Aggieville is quickly turning into a late-night food hotspot for the Manhattan community. Though the bars stayed open late, choices for good food were extremely limited up to just a few years ago.
Locally-owned restaurants in Aggieville like CoCo Bolos, AJ’s Pizza, the Varsity Truck and Bluestem Bistro are changing this by offering the Manhattan community more and increasingly better options to cure late-night cravings.
CoCo Bolos serves food until midnight Tuesday through Saturday. The restaurant launched its shorter, late-night menu just two years ago. The menu offers much of the same food as the day version, with the exception of steaks and other wood-fire grill items.
“(The grill) is a safety issue, we can’t leave a hot fire unattended,” Mark Desmet, general manager at CoCo Bolos, said. “When we close the building … the embers are just dying out. We don’t want to put the fire out with water or some other chemical because a lot of the flavor that you get is from the grill developing over the years.”
CoCo Bolos appeals to customers with lots of late-night activities to accompany the food. Events such as concert films and chess nights happen weekly.
Since Varsity Donuts opened its food truck in 2012, it has become a must-have Thursday to Saturday. It started out as an outdoor room to make donuts, but quickly turned into a Aggieville staple.
“We have always cooked our donuts out of a food truck in the back parking lot,” Leah Hyman, co-owner of Varsity Donuts, said. “Finally, about two years ago now, we cut a window on the side of the truck and swung it open.”
The Varsity Truck introduced the grilled cheese mac and cheese as a savory companion to the donuts and corn dogs.
“Grilled cheese is a mashup of two amazing comfort foods that everyone loves,” Hyman said. “It’s low-tech, but also just delicious and seems like a natural fit.”
Hyman said Varisity started the late-night menu to keep the history and tradition of Manhattan’s love for late-night donuts alive.
“Manhattan has this really rich tradition of late-night donuts, going back a few decades (when) there was a shop called Vern’s and Swaney’s; they were two shops that were open late at night and people would go back there at the end of their evening and get hot donuts,” Hyman said. “There are a lot of Manhattan residents, older residents who have really fond memories of that and we want to keep the tradition alive.”
The newest addition to late-night food scene in Aggieville is the Bluestem Bistro window. Bluestem Bistro launched its late-night window in the spring of 2014. People can stop by for food on the way down the main strip any time between 10 p.m. and 2:30 a.m.
“The owner’s wife had the idea for the window,” Annie Spence, manager at Bluestem Bistro, said.“They kind of wanted it to be a music reference to the window, we play like hip-hop and stuff sometimes out the window.”
With a selection that ranges from Philly Cheesesteak tacos to Nutella waffles on a stick, the Bluestem window manages to combine diverse food choices with the lively atmosphere.
“We serve tacos, hoagies and waffle lollies,” Spence said. “Sweet and savory, you can mix and match however you like.”
The bistro’s staff said they don’t feel like the window is competing with other late night foods, like the Varsity Truck, but rather adds to the food culture.
“There’s a strong sense of community and fun that comes with being able to be on the streets of Aggieville when its dark, and being able to walk up to (a place) you know and order something you wouldn’t normally have … to treat yourself and sit down with friends on the patio,” Spence said. “The patio at night, with the lights and sounds of Aggieville, gives Manhattan’s Aggieville an otherworldly feeling.”
New food selections are not the only thing Bluestem Bistro is adding to Aggieville. Its window blasts music and on Saturday nights, Spence entertains the crowd with juggling or fire eating.
“Every now and again, I will go out and juggle and do street performances,” Spence said. “We want it to be a bright spot in Aggieville at night, and an entertainment area that is kinda fun.”
Kite’s Grille and Bar staff acknowledged the appeal that the late-night food scene in Aggieville.
“We already have those customers captured,” Alex Smith, manager at Kite’s, said. “They are already here, and serving food to them could be something easy to do.”
The idea might seem easy, but has proven itself challenging for big bars like Kite’s.
“We’ve done a few things, but it’s hard to keep track of some people that aren’t always in the solid state of mind,” Smith said.
According to Smith, the likelihood of Kite’s entering the competition is slim.
“(There’s) solid competition in late-night food,” Smith said. “They are already doing it and they are good at it, and we’re pretty busy with everything else we’re doing (at) night.”
Hyman said she doesn’t look at other late-night food as competition, but as partners striving towards a common goal.
“I say the more the merrier,” Hyman said. “Everything adds to Aggieville’s late-night scene and Aggieville as a whole. I think anything out there that makes the district a little more interesting is going to be good for everyone.”