Reminiscent of the stunning VISUAL Centre in Carlow town and its long-established restaurant Lennons@VISUAL, this is another great example of the revitalising effect that an inspiring modern arts centre and a good restaurant showcasing local food can have on an Irish town.
Like VISUAL, Source Arts Centre is right in the heart of the town and it's in a lovely setting alongside the River Suir. Here, In a long, bright room that's full of promise, Stef Hans Café serves delicious food based on local produce - and it has become a destination in its own right.
It's run by Stefan Matthia, of the legendary Cashel restaurant family, and his wife Ruth. Stefan's father, Hans-Peter (now retired) was the pioneering chef who established the wonderful Chez Hans in 1968, now run by Stefan's brother Jason; next door is the excellent daytime Café Hans, which was originally set up by Stefan and the third brother, Hansi, who has run it solo since Stefan opened this new venture in Thurles in 2016.
So, with the cheffing gene going strong and all that experience in the frame, it's not hard to see why those in the know are happy to take a detour from the nearby Dublin-Cork motorway to join the lucky locals at this casual daytime spot.
The family philosophy is plain to see in quality sourcing - local, often organic, foods provide the foundation of enticing and simply presented menus, and you'll find the same attention to detail in the drinks list, which includes carefully selected wines (all available by the glass), craft beers and local apple juice from the Traas family's orchard The Apple Farm nearby at Cahir.
Being in the Golden Vale, this is meat country - and that includes the Irish Piedmontese beef that goes into the superb beefburgers here - but menus are well balanced. There are plenty of good choices for vegetarians - colourful beetroot, hazelnut and Toonsbridge feta salad, for example - and excellent fish from Dalys Seafoods in Kerry, who have a shop in the town. There's 'real food' for children too, such as tasty spaghetti bolognaise or homemade fish fingers, served with a choice of milk or apple juice.
Trademark treats that will be familiar to fans of Cafe Hans in Cashel include great soups - Moyglass chestnut mushroom soup, perhaps, very sensibly available in two sizes (cup or bowl) and served with terrific freshly baked bread.
A superb Mezze platter with home bread comes with hummus, dips, and olives, a lovely dish to be shared between two (and all for just €7.50). A Coronation Chicken open sandwich is another regular on the menu; served with organic leaves, house pickle, chutney and fries it's a simple dish that's full of great flavours and textures - and well priced too.
Desserts are outstanding, so don't leave without a treat - a terrific traditional Lemon Tart (with meringue, cream and strawberry), perhaps, or Iced Hazelnut Nougat - to accompany the excellent coffee: barista style, fair-trade and organic, it is served in a variety of styles.
All this, and exceptionally friendly, helpful service too. Well worth a detour off the M8.