Downtown Bloomington has a new addition: Nat’s Bakery and Cafe, a calm oasis of sugar and coffee hiding in the basement of Fountain Square Mall, at 101 W. Kirkwood Ave. #21. Nat’s opened Aug. 6 by Ivy Tech Community College baking and pastry student Natalie “Nat” Strauser.
The bakery replaces Stefano’s Ice Cafe and has kept many of the previous establishment's breakfast and lunch items, such as a mandarin feta cheese salad, grilled panini, a chicken salad sandwich and other classic offerings for the student and downtown worker crowd.
Nat's shines with the new additions to the menu though: an extensive array of baked goods. Recent offerings have included chocolate-chip cookie cake, white chocolate raspberry scones, cookie sandwiches, vanilla and chocolate cupcakes, mini apple pie cookies, cinnamon rolls and more. Most of its baked goods are made in-house, in a kitchen you can see when you’re ordering, though the bagels and muffins are purchased elsewhere.
In addition to the menu changes, Nat’s has also been recently renovated, with a new pink wall, pink accents and cute incandescent light fixtures. The combination of renovations and amiable and helpful staff brings warmth and charm into a somewhat dark space.
There are 11 tables inside the cafe and outside in the mall court, all very clean and with ample space for social distancing. This makes it a great spot for someone who is tired of working, eating, and studying safely at home but isn’t ready to join the masses at some of the more crowded places in town. On two recent visits, only one other table was occupied.
The prices seem to fluctuate a bit. On one visit my cupcake was 99 cents, a steal, and on a subsequent visit they were $1.29 – still a steal. The cupcakes are one area where Strauser's creativity as a pastry decorator shines. They come decorated with anything from icing roses to little dog photos for “pupcakes” and edible glitter and metallic sprinkles. For an Instagram-worthy food pic, a shiny pink cupcake and a rosy bouquet of flowers on the table with the pink café wall backdrop can't be beat.
On a different visit, I ordered an angus beef roma panini for $6.99, a caramel pretzel cheesecake bite for $2.15 and a 20-oz coffee for $2.29. The cheesecake was fantastic even though I don’t like pretzels; the high ratio of caramel to cheesecake was a dream. My dining companion ordered a pineapple orange smoothie that she said tasted like Dole Whip. She also greatly enjoyed a slice of Snickers cheesecake, even though she mostly ordered it because it was beautiful – she doesn’t particularly like chocolate.
Despite my disdain for pretzels, my only complaint about the caramel pretzel cheesecake bite was that it was gone too soon.
Their coffee is pretty standard, though in my mind, standard and cheap is a very good cup of coffee. They have a full menu of espresso drinks as well as an inexplicable bowl of cinnamon sticks on the sugar and creamer station.
I ordered the angus beef panini because of a delightful smell that arose from someone else’s order of the item. As I hadn’t seen it, I was quite surprised when the panini turned out to be a burger — I had been expecting something like roast or sliced beef, not a patty. I hoped it would have crispy grilled bread outside like most paninis, but it did not. Despite its unexpected form, I had been craving something warm, salty and savory, and it definitely filled that need.
On the meal front, I expect I’ll be back to try the buffalo chicken wrap, an eternal guilty-pleasure food of mine, and the pancake tacos, simply because the concept sounds mysterious and delicious.
Overall, Nat’s is a quirky, nice combination of classic bakery and lunch break cafe. Its prices and ample quiet space are perfect for studying with a cup of coffee and a cookie. You can eat a sandwich alone while scrolling Twitter on your phone and not feel judged by anyone or share secrets with a friend over cheesecake, far from prying ears.
An earlier version of this story said the cafe owner was a graduate, but she is still enrolled in school. The IDS regrets this error.
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