A ‘true Dutch brother’
Holland and Germany roots at heart of flavors at Has Beans Café
It seems a little incongruous at first: Austrian jam cookies, walnut Linzer bars (named after the Austrian city of Linz, the home of the world-famous Linzer torte) and Dutch almond bars in a cafe in Chico’s Chapmantown. A more likely sight, perhaps, in Vienna or San Francisco.
The tiny Has Beans Creekside café on Humboldt Avenue, however, offers a selection of European pastries, cookies and fruit breads that are decidedly inspired by the Old World. Some of their names are changed to sound American, such as the Dutch pinda kaas cookies that go by the much more familiar name of “peanut butter cookie” (pinda kaas literally means “peanut cheese” in Dutch). But rest assured, the baked goods—as well as the interesting selection of packaged sweets, such as Austrian Männer wafers, Mozart chocolates, Ashbach cherry-brandy cordials and Dutch licorice candies—at both the Has Beans on Humboldt and at its sister store downtown on Main Street have an unmistakable European flair.
That’s because the business is owned and run by a guy named Willem Vonk—born and raised in Holland, and of Dutch-German ancestry—and his life partner and head baker, Meg Allison, whose father is German.
I chatted with Vonk and Allison recently at the Has Beans office at the front of its coffee-roasting site at 1078 Humboldt Ave., right next door to Has Beans Creekside. (Part of Has Beans’ coffee business is wholesale bean sales.)
True to European form, the friendly Vonk puffed on a cigarette during much of our interview. It reminded me of being in the airport in Frankfurt, Germany, before smoking was banned there.
Allison shared some of her recipe secrets, including the fact that marzipan—that almond paste ubiquitous in the world of German baking—is one of Has Beans’ staple ingredients.
“A lot of our pastries are made with marzipan,” said Allison, pointing to the café’s moist macaroons, Austrian jam cookies and Dutch almond bars as prime examples. “That’s one of the keys to the European side of baking.”
Vonk and Allison travel regularly to Europe, in part to visit family, and partly to pick up new pastry ideas and recipes. Last year, they were in Belgium, Holland, Germany and Switzerland.
“I don’t think when you travel you ever [don’t] work,” Allison said. “We’re always looking at pastries, trying to bring some ideas back here.”
Their European-style fruit breads, including a delightful cranberry-banana bread, are all denser and less sweet than their American counterparts, partly owing to a wholesome secret ingredient that Allison shared with me but asked me not to reveal.
“My mom was born here [in the United States],” Allison said, “and she makes her banana bread different than I do. Ours [at Has Beans] is fuller, more of a bread than a cake, less sweet, not so full of sugar.”
While Allison lamented that she can’t quite get her croissants to be as flaky and light as those she’s eaten in France, because “we can’t get European flour here,” she said that she has a recipe that “gets it as close as you can.”
Quiches and individual fruit tortes made with fresh fruit in season are also on the Has Beans list of Euro-goodness.
Vonk also pointed out that he uses a traditional, open-flame, French coffee-roasting method and a Samiac roaster from Le Cateau, France.
“I always say, ‘I’m the true Dutch brother,’” Vonk offered of his finesse with coffee. “I’m really Dutch.”