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Bus Stop Kirsty - The Wandering Palate Café of the Year 2013
The sphere of cafés, coffee culture and proliferation of the espresso coffee itself has become such a defining influence these days that it shapes cities and whole societies, exemplifying urbanity. We’ve come a long way since the beginning of coffee culture in 14th Century Turkey and the social epoch of late 17th and 18th century coffeehouses in London, with the "cafe au laiters" and "espressonites" intrinsic to some of the world’s ‘most liveable cities’ like Melbourne, Australia, Portland, Oregon, Vancouver, Canada, and Te Horo, New Zealand. Yes, that’s Te Horo, not quite a city with a regional population 649, and more specifically the tiny village of Te Horo Beach on the wild Kapiti Coast, where you will find at 50 Dixie Street, parallel to the beach, The Bus Stop Takeaway—although I will refer to it as a café as ‘takeaway’ does not do it justice at all.
Kirsty Green, Bus Stop Cafe Barista, Baker, Cook, Counselor, Therapist Forget the irreverent waiter attitude and struggling writer/actor/artist shtick, the contrived grunge, the uber-designer décor, the café society, the organic sermon, the 100% Arabica and micro roaster bullshit; this is the cutting-edge of cafés with a middle finger to the predictability and mediocrity of modern day lifestyle. Yes folks, this is just good old-fashioned friendly repartee, wholesome-homemade baking and cooking, excellent Supreme coffee and great conversation (with owner Kirsty Green), housed in a big blue 1964 Bedford Bus, parked permanently in front of her beach house.
To say the place is intimate would be an understatement; it can seat eight people, maybe 9 at a squeeze, if someone sits in the driver’s seat—essentially the front of the bus with the other two thirds of the interior devoted to kitchen, service space and coffee machines—the priority and ratio of space and proportions perfect for a highly personalized, distinctly individual and unquestionably charismatic one-person operation.
Kirsty Green is in fact already (locally) famous for her cooking, owning a hugely popular café for 10 years in super trendy suburb of Karori in the nation’s capital city, Wellington; by New Zealand standards a real, large city with a population 202,000. Her café/deli was so popular she was faced the inevitable decision of expansion; those severe business growing pains where you sell your soul to the bank, and they/it controls you for the rest of your life.
Thankfully Kirsty made the right decision and sold up everything and got the hell out of there—Gone fishing on the Kapati Coast. And she looks so at peace with the outcome, her welcoming beaming smile and Dalai Lama disposition says it all, remaining calm and poised as she juggles a full bus of people with multiple coffee variations, breakfast orders and several different conversations simultaneously, as only a veteran multitasking café owner could do.
Suffice to say, this really is an oasis in the dessert (beach sands), like most rural communities these days, there has been major exodus to cities and the local village butcher, small stores, cafés etc. are under threat of extinction. And cafés have such an impact on our day to day living, or as one of my very good English friends living in Devon puts it, “The mean travel distance to a café latte has become highly strategic in our daily lives.” Sticking to English thread, I would liken the Bus Stop café and Kirsty to a small Cornwall fishing village publican, only the mandatory beverage is coffee rather than beer, but the sense of communal obligation is the same; to lend an ear to all that come in through the door, or aboard the bus, as it were.
And whilst ones barista and cooking skills are all important, so is being a social psychologist, anthropologist, botanist/biologist (gardening advice), meteorologist, philosopher, social scientist, political analyst, financial advisor, marriage counsellor, and counsellor and everything else I haven’t mentioned.
On our visits to the Bus Stop café we have met some very interesting local individuals and engaged in conversations covering the whole gambit, as well as fascinating local goings on, with Kirsty the consummate mediator and orator. I have even managed a few captive audiences myself, on pinot noir, wine allergies, beach sand sculpture and the therapeutic benefits of driftwood collecting. In as much that locals are here for the good conversation, they have quickly cottoned on to Kirsty’s brilliant cooking and word is definitely out in the area and beyond with weekend beachgoers and travellers from all directions of the compass dropping in.
And how did I find out about the Bus Stop café? Well, it was Ruth Pretty who told me, the legendary chef and caterer whose cooking school and catering kitchens are located in Te Horo; that’s not Te Horo Beach, but just off the main highway in School Road. Knowing we were heading for the beach, she said, “You have to visit Kirsty at the Bus Stop café, she’s doing fabulous baking and things… I took some people there the other day and we all loved it”.
Finding the place was not exactly difficult, but to forewarn you it is a residential beach house street, as in no shops, and her bus is tucked behind a bush fence, but no doubt a huddle of parked cars will lead you there and just get out of your car and follow the baking aromas.
I’m not going to bother detailing what’s on the menu, as there is no menu. Kirsty just bakes and cooks whatever her mood dictates although there are a few staples. I can tell you her ham, cheese and caramelized toasted sandwich is seriously good—actually the best toasted sandwich I have ever had with doorsteps of amazing sourdough bread. If she’s cooking pies don’t hesitate, order one, whatever the flavour. The cheese scones are wicked and frankly, whatever she’s baking, just go for it. There’s also some wonderful retro touches, in keeping with the buses era, and homemade favourites like cordials, lollies and fudges.
Actually there is an exceedingly meticulous detail to everything and I suspect lurking underneath her laidback personality, Kirsty is a perfectionist, like most bakers are. I can grasp why Kirsty called it Bus Stop Takeaway; like her deli/café in Karori, the less than subtle intonation is to drop in, and well, take it away—rather pragmatic given the certain lack of space. On a sunny day, which are prevalent on the Kapati Coast, you can sit outside on tables scattered in front of the bus. On a rainy, winters day with the notorious westerly wind howling, seats on the bus are a premium.
On measure, despite its size and solitude, the Bus Stop Takeaway/Café/Deli/Community Therapeutic Centre, has more mojo than any café I have experienced on this planet, and not just this year—in premise with this accolade—but a model of small community, down to earth bliss that makes me feel there might just be hope for our world and humanity yet.
For anyone reading this that is not a local, I have travelled 5,289 miles twice now, just to have coffee and Kirsty’s ham, cheese and caramelised toasted sandwich, and I am coming back for more at Christmas time, so don’t let distance deter you. And somebody call Anthony Bourdain and tell him he needs to get down here for CNN ‘Parts Unknown’ and experience something utterly unique and thoroughly Antipodean.
Kirsty is on the bus Friday to Sunday, 9am to 4pm, and you can reach her on the mobile 021 650 636, otherwise you might find her on the beach with her Jack Russell’s.