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Review: Banter Cafe and Banter After Hours

Two venues are better than one

During happy hour at Banter After Hours
During happy hour at Banter After Hours (Photo by Mark Saleeb)
By Mark Saleeb CDN Contributor

Our story starts in January 2019 with local restaurateur Emile Diffley’s opening of ANMLY Cafe. It quickly cemented itself into the coffee scene as a great grab-and-go spot, with a notable breakfast burrito. Intertwined through the whole thing was an eco-friendly commitment to sustainability.

Like a 1980s banker, Diffley began to make acquisitions as COVID offered unique opportunities. He scooped up Fairhaven Pizza and the then-defunct Saltine at 114 Prospect St. A shift in branding came shortly after — ANMLY was renamed Banter. Saltine became Banter After Hours and opened in mid-March, with Fairhaven Pizza being closed the following week to pivot to a new, and as of yet unopened, brunch spot.

All right, history lesson over. There’s a gimmick in this column, and it’s the idea that you can bookend the average workday with stops at Banter. 

Monday morning. I’ve got plenty of time to stop at the cafe at 119 N. Commercial St. and have a bite. Banter is bright and cheerful, with a lot of the white tile and light hardwoods you’d expect from one of the other pretentious coffee shops in Bellingham. That vibe is offset by lush plants and art adorning the walls, and the instantaneous greetings from the folks behind the register.

The Banter name isn’t just a name, and it shows in the playful and familiar chats you’ll have with staff. In between jokes and discussions about their favorite items, I put in an order for a coffee, pastry and breakfast burrito.

photo  Bookend your average workday with stops at Banter Cafe and Banter After Hours. Start out in the morning with an oat milk cortado. The menu at the cafe also includes a variety of more health-conscious breakfast drinks — smoothies and the like. (Photo by Mark Saleeb)  

Coming out first was my usual oat milk cortado ($4.25). Like every competent coffee shop, they use barista-oriented oat milk that foams to a smooth and velvety consistency. Their coffee is more akin to the profile of classic espresso, not the tart and ultra-fruity roasts you’ll get at somewhere like Camber or Makeworth. This suits me just fine since this isn’t the kind of shop you slurp espresso at. All in all, it’s a simple and very solid cup.

The menu also includes a variety of more health-conscious breakfast drinks — smoothies and the like. Despite my mild allergy to avocados, the Mint Condition ($8), a banana, avocado and mint smoothie, is excellent and oh-so wholesome. 

And finally, the breakfast burrito — full of promise. First, enjoy the gorgeous cross-section, showing off melty cheese and crisp tater tots. Where most breakfast burritos tend towards a monolithic “squishy and soft,” this one adds in the complementary, and necessary, texture of crunch. 

The nontraditional use of mozzarella works well, with substantially less congealing cheese than you would get in other burritos. Brown rice provides a lot of body and a tasty filler. Chipotle lime aioli and a kidney bean salsa hands over the acid to go along with the fat of the mozzarella and the salt of the tater tots.


Noticeably absent are meat and eggs, though they are available as add-ons. This burrito offers a number of customization options, including vegan substitutions. Adding bacon and eggs lifts the price up to a hefty $17. 

photo  The breakfast burrito at Banter Cafe is full of promise. First, enjoy the gorgeous cross-section, showing off melty cheese and crisp tater tots. Where most breakfast burritos tend towards a monolithic “squishy and soft,” this one adds in the complementary, and necessary, texture of crunch. (Photo by Mark Saleeb)  

Sans meat, I’ve never felt that the burrito was missing anything. I do, however, douse it in their house habanero hot sauce. Without a doubt, this is my all-time favorite breakfast burrito. 

Flash forward 8.5 hours. The workday is done, and you could use a drink. Keep up the Banter, bring a coworker and head to After Hours, located at 114 Prospect St. (and 21+ only). My first visit was right after opening at 5 p.m.

Taking advantage of their happy hour menu, I ordered the Impossible Burger and beer combo ($12) and the spiced cauliflower ($9; $7 during happy hour). The beer list includes a well-curated selection of local Bellingham brews to choose from. I also added on a plate of Shenanigans ($6), an assortment of house pickles. 

The fried cauliflower and the Shenanigans arrived first. I have a fondness for fried cauliflower, and this was a great rendition. The addition of pickled peppers played very well with the subtle sweetness of cauliflower. The Shenanigans were a very simple, but tasty, selection of pickles, as expected. This is more of a sidecar for another dish, and not something that stands alone. I pushed them to the side as my burger was brought out.

photo  At Banter After Hours, an assortment of house pickles dubbed Shenanigans includes a simple, but tasty, selection of pickles. This is more of a sidecar for another dish, and not something that stands alone. (Photo by Mark Saleeb)  

While I have nothing against vegan meat substitutes, they’re not generally something I find to be equal to the real thing. I took a chance, and I’m glad I did. While I cannot say with 100% certainty that this is the best hamburger I’ve ever had in Bellingham, it jockeys for top three. 

The Impossible patty was cooked perfectly, the Avenue Bread buns were toasted impeccably and the bread-and-butter pickles were snappy and sweet. The same chipotle lime aioli used in the burritos takes the place of plain old mayo. The star of the show is the tomato jam. It’s chunkier than ketchup but less watery than a slice of tomato — savory, sweet, with an umami hit that draws every other ingredient together and ties it up with a perfect bow.

Returning a couple of days later, I tried potato pierogies ($17) and the crispy tofu ($8), along with dessert.

photo  At Banter After Hours, crispy tofu is fried without batter, and served alongside a sticky-sweet gochujang sauce. (Photo by Mark Saleeb)  

A consistent factor in the menus is a lack of fear when it comes to mixing cuisines together, and that gamble pays off. The pierogies were seasoned with both pickled onions and sour cream, but also a fantastic zaatar chili crisp. Dissimilar cuisines, but excellent when combined. The crispy tofu was simpler, fried without batter and served alongside a sticky-sweet gochujang sauce.

Last but not least: dessert. I ordered the chocolate rum mousse and the sticky date cake. The mousse was beautifully served and presented, with a delicate tuile embedded in the Luxardo cherry sauce. It’s a really pretty dessert, but it is, at the end of the day, a very good mousse. The sticky date cake, on the other hand, is a showstopper. Tender, toothsome, sweet, contrasting the warm cake with the cold ice cream — this is a dessert that will change your life.

photo  The sticky date cake at Banter After Hours is a showstopper. Tender, toothsome, sweet, contrasting the warm cake with the cold ice cream — this is a dessert that will change your life. (Photo by Mark Saleeb)  

Bellingham is no stranger to micro-chains, but what’s different about the Banter family is that they’re still different. Carrying a commonality and a name across otherwise dissimilar restaurants means that no matter the meal or mood, you can probably find a Banter restaurant to fit — or at least, that’s the plan.

For more details about Banter Cafe and Banter After Hours, go to banterhospitality.com.

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