Hidden behind the façade of a music and coffee shop lies affordable, gourmet food including sandwiches, salads and homemade soups.
by: Jeff Spiegel One of the house specials is a grilled cheese featuring sauteed mushrooms and tomatoes, all accompanied by a bowl of home made chicken noodle soup.

While I was arranging a meeting a few weeks ago, the Half Note Café was recommended as a good meeting spot, with plenty of room to sit and good coffee. Despite not being much of a coffee person, I relented, and entered the shop not knowing what to expect.

After finishing our meeting, I was intrigued by the menu of paninis, salads and soups and I decided to stay for lunch. What a pleasant surprise.

Despite having heard little about the café, the food was nothing short of gourmet and shockingly affordable.

The menu begins with the café's panini menu, which features a variety of homemade sandwiches served on gourmet ciabatta bread. One of the house favorites is the 'Turkey Tempo,' which features turkey (carved from an actual turkey), lettuce, bacon, red onions, provolone cheese and garlic mayo. Despite being large enough to feed even the hungriest diner, the sandwich is just $6.95 and includes a side of fruit.

For someone looking to diversify their dining experience, a side salad or a cup of soup can be substituted for the fruit for a couple extra dollars.

These aren't just any salads or soups.

The salads are gourmet themselves, including everything from your typical garden salad to a bacon and blue cheese salad or a pear and gorgonzola salad with a freshly made vinaigrette.

As for the soups? Also made from scratch.

The soup special changes daily, but includes everything from chicken noodle to clam chowder. Every bowl is served with a freshly made biscuit, while both the salads and soups also can be ordered as a full meal.

'We also try to make everything here as healthy as possible,' Manager Jeremy Drinkwater said. 'So nothing is ever deep fried. And even when something is fried, we use a broth or a vinaigrette instead of oil.'

On the day I strolled into Half Note, the daily special was a traditional grilled cheese with a twist. Instead of just bread and cheese, this sandwich was topped with sautéed mushrooms and tomatoes, and served with a pecan and pear salad. All for $6.95.

The sandwich itself was perfect. While some places can overdo the amount of cheese on a sandwich like this, the architect, Sam Mathis, created the perfect ratio of cheese and toppings to bread.

The mushrooms were cooked perfectly, and for the whole thing to sit atop gourmet ciabatta bread seemed like a steal for such a low price. And that didn't even include the salad.

The salad featured fresh fruit and nuts on top of a hefty bed of lettuce, all topped with a delightfully light vinaigrette that is made on site every day.

While I mentioned that I wasn't a coffee person, Half Note Café does offer alternative beverages to strange folks like myself. I opted to go with an authentic raspberry Italian soda, topped with a layer of whipped cream.

As full as I was, my meal was only halfway over with. For dessert (or a snack), the café offers baked goods that are too good to pass up.

Alongside lemon bars and a freshly made poppy seed-apricot cake were raspberry or dark chocolate cupcakes that are perfectly paired with the coffeehouse drink of your choice.

'We want this to feel like a home cooked meal with a fancy cupcake thrown in,' owner Becky Arnold joked.

As for the drinks, Drinkwater contends they're the best deal in town. For $3, customers can order a drink with as many espresso shots or flavors as they want.

If you're not a coffee person, Half Note also offers an extensive tea selection featuring 12 varieties of fresh tea that isn't in a bag.

While the food is all the reason you need to make a trip to the Half Note Café, it's the atmosphere that puts everything over the top.

The café is a family operation, as Arnold entrusts the day-to-day operations to her son, Drinkwater, while her husband Tim is responsible for the soup of the day.

With the idea of family in mind, Arnold and Drinkwater have also designed the café to feature live music as much as possible.

'When I grew up, I was exposed to lots of music,' Arnold said. 'And I want to bring that here to Estacada because sometimes you have people down here playing that will blow you away.'

While I was enjoying my lunch, a local musician and one of the music shop employees filled the room with guitar playing that put a cap on a truly enjoyable experience.

'We can't just be 'okay,'' Drinkwater said. 'We have an 'eat it or don't pay' policy where if people don't like their food and just pick at it, we aren't going to charge them for it.'

The Half Note Café is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on weekends, while the coffee and music shop remains open until around 6:30 p.m. every day of the week. Food also can be ordered for free local delivery.

The Sampler is a weekly column that will run for the next few months highlighting local restaurants and their signature dishes. Look for a review of our meal at The Country next week. Own or manage a restaurant you'd like us to visit? Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call us at 503-630-3241.

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