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How high will you go with CoHo cafe's cornbread and chili?

By Dave Jones on February 23, 2012 in University News


Manager Lauren Woods is no stranger to the workings of the Coffee House. She attended UC Davis for four years, and worked at the CoHo all that time, including a year as a student manager in the kitchen.

She received a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science in 2010, then went to work in the … restaurant business, as a front-of-house manager in Berkeley.

Now she is back at the Coffee House, managing the new CoHo South Café, and working once again with the CoHo “mom,” Sharon Coulson.

The menu: Coffee and a full espresso bar, plus other beverages; pastries and breakfast sandwiches (sausage and egg biscuits and ham and cheese croissants); hot and cold sandwiches for lunch; and, of course, the Chili Stack.

Hours: 7:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday. Some seating is available inside, and there is more outside the café, along Hutchison Drive, and in the lobby of the Student Community Center.

Where to find it: At the corner of Hutchison Drive and California Avenue, kitty-corner from Outdoor Adventures and the Silo. The café has entrances off the building lobby and off Hutchison Drive.

What’s to dig about the CoHo South Café?

First, the new digs, the first Coffee House expansion outside the Memorial Union.

And, second, a special dish to dig into.

Located in the new Student Community Center, the café offers coffee and other beverages, pastries, breakfast and lunch sandwiches, and the pièce de résistance: the Chili Stack, something you can’t even get at the Coffee House.

“We wanted a signature dish, something unique for our new café,” said Darin Schluep, food service manager for the Coffee House.

The Chili Stack is unique, all right. Actually, all three of them are unique: the regular, two layers of cornbread smothered by vegetarian, four-bean chili, topped with cheese and onions; the Triple Stack; and — wait for it — the Quad Stack, weighing in at almost 2 pounds (almost, but not quite, as big as the nearby Quad)!

See below for a review of the Quad Stack, by the first person to buy one!

And who came up with this big idea? None other than Sharon Coulson, Coffee House director for almost 30 years.

The CoHo is all about homemade, of course, and the Chili Stack fits right in — with Coulson pulling the concept from her family's history. She grew up in Placerville with four brothers, “and, although we didn’t have a lot of money, we ate well,” thanks to her stay-at-home mom, Anne, who clipped a lot of recipes, and her mother, Bea (Coulson’s grandmother), whose cooking skills inspired others in her family.

“Chili Stacks became an instant hit around our dinner table,” Coulson said.

“Mom would cook a slew of cornmeal pancakes and a big pot of chili, and we would make our stacks as big as we wanted —layering the chili, cheddar cheese and diced onions in between the corncakes.”

Her brothers stacked them high — inspiring the CoHo’s Quad Stack many years later.

'Love at first stack'

“It was our favorite dinner,” she said. “I missed it when I left home to go to college (Cal Poly San Luis Obispo) and didn’t eat them for many years.”

Fast forward to around 1995 when Coulson — already more than 10 years into her job as the CoHo director — started volunteering as an ocean kayaking guide for Outdoor Adventures.

“For my first weeklong trip to British Columbia, I planned a pretty involved menu that included Chili Stacks. I was an OA guide for several more years, and they were always on my menu and were always a big hit.

“My husband had them for the first time when we met on a Baja kayaking trip in 1999 — it was love at first stack!” (Her husband, Ted Abresch, is a UC Davis staff research associate in the field of neuromuscular diseases.)

The CoHo South Café brings coffee and food to a building that in just over a month has become a bustling center of student activity — home to the Cross Cultural Center and the Undergraduate Research Center, among many other student services.

The Coffee House provides production support to the café, but the new place also has its own kitchen — and that’s where the Chili Stacks come from, assembled with cornbread fresh from the oven.

“They clearly have a history that resonates personally for me,” Coulson said. “It is so fun to serve them to people for the first time and see their doubt turn to happiness.”

REVIEW: 'Architectural and gastronomical wonder'

Benson: First to order the Quad Stack, first to finish it. (Lauren Woods/UC Davis)

Mitchel Benson, associate vice chancellor of University Communications, made history Feb. 14, as the first person to buy a Quad Stack — and to eat the whole thing! Here is his review:

As the first person on record to consume a Quad Stack (hey, that's the sales pitch they used on me, and it worked!), I must go on record declaring it an architectural and gastronomical wonder.

As I carried this leaning tower o' cornbread and veggie chili through the door to my table, I marveled at the stick-to-itiveness of the ingredients.

But the look and structure were no match for the delicious taste I experienced when I stuck the first forkful into my mouth. The cornbread was crunchy on the outside yet moist and sweet on the inside, a nice contrast to the tanginess of the chili and the mixed textures of cheese, onions and beans.

Sure, you could order a regular stack, but why deny yourself double the pleasure!

One parting piece of advice: If the Quad Stack is what's for lunch, then a couple of ice chips is all that should be for breakfast. And consider a nice, leisurely walk afterward, to get the digestive system flowing. Enjoy!

Prices: $4.25 for the Chili Stack, $5.95 for the Triple Stack and $6.95 for the Quad Stack

Media contact(s)

Dave Jones, Dateline, 530-752-6556,