It’s been a long, hot summer in Bloomington, and the area right around the courthouse had been weirdly lacking ice cream and other cold summer treats until Brilliant Coffee Company opened mid-June. While the name emphasizes coffee, it’s also a gelato shop with an in-house pastry chef, an unexpectedly diverse beverage selection, reasonable prices and friendly and helpful staff. The shop also sells coffee beans, canisters of tea and branded T-shirts.
The crowd skews toward pairs of women and the aesthetic is a nicely done, but not groundbreaking modern hipster – lots of black paint and polished wood. Summer hours are 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily, and there are a few indoor stools, outdoor benches and picnic tables. They’ve also installed a bike rack — a touch I always appreciate as a cyclist, and one that might draw some people off the B-Line.
My first visit was after a long June walk when I stumbled upon the coffee shop on a block I had written off as a construction site. Some construction is ongoing, but eventually the building at 217 W. Sixth St. will host four food establishments, all owned by ReVv and Strum Hospitality Group. These include the cafe, the health-food restaurant Nourish Bar, which opened last week, and two others.
One of the managing partners spent 12 years in Hawaii, an influence that shows in some of the offerings at Brilliant Coffee Co., such as the Hawaiian baked pork buns known as manapua, and gelato flavors such as mango, black sesame and lilikoi, a type of yellow Hawaiian passion fruit. A small gelato is $4, while a pint is $11.
The gelato, made there, comes in 12 rotating flavors and is creamy and sweet. About half of the flavors are dairy-free fruit sorbettos, which are perfect if you’re looking for something a little lighter following a hefty dinner at neighboring Janko’s Little Zagreb or Le Petit Café.
I was surprised by the quality of their beverage selection. In addition to classic coffee shop offerings, which have all been very good, they also sell bottles of wine, craft beer, canned cocktails from local Cardinal Spirits, fancy ginger ale and a variety of other alcoholic and nonalcoholic beverages ranging in price from $2 for a drip coffee to $36 for the most expensive wine. I initially thought it was a little odd for a coffee shop to sell full bottles of wine, but upon further reflection, that might be exactly what 2020 needs. I’ve recently acquired a taste for bitter Italian sodas such as Stappi and Chinotto, so I was excited to try the bitters and soda lavender nonalcoholic canned cocktail, $2.50, from Greenbar Distillery. Unfortunately, it turned out to be more of a pleasantly floral tea-flavored seltzer than the lavender-heavy bitter drink I was hoping for.
On one recent sweltering day, I purchased the Hawaiian latte for $8, iced and made with coconut milk, cognac, creme de cacao and whipped cream, and a mochi nut dark chocolate brownie for $3. The latte was perfect for sitting in the shade at one of the slightly sticky picnic tables on a hot afternoon — not too sweet, not too boozy, very refreshing and lightly caffeinated. I wasn’t sure what about it was Hawaiian, but I wasn’t going to complain. The mochi nut dark chocolate brownie was a little disappointing though — a bit dry with slivered almonds and nothing reminiscent of mochi. Luckily, Brilliant brands itself largely as a gelato and coffee shop, and that’s where its strengths lie. I’ll definitely be back to try the manapua, ideally with a side of peach blackberry gelato and a double espresso.
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