Food & Drink Everything but the burger

Cool Café’s eclectic menu emphasizes Persian and Mediterranean foods

“Just about everything but burgers,” quipped our live-wire waiter as we perused the menu at Cool Café. With hordes of slacker students huddled around hookahs at the outdoor tables, we had easily discerned one element of the menu’s offerings, but here we were confronted with omelets and scrambles, crepes and kabobs, pastas and assorted salads, sandwiches and smoothies, Middle-Eastern and pan-Mediterranean plates ... Overwhelmed, we selected hummus and a dish we didn’t know, mierza ghasami, as appetizers, along with the salad shirazi for good measure. Maybe he does it to all his customers, but Live Wire gave us a thumbs-up on our choices.

In the Santorini crêpe, front, sumac adds a lively note to a filling of spinach, pine nuts, and feta. Critic Ron Bechtol suggests you ask the kitchen to replace the California black olives with kalamatas in the Veneziani penne pasta, which also comes topped with artichoke hearts, capers, and fresh basil in tomato sauce. (Photos by Mark Greenberg)

And the appetizers, in turn, got ours. Turns out mierza ghasami is baba ganoush by another name: roasted eggplant puréed with garlic and tomato. We loved its earthy, toasted flavor. The appealing salad, a chopped medley of cucumber, tomato, and red onion in a “light lemon” dressing spiked with a hint of dried mint, was great spooned atop nutty hummus slathered on a piece of pita.

I hadn’t expected a wine list at all, but even more surprising was the existence of a weekly Wednesday wine dinner: For $25 you get any appetizer, entrée, and dessert plus three — full, we were assured by Live Wire — glasses of your choice of wine. The Clos du Bois Pinot Grigio and Pepperwood Grove Merlot we chose were not much more than serviceable, but they paired just fine with the Veneziani penne pasta and Santorini crêpe we ordered.

The Veneziani came topped with a medley of artichoke hearts, capers, black olives, and fresh basil in tomato sauce. Due to a misunderstanding, it arrived at the table the first time with a pale cream sauce, but was cheerfully returned and reappeared in all its roseate splendor shortly thereafter. We also took the opportunity to request kalamata olives listed elsewhere in the menu in lieu of the bogus black olives. I suggest you do the same; the intense kalamatas combined perfectly with the almost-metallic artichoke hearts, the briny capers, and the fragrant basil to form a more perfect union of flavors with the robust sauce.

A light sauce of tart yogurt, cucumber, and mint topped the folded crêpe and proved the perfect foil to a filling of sautéed spinach with toasted pine nuts, green onion, feta, and sumac ... well, there was supposed to be sumac, and more detectable levels of the sour powder, common in Persian cuisine, would have made the crêpe’s flavors more lively. We chose cottage-fried potatoes as a side dish and, though beautifully browned, they needed salt and were not quite warm enough.

Cool Café

12651 Vance Jackson, Suite 108
10am-midnight Sun-Wed,
9am-2am Thu-Sat
Price range: $6-$13
Credit cards
Wheelchair accessible

The menu comes by its Persian and Mediterranean leanings honestly as we later learned. Kian Mashadi, who co-owns the restaurant with his brother, Shahran Yektarad, is Iranian and spent many of his formative years — at least in food terms — traveling and living in Mediterranean countries. He says he learned to cook from his mother, who is here for an extended two-month visit — apparently to teach Mashadi a few more tricks, as the chef says he soon will add a few more traditional Persian dishes to the menu. In the meantime, be sure to visit Cool Café on a Sunday, when wines are half-price and Mashadi is in the kitchen.

I don’t know if he prepared my chicken kabobs, but they were moist, subtly scented with saffron, and layered with bell peppers, red onion, and a token tomato wedge. The “basmatic” rice was fragrant, too, the grains typically discrete with a few saffron-hued pieces adding a sprightly accent. A simple salad of mixed greens with a light balsamic vinaigrette completed the plate, and a glass of Warsteiner Hefe Weissen from the all-import beer list — just $3 on Sundays! — lent its smoky spiciness to good advantage with the aromatic saffron.

Sweet crêpes are the main dessert option, and being a closet Nutella nut, the choice was obvious: Nutella, hazelnut-chocolate sauce, with banana. I could have done without the whipped cream inside the folded crêpe (it was OK piped on top), but otherwise this was a satisfying conclusion to, well, a cool meal. A note about the décor: I could also do without the nonfunctional fountain and fake grapes, but, and it surprises me to say it, I could use even more Persian rugs.


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