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Despite functioning as a large outdoor mall, West Little Rock's Promenade Shopping Center has eschewed stereotypical mall fare in favor of an eclectic collection of excellent local restaurants, something that has made it one of the city's top destinations for good eats. Despite an excellent selection of fine dining and fast casual joints, the shopping center has lacked a place to grab a decent cup of coffee, a situation that forces the caffeine-craving masses to grab some Starbucks in advance and then suffer through an inferior product just to get a fix. Into this dire state of events comes Cafe Brunelle, a warm and friendly coffee shop that's locally owned and ready to pour — and it is a welcome addition indeed.
Cafe Brunelle isn't a large place, but its tall ceilings, bright decor and comfortable seating make it easy to feel right at home. The coffee menu has all the greatest hits we expected, from old-fashioned drip coffee to mochas, lattes and multiple tea offerings. We decided to try two drinks, a hot cafe au lait ($2.45 small/$2.95 large) and an iced latte ($3.25 small/$3.95 large), and they were both mighty fine, with coffee made just like we like it: full bodied without being sour or acidic, with a robust flavor that never veers into the taste of burned beans. Even an addition of a shot of espresso (85 cents per shot) to our drinks didn't overwhelm the flavor, leaving us happily sipping until the sandwiches we ordered came out.
We'd noticed from the menu that Brunelle is using local bread from Boulevard Bread Company and Dempsey Bakery, so when our sandwiches arrived on those crusty Boulevard baguettes we love so much, the cafe was already ahead of the game. Great bread is only part of a great sandwich, of course, and lucky for us, the meats and toppings on each of the sandwiches we ordered were fantastic. The thick-sliced, oven-roasted turkey sandwich ($7.75) came with crunchy mixed greens and a very tasty red-pepper mayo. For our second sandwich, we decided to do the "Half and Half" ($5.50) and get half of the Mediterranean tuna with lemony mayonnaise (regularly $6.95) and a half portion of the Caprese pasta salad (regularly $7.75), loaded with fresh cherry tomatoes, bite-sized chunks of mozzarella, perfectly cooked farfalle pasta and basil that looked like it had been picked that morning.
If there is one word that we could use to sum up our experience at Cafe Brunelle, it would be "fresh," from the meat and bread to the pasta and toppings. Simple sandwiches were turned into something special by an attention to detail — each sandwich's flavored mayo was outstanding without overwhelming the rest of the ingredients.
The salted caramel brownie ($4.25) we grabbed to go was also delicious, as were the samples of iced scones out on the counter by the cash register. It's this dedication to fresh ingredients, including local bread and local ice cream by Loblolly, that makes Cafe Brunelle stand out from its chain competitors, and one that should guarantee it a spot on anyone's quick lunch rotation. A lot of thought has gone into the menu at Brunelle, and the friendly service and comfortable surroundings make the place a winner, either for a quick lunch or just a coffee take-out.