Cafune might, in name, sound like a cafe (although the word itself translates to the act of tenderly running your fingers through someone's hair). Opened a few weeks ago in Cabbagetown, it sports Brazilian coffee and cuisine, as well as wall art from Brazilian artists, and evenings featuring Brazilian music and readings. In short, it's a cultural hub.
Located on the ground floor of a converted house, the inside is immediately warm and homey. From the long brick wall, to the array of art on the walls, to the brightly painted wooden chairs and bold-coloured mugs holding utensils, and the scatter of printed pillows, it's a place designed with comfort and long, leisurely visits in mind.
I start with a soy cappuccino ($2.85), and find it nicely balanced. Cafune exclusively uses proprietary blends of single origin coffees from Southeast Brazil, which are farmed using sustainable standards. They mention that their close relationship with partners in Brazil permits them to visit the farmers and keep an eye on production at every stage. Dark or light roast coffee ($1.95 for small, $2.50 for large) is also on offer, as is an assortment of teas ($2.25) such as ginger black and Morrocan mint.
For those inclined towards boozier options, they recently secured their liquor license, and now offer wines from Kaiken and Alianca, as well as cachaca, a traditional drink made from fermented sugar cane juice that's then distilled.
The most interesting aspect of Cafune is its concise menu of small plates, available for eat-in or take-away, and heavily focused on manioc (or cassava) which is native to Brazil. I start with Pao de Queijo ($0.75), a traditional Brazilian cheese bread (technically, more of a puff) made from cassava flour. The bread is, admittedly, not my favourite--the texture is too airy, and the promised cheese is mostly absent--but I also opt for the sundried tomato aioli spread ($0.75) which is rich and buttery.
Next, we try the tapioca, but not before I thoroughly embarrass myself by asking for repeated confirmation that this isn't, in fact, a sweet pudding. Rather, Brazilian tapioca originates from cassava starch, and resembles a crepe. Cafune offers it plain with olive oil or butter ($2.95, or $3.95 with soup) or with the filling of the day. When I stop by, it's an appropriately almost-too-salty anchovy paste with a touch of cheese that's best eaten in bird-like bites to fully savor the meld of flavours.
Never one to resist fish, I also try the cod cakes ($3.95 for 3), which are perogie-sized and a perfect accompaniment to the tapioca. These are not overtly fishy, and arrive moist and pleasantly textured, and I recommend a simple dressing of lime for a countering zest, rather than than the too-oily dipping sauce.
For our main, we try the Bauru sandwich ($5.95 or $6.95 with a side of soup), a traditional Brazilian dish that unexpectedly has a lot in common with Italian sandwiches. Perhaps its the crispy bun, or the decidedly European mix of roast beef, tomato, mozzarella and house-made oil, but it's not stellar, although the two small cornichons are perfectly tart, and the thick soup tastes equally (and satisfyingly) of cornmeal and yuca.
Cafune also offers daily specials (the shepherd's pie with cassava from days past sounds especially tantalizing), and a selection of pastries such as cookies ($1.50), scones ($1.95) and small cakes ($1.50 per piece).
Also available for purchase is a small selection of art from rural Brazilian artisans, each made using natural fibers. The art is interspersed throughout the small space, and fits in so perfectly with its surroundings that you might mistake it for the shop's decor.