Food & Drink

Pinoy Cafe serves Filipino treats at NewBo City Market

Blanche Vega (left), owner, and Juliet Miller (right) run Pinoy Cafe, a new Filipino food stand in NewBo City Market, Cedar Rapids. Vega opened the stand, which serves snacks and fruity drinks, with the help of her mother-in-law, Juliet Miller. (Rebecca F. Miller photos/The Gazette)
Blanche Vega (left), owner, and Juliet Miller (right) run Pinoy Cafe, a new Filipino food stand in NewBo City Market, Cedar Rapids. Vega opened the stand, which serves snacks and fruity drinks, with the help of her mother-in-law, Juliet Miller. (Rebecca F. Miller photos/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — Someday, Blanche Vega hopes to open a cafe where people can come and relax and spend time together. She pictures big pillows and bright colors and maybe hanging chairs to sit back in.

“I want it to be comfy,” she said. “Comfy and tropical.”

Vega, who studied restaurant and hotel management in college, said owning her own business has been a goal since she was a child.

“I used to draw the restaurant I would own,” she said.

She doesn’t have that brick-and-mortar cafe yet, but she’s started working toward her dream with Pinoy Cafe, a new stand inside NewBo City Market. Pinoy Cafe opened Sept. 13.

Pinoy refers to Filipino people and culture, and the menu is all Filipino. It’s a small lineup of mostly snacks for now, though she hopes to add more dishes later, especially if one of the bigger market stands with full grills and hoods becomes available.

The star of the menu is lumpia. These fried rolls look similar to egg rolls, but they are uniquely Filipino.

“It’s more meat,” Vega said. “We don’t use cabbage inside, and the wrap is thinner.”

Her mother-in-law Juliet Miller specializes in lumpia and is the primary chef for the business. In addition to chicken and pork lumpia, served with dipping sauce and rice, the menu features “Sweet Dynamite,” a stuffed bell pepper.

They also offer a dessert lumpia — turon, or fried banana rolls, served with ice cream. Other desserts include a mango ice cream sandwich, and mango and buko pandan — mango and coconut jello desserts.

Customers can wash all of that down with coconut or mango juice, or with bubble tea, available either iced or hot.

Vega, who is originally from the Philippines, moved to the United States with her husband about 10 years ago.

They lived in California before relocating to Cedar Rapids to be near his family.

She said she missed Filipino food in Iowa and wanted to introduce more people to her culture. One group she didn’t expect but has gotten positive feedback from have been veterans, many of whom were stationed in the Philippines.

Vega hopes more people try Filipino cuisine, and that someday she gets to serve them a wider menu. For now, she’s enjoying watching people bite into some of her favorite food, one lumpia at a time.

“I like seeing when people enjoy something,” she said.

That’s what inspires her to keep working toward that comfy, tropical cafe in her mind.

l Comments: (319) 398-8339; alison.gowans@thegazette.com

If you go

l What: Pinoy Cafe

l Where: NewBo City Market, 1100 Third St. SE, Cedar Rapids

l Hours: 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday

l Details: (319) 343-8081

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