I'm not a huge cafe fan, though I have a few favourites, and even less of a bar fly, yet doing the tourist thing makes me feel the urge to find the next cafe for a drink or a quick snack like nothing else. A little pause between attractions is just what I need when visiting somewhere new: you rest a moment, relax, and after a little you're ready to absorb the atmosphere around you. In the same way, when lunch time comes I usually don't want the full lengthy five course affair, which I'd rather leave to the evening (and one or two upcoming posts); rather I prefer something simple that leaves me time to continue enjoying the visit. Fortunately Tallinn has plenty of nice cafes and bars which offer refuge from the chilling weather in winter (and a chance to cool down in summer, I would imagine), and can also be a pretty good option for lunch.
Among the few cafe's we tried – with -10°C outside you stop quite often for a warm drink – there are two which I particularly liked. Ironically, we ended up in both almost by mistake. Kehrwieder is a local cafes chain that runs a few different places in the city centre of Tallinn. We were actually looking for their Tristan & Isolde Cafe, but, since I mixed up the addresses, we ended up in the Cafe and Chocolaterie. (Both places are on the main City Hall square so not such a huge mistake after all.) As soon as we got into the vaulted cellar that holds this cafe Daniela and me fell in love with the place, its mismatched chairs and tables, and simply the cosy atmosphere. And yes, they also make some pretty good cakes – we picked a berry pie and a gooseberry crumble tart – that there's a good selection of teas and chocolates, the latter both as pralines and as drink, and that even the coffee was not too bad to my espresso accustomed palate. To get an even better idea of the place you could go to Pille's blog, nami-nami: she has a nice post on this cafe and a couple of pictures which give a nice feel of the place.
Pikk 16 is an address that has made the gastronomic history of Tallinn. It is here that the roots of what is now Kalev, the Estonian chocolate and candy maker, were established: now it hosts the city's oldest cafe, open since 1864, and an inviting Estonian restaurant, both named Maiasmokk. Following Pille's advice, we had originally planned to dine in the restaurant, but, do to a misunderstanding with our reservation date, we missed our chance. Instead, on our last day and again by chance, we ended up in the ground floor cafe, seeking refuge from a sudden storm of icy wind. The interiors here are exactly what you would expect from such a traditional place, with lots of mirrors and dark wood creating a very fin-de-siecle atmosphere. While the drinks here are just OK, what really deserves a mention are the many cakes, and pastries, sweet and savory. The sweets are great for an afternoon cup of coffee and the pastries are ideal for a light snack or lunch, so you could come here again and again: we picked a few pastires (left), and I regret I only found out about this place on the last day, because I would have gone back for more.
One lunch place that seems very popular on the web and travel guides is Kompressor, a food bar specialising in the local pancakes, pannkoogid, more similar to the French Crepes than to American pancakes. On a travel forum, a self-declared pancake/crepe expert even declared this to be the best place of the kind in Northern Europe. I love the stuff, so I couldn't miss it. I found out the place is not only popular with backpackers, but also with the locals: we were lucky enough to find the last free places, but those after us had to stand in line waiting for a table to become free. The pancakes are definitely cheap and huge, we didn't manage to finish ours, but as taste goes it was a hit and miss experience. Daniela's blue cheese filled pannkoogid was fine – I would have preferred a more "full frontal" blue cheese taste – but definitely not the best I ever tasted. Mine, filled with shrimps, was unfortunately overpowered by the burnt garlic in the filling. If you're looking for cheap filling food that tastes OK, Kompressor is a good choice, but I doubt I would become a regular if I was in Tallinn. I would nonetheless go back to try the sweet pancakes: some of those served to the neighbouring tables looked quite tasty.
Kehrwieder Cafe and Chocolaterie