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Very nice food and a good value
Price: 2500 yen
I attended Wakara for a bounenkai for one of the adult small group lessons I teach. There were around 12 of us there and the staff was very accommodating. The space is large enough that there were several other large parties in the restaurant, and most groups were in separate rooms or separated by room dividers.
We ordered the set menu for chicken for 2500 per person, plus the additional cost of drinks. There was a lot of food and it was all tasty, a Japanese style course menu but with a modern accent.
The staff kept bringing out new dishes for us to share, from a sashimi salad with fried noodles mixed in, to pizza, to ice cream and hot green tea. Everything was really nice and we could eat a lot, plus a couple of the students took some leftover chicken home. We had a good time and staff helped by taking some nice pictures of the group.
Wakara is close to Nishitetsu Kurume Station and JR Minami Kurume Station, but most easily accessed by bus, car, or bicycle as it's at least a ten minute walk from a station.
In the Area
I lived in Kurume for a good six months before ever visiting Erupia Community Center, despite it being a very convenient place close to where I live. E-ru means yell, but in a positive way, as in ‘cheer or support’ and Pia is Japanese English for Peer. The name of the community center is a little strange but I get the idea it’s encouraging cheering for your friends and classmates, or supporting their efforts. The first time I visited was to substitute teach an English lesson in one of the study rooms that can be reserved for as little as 500 yen. (Note that rooms need to be reserved by students, so if you want to start a freelance lesson, you’ll have to ask your students to sign up and reserve the space.) There are also open study spaces available for free that anyone can use as long as they stay quiet. This is a great resource for someone starting out teaching freelance lessons (English or otherwise). There are rooms for yoga or exercise and art classrooms, a cosy space on the fourth floor, and a café as well. It’s one of the few modern buildings in town and is fairly comfortable although not excessively air conditioned in the open areas. There's a fancy scale that will print out your weight and BMI, plus a blood pressure tester, for a free self check-up. Japanese lessons (taught by volunteers) are available for foreigners.Not too far from Nishitetsu Kurume station, Erupia has a good size parking lot/car park and lots of bicycle parking, which fills up quickly. It might be from all of the students on summer vacation who are forced out of their houses so their parents can have some peace and quiet. There’s a steady stream of seniors taking lessons for fun and students meeting friends to study. Depending on how busy the study areas are, this is a good option with no expectation to buy anything, compared with meeting in a café. It gets crowded during lunchtime and several people bring bento and chat with friends, so it might not be the best time to study if you’re easily distracted.
Hanada is an izakaya very close to Nishitetsu Kurume Station. There are tons of izakaya in the area, but this one was chosen by a company I work with as the meeting place for this year's company party. There were 15 people in our group and the restaurant had prepared for us ahead of time. We had the 2 hour tabe-nomi hodai option and the manager used a coupon so we got free motsunabe, which was waiting on the table for us when we arrived. (Motsunabe is a nabe made from intestine and other inner parts, and it's quite popular around here.) We had one pot of miso motsunabe and one shoyu base motsunabe, sitting on the burners ready to be cooked up. The menu was the usual appetizer type dishes and salads common at izakaya, so we ordered a lot of dishes and drinks and had a nice time. The space was slightly cramped for our large group but we managed, and there were a couple other areas with smaller tables, as well as a bar seating area. We stayed a bit longer than the two hours to finish off the drinks that had been ordered at last call. I guess I always feel bad for staying while staff is trying to clean up or for being in a group of foreigners, especially if they are on the noisy side. I'm not a fan of smoking in restaurants or izakaya, but Hanada was ventilated well enough that we couldn't really smell smoke from other groups very often. They're open from 5pm-midnight every day.
This spring, Kona's Coffee - Hawaiian Pancake Cafe opened.It was really crowded for months after opening, with a parking assistant directing traffic into the parking lot (to avoid hitting any of the elementary school students walking by). We finally made time to check it out, as it seemed like it must be decent, after all there were still people going there often six months later. It just sounded interesting because of the Hawaiian theme, but I don't really get the connection with Hawaii and pancakes. Maybe they have good coffee though, we thought. Worth a try.We went on a Sunday afternoon so as expected there was a line, about a 15 minute wait, going through the list of guests quickly. They served tiny cups of cold coffee to everyone waiting to be seated. I liked that the tables and chairs were sort of mismatched. There were tropical plants everywhere and surfboards hanging on the wall. Plus lots of fun Engrish on the menu and signs. We were surprised that there were not only pancakes on the menu, but super fancy pancakes, plus burgers. We went with it and ordered food instead of just a coffee. A burger sounded rad to me, so I ordered a hamburger pancake plate: avocado cheeseburger (hamburg style without a bun), two pancakes and a salad. My companions had the Macadamia Nut Coconut Pancakes and the Apple Milk Pancakes (with a cup of soft cream and a mountain of whipped cream). We skipped on drinks, although they have some amazing sounding coffee and smoothies. It was a little pricey to get both. Got the chance to taste the other two dishes and everything was yummy, a very satisfying meal. The hamburg was juicy but Japanese sized. Might go for a normal burger and skip the fluffy pancakes next time. They have a pepper mill on each table with 'ground coffee' inside, for topping pancakes, but the flavor wasn't obvious. The atmosphere is good, mostly women meeting friends, as expected. Kona's Coffee is on Highway Three near JR Minami Kurume, Nishitetsu Kurume or Hanabatake stations. It's a 15 minute walk from Nishitetsu Kurume station, but possible to take several buses in that direction (numbers 3, 30, and 31). Seems like most people drive there.After checking for restaurant hours, I saw that their site shows tons of restaurants all over Japan owned by the same big company. As this appears to be a chain, maybe there's one near you. toridoll.com
Just having a look around to see what's available one rainy day; curious about what's different in Kurume's Iwataya as compared with the bigger location in Tenjin (Fukuoka). In Iwataya's depachika (basement market), there are specialty grocers selling teas and high end fruit. There is a French style bakery there, and their free samples lured me in. The salt bread was nostalgic for me, soft on the inside with a crisp outside, made with olive oil and rock salt. The condensed milk bread was just new to me and really mild but sweet. I got these to go and share at dinner time. Other nice options were beautiful apple pies and sweet chestnut danishes. There is some seating available in the store and beverages are also sold.I'm guessing the name of this panya means "golden angel," and Google Translate tells me I'm correct! I won't bother trying to translate the French on their bags, but go ahead if you're curious, there's a photo for you.
The local coffee roaster, Bona Fors, roasts the coffee you want (and even suggests one for you if you aren't sure) while you wait. The coffee snob in me couldn't wait to try this even though there was a chance it could totally ruin my instant coffee habit and budget. I have mostly converted to the supermarket coffee for hand drip or cold press/mizu dashi at home, so why not. Coffee can be purchased with a minimum of 200 grams. While obviously (about three times) more expensive than a bag of ground coffee in a supermarket, the prices are comparable to what you'd pay at a Kaldi coffee or Starbucks, and much more fresh. For 200 grams at Bona Fors, you'll pay at least 600-700 yen. We went with the bitter Guatemala blend, for enjoying with dessert, or as recommended for ice coffee. After waiting less than ten minutes, our pale raw coffee beans were roasted, ground to our request, and sealed in a bag. The smell of the freshly roasted and ground coffee was amazing - even in the sealed bag. I wanted it to sit in my clothes drawer so it could infuse everything with its awesome perfume.There is a small area to sit and enjoy coffee by the cup, if you want to try some while waiting for yours to roast or don't want to bring some home. The owner seems to be the only one who works there, and throws in the occasional English word to clarify. Hours are 10:00-19:00; on Tuesdays and national holidays the shop is closed. Unfortunately, the technicality of measuring the correct proportions of coffee and water made the awesomeness of fresh roasted coffee not so obvious. I was informed that for a mug that holds 200 ml, about 12-13 grams of coffee was appropriate. But my ability to measure something like grams is more like... how about a big spoonful? I think the coffee ended up too weak, although still fragrant and tasty. Not as magical as I had hoped.Armed with a coffee measuring scoop from a 100 yen store and math skills, I tried the appropriate amount of ground coffee and had way yummier results. Yokatta ne.http://bonafors.jp/