regular or marble. We tried the 16-ounce Marble Mocha ($3.95), a combination of regular and white chocolate. It offered a rich, well-rounded taste; the coffee is strong without being overbearing to mild-coffee drinkers. Those who like their coffee drinks sweet will find that this doesn't need extra sweetener, as do the mochas at some other coffee outlets.

We also tried the tuna and turkey sandwiches with vegetable soup ($5.25 for a half-sandwich and soup or salad). Packed with the usual vegetable accompaniments and featuring crunchy, delectable hoagie bread, the sandwiches bore a flavor that brought to mind Middle Eastern spices. (The turkey is roasted in-house and treated with rosemary-mustard marinade, according to the cafe's Facebook page.) Large sandwiches ($6.50-$7.75) also include chicken and vegetable and come with side house salad or chips. Gluten-free and sliced bread are available.

The vegetable soup wasn't the usual, boring fare -- the kind that drives diners such as us to say, "Mmm, I'll have the broccoli-cheese corn chowder instead." It was light but satisfying, bearing such off-the-beaten-path ingredients as squash, red peppers and bits of greens. Other soup offerings include chicken noodle and lentil.

Unique, made-in-house desserts and pastries include the Hazelnut Nutella tart ($4.50), which was so good it made us want to literally throw our fork. Its thick, perfectly baked crust brought to mind the old-school strawberry shortcakes, the ones that are all crust. The Nutella and the hazelnuts, along with the sheer size of the thing, provide an experience that can be shared with another or eaten partially and the rest saved for later.

Another generous-size dessert, the strawberry cheesecake cinnamon roll ($3.99), tasted every bit as decadent as its title suggests. Among the additional selections introduced by the cafe are an intriguing Pink Lemonade Cake, Caramel Turtle Brownies, Praline Pecan Cheesecake, mint chocolate chip cookies, Raspberry Nutella Tarts and Marbled Pound Cake.

For gluten-free diners, Cafe Brunelle carries desserts from downtown's Dempsey Bakery. Other offerings include ice cream from Loblolly Creamery and vegan ice cream.

All the more reason not to give a particular care about that view.

Weekend on 07/10/2014

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