A Coffee By Any Other Name

What's In a Name? The Moroccan Cortado at Coco

You can't always get what you want

By Katharine Shilcutt December 10, 2014

Driving my grandmother to her hairdresser last week took me to my childhood stomping grounds of Town & Country Village, the open-air shopping center that once served as a complement to the now-demolished Town & Country Mall. In its place now is CityCentre, the wildly popular mixed-use project at Katy Freeway and Beltway 8 which has brought many additional changes and developments to the surrounding area. While construction proceeds at a fevered pace inside the Loop, it's no slower out here near the suburban sprawl of Memorial and the Energy Corridor.

Coco Crepes & Coffee
650 W. Bough St.

I was surprised to see that a new location of Coco Crepes & Coffee had opened just around the corner from Bendwood Park. This marks the Houston chain's fourth opening, with a third recently opened in Vintage Park, another mixed-use joint adjacent to a fast-growing suburban enclave.

Though the original is only down the street from me in Midtown, I've rarely visited Coco over the years. Perhaps it was the knowledge that I could get a better crepe from Melange Creperie a few blocks away, or a better coffee at any number of nearby coffee shops, that prevented me from experimenting more with its offerings. But out here in the comparatively quieter suburbs, there was something that drew me to the Town & Country outpost that morning as I waited for my grandmother's perm to set in a nearby salon populated entirely by elderly women in various stages of deafness.

I was immediately drawn to the so-called Moroccan cortado on Coco's menu. The cortado comes from Spain, so I was curious to see if there was a little cross-Mediterranean work happening in my cup. To the best of my knowledge, there was not. The Moroccan cortado is simply a standard cortado with a layer of vanilla syrup and a curious layer of foam. Vanilla comes from Mexico. It does not, as far as I'm aware, have any applications in Moroccan cuisine. I wished for a Danette-like chocolate flavor in the coffee, or perhaps a cortado made with almond milk (or better yet, flavored with sweet almonds), or even some orange flower water tossed in there somewhere. Any of these would easily make a cortado "Moroccan."

I asked the barista out of curiosity what made the cortado Moroccan. She sighed the sigh of a woman who'd been asked this question too many times. "I don't know," she said. "The owner is, like, Moroccan, or whatever. So I guess that's it."

Owner Youssef Nafaa was indeed born and raised in Morocco before coming to America in 1988. By 1996, he found himself in Houston. Two years later, Nafaa opened Mi Luna in Rice Village, followed a short time later by Mia Bella Trattoria in 1999. Ten years later, Nafaa was still at it, opening another tapas restaurant, Andalucia. In between, he opened the first Coco Crepes & Coffee location in 2006. None of these joints are in any way Moroccan, so it figures that the Moroccan cortado would be Moroccan in name only.

Yet there's at least one dish at Coco Crepes & Coffee that belies a hint of Nafaa's heritage: the one and only breakfast crepe on the menu, which comes filled with scrambled eggs, cheese, and merguez. The Moroccan sausage is cut into juicy little coins, which spreads the rich flavor of the lamb and the musky scent of cumin and garlic throughout the otherwise lackluster crepe. That's Moroccan enough for me, I suppose. And it's certainly enough to make Coco stand out in its new Town & Country location, where good breakfast joints are still few and far between despite all the new growth in the area. After all, I can't think of a single other place nearby where you can order a cortado—"Moroccan" or not.


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