Coma Coffee’s Thomas Kennett shares his favorite local vegan dishes and his love for South Grand | Restaurants

Thomas Kennett got his start in coffee in an institution sacred to bibliophiles and teenagers: the Barnes & Noble café. He initially wanted to work in the comics section, but soon found pleasure in working in the cafe.

“I actually found that I love creating drinks and managing my time, solving problems and all the challenges that come with being in front of the house,” says Kennett.

His love of coffee has taken him to some of St. Louis’ best-known coffee roasters, including Kaldi’s Coffee Roasting Co., Living Room Coffee & Kitchen, and Sump Coffee, working as a general manager, barista educator, and coffee roaster. His big breakthrough came with the Gelateria Coffee Co. on South Grand. Kennett and his partner Randall Buchanan were asked to revamp the spot’s coffee offerings.

“We have definitely revitalized their entire coffee roasting program. So instead of just one coffee, you can now walk in and get a single-origin variety,” he says.

The shortest route from groggy to awake is a ready-to-drink cold brew.

Their efforts have drawn the attention of people from Cafe Coma, who offered Kennett a position as green coffee buyer and chief roaster. He enjoys educating guests and explaining the unique flavor profiles of coffees of different origins.

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“My goal is basically to build something interesting, and we try to explain the difference in coffee because everyone’s palate is a little different,” says Kennett.

His ultimate dream is to open his own café, but for now he will continue to ensure that Coma customers enjoy quality coffee from responsible sources. Here, he raves about vegan pizza cheese and the magic of black garlic.

What’s the best thing you’ve ordered recently at a local bar or restaurant? Terror Tacos right now. This is definitely my favorite taco. I am not vegan. But I like everything they serve there. Specifically, the Texas Barbecue Massacre taco [grilled pita, barbecue seitan, diced onions, cilantro, sour cream] is delicious. And there’s one called the Citrus Mistress [spicy chorizo seitan topped with mango and pineapple salsa]. These are unique, individually designed tacos. It is something that is unique and that holds my attention.

What is the best style of pizza? So my wife and I are big supporters of Pi [Pizzeria]. I think it’s just the odd combination of ingredients. I don’t know if this style of pizza is how you can pull off vegan cheese and massive style meatballs, but maybe all we get from there is more the flavors than the presentation, but Pi for sure. We make vegan cheese, with cashew cheese. Even though there’s mozzarella in the meatballs. It’s so good.

What is your favorite culinary memory? Not to congratulate me, but I would say go to the Gelateria [Coffee Co.] five or ten years ago compared to now. Favorite experience would be going to all the local shops in Grand, being able to stop for an ice cream and a really good cup of coffee at the end of it all. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve brought family from out of town, and we’ll always end up in Grand, just the king of walking in Grand, to get a good feel for the experience of Saint Louis.

What ingredients do you think everyone should keep at home and why? Black garlic. It doesn’t matter what dish I added it to, barbecue, pasta or even some Mexican dishes. It always adds a bit more like a full body, kind of a garlic zing, that sharp salty garlic zing. My wife is also Italian, so every time she takes care of it, it’s like black magic.

What is your most controversial food opinion? I can’t stand cilantro. I don’t even have that genome or what makes it supposed to taste like soap. I have to be that guy, “No cilantro please!” It’s like the Princess and the Pea fairy tale. You can put the tiniest bit of cilantro in the middle of the spiciest cheese dip or something and I’ll always find it.