Finally, Decent Coffee

Prague, Czech Republic

Our trio takes the afternoon off to explore Prague’s castles and Gothic churches. When energy levels lag in the late afternoon, we seek out caffeine.

Getting a proper cup of coffee in Eastern Europe is a pain. Java drinkers are content to subsist on instant coffee. I have one bitter, regrettable cup, packed with undissolved granules, before giving up.

Then we see Café Kafícko’s brown wooden door, which sports the hand-painted phrase, “We always grind, prepare, and serve freshly roasted plantation coffee.” The word plantation is weird—don’t most coffee beans grow on a plantation? But I still take this as a sign of encouragement.

Inside, the airy café is decorated with burlap coffee sacks, colorful pottery, and black-and-white photos. Mims and I order Americanos. They are delivered steaming, on a dainty silver tray next to a glass of water, a milk saucer, and a chocolate square—simple elegance. The coffee is midnight dark and jolts my nervous system like a caffeinated thunderbolt.

For the first time in days, the world feels fresh and alive.

Behind us, three English schoolteachers are cutting pictures from magazines. Mims asks them for a dinner recommendation.

“There’s a great Georgian place near the bridges,” says one. She draws us directions on a map, and we set out, zigzagging through Prague until we find Art Cafe U Irmy.

The restaurant is a homey neighborhood spot, a refreshing counterpoint to the tourist dens that offer identical meals of potatoes and roasted pig’s knee. Customers’ chalk scrawlings on the walls serve as decoration, and half liters of local-fave beer Gambrinus are poured cold and frothy. A skinny waiter wearing chunky black eyeglasses seats us at a communal table and gives me one of the oddest menus I’ve ever seen.

On one half are dishes seemingly borrowed from a New Jersey diner with upscale airs: “salmon on cream,” fried chicken steak with cheese-onion sauce, plus Italian dishes named after mobsters and notorious fiends. The Lucky Luciano is spaghetti, while Machiavelli is now a four-cheese fettuccine.

The other half offers all Georgian eats, which our posse orders from. Fried eggplant with tomatoes comes out vivid red and purple, and flavored with coriander. Tangy minced chicken swims in a tomato-based sauce packed with peppers and onions.

We also order two really bizarre-sounding dishes, just to see what they are: something described as “Scrolls in wine sponge with minced meat and dressing,” and “Spiced meat in paste.”

The “scrolls” are stuffed grape leaves, while the “spiced meat” is chewy dumplings sprinkled with coriander.

Go figure—they were the best dishes of the bunch. Do bad translations mean the food’s better?