Coffee Shop Review #21 Bellwether

Down in Denver, exploring new coffee shops per usual. Categories out of 5.

Location-3.5(Way down on East Colfax Bellwether stands alone as a destination rather than a spot to stop in on a walkabout. However, Bellwether serves as a four stops in one shop featuring a cafe, small racks of clothing, a barbershop and a whiskey bar at night. The neighborhood is definitely up and coming and there are some emerging restaurants. as well as, the three great Denver music venues: The Bluebird, The Gothic Theater, and The Ogden. However, you will need to drive anywhere you are trying to go so it is best to square away some quality time and stay in rather than order coffee to take).

Barista Cuteness-4(The baristas at Bellwether are 1 for 1 so they are batting a 100 so far. The man serving us was so pleasant and in lieu of other customers hung about our table to discuss the changing Denver scene and tell us about the cafe. He was very well-dressed, which reflected the aesthetic of the store and clothing for sale very well. A peak in the back barbershop revealed well-coiffed attractive hipsters as to be expected).

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Coffee Knowledge/Expertise-4.5(We ordered two cappuccinos and a Kenya pour over to sample the coffee selection for taste, variety, and consistency. Bellwether serves coffee from Boxcar Coffee Roasters, a well-known Boulder/Denver roaster that is on the rise.  The cappuccinos were a bit dry (more foam) and the espresso did not have an unctuous taste, it was drier as if the beans were older and roasted to be more bitter. The Kenya pour over was served in a massive tin camping mug which was a great start. The coffee was flavorful, full bodied and was carefully prepared to bring out the fruity flavors).

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Ambiance-5(The design is where Bellwether truly shines. The all black and white color palette oozes a coolness that is very effortless. Simple chairs and tables complement focal design touches like the sewing table desk, overstuffed Winchester sofas, and fantastic Ducati motorcycle. Floor to ceiling windows on the street-facing wall let in ample light to brighten the dark features. The whiskey and coffee bar is very simple, neat and uncluttered which confirms the crisp, unfussed vibe).

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Food/Pastry Selection-3.5(A very meager single glass pastry stand held a few savory and sweet muffins, scones, and cookies. The selections did look appetizing and sound original but clearly was an afterthought for the cafe. Without having sampled any particular baked good I would ventrue to say they looked like they would tast very good but will need to confirm).

Overall Rating:4,1

A tale of two cities: Three Days in Berlin

Ra ra Berlin. This historically rich, techno infused town has a wide range of activities and outings to cater to every traveler, especially those operating within a budget. A couple of things that make Berlin such a bargain. First, transportation if free. Well…errrr…not free per say but payment is optional. There is no turnstile or tap in/out system so you can get away with using the S-Bahn, U-Bahn, Street Cars, and buses for free. If you get caught there will be a fine so ride at your own risk. Food and housing is also more affordable in Berlin than in other parts of Germany because it is still developing and emerging from its soviet or half GDR shell.

To Eat: Berlin has a very diverse population which is very favorable for food finds. A must in Berlin is doner, essentially shawarma and a famed great place to check out is Mustafa’s Gemüse Kebap. We stayed in Kreuzberg so a majority of our eats were in the Middle Eastern hood with a growing food scene. The first place we dined was Baraka. A fantastic Moroccan restaurant with great spiced dishes and tea. You can reserve seats in advance to get a table on the floor with cushions for the full experience. Another great place off of Goriltzer Park is  Bar Raval, This tapas joint brings surprisingly great Spanish cuisine to Berlin in unique dishes. Bar Raval is known for their extensive wine list and weekly paella nights. The vibe is very lively with a sleek ‘canteen-like’ feel. I’d recommend the shishito peppers and homemade flan. For authentic German food that is served on plates as big as your torso check out Tiergartenquelle. It is literally underneath a S-Bahn stop which makes the restaurant convenient although off the beaten bath. Try any dish they have with spaetzle, that’s their thing and make sure to get a giant liter of beer to accompany your meal.

For brunch and coffee I have three recommendations. First, Bateau Ivre is a kooky breakfast spot that sports vibrant art and a large array of mismatched lanterns. The cafe serves up classic European breakfast which consists of an array of meats, cheese, and fresh basket of bread. The meal is simple, hearty and a good start to the day. Next, Factory Girl! (exclamation included in the name) is located in a great part of the city called Friedrichshain. Here you’ll find lots of cafes and small boutiques. Factory Girl! is great for breakfast and lunch but most famous for their sweet treats. I got a deconstructed cream pie, which was basically fresh clotted cream with bits of dark chocolate bark all served over macerated berries. I’d also recommend the Sicilian sandwich. Finally, Neumond for a breakfast buffet that will make you believe in the concept of a buffet again. At first, you are going to think I am crazy for recommending Neumond because it is in a hotel but you have to trust me. For about ten euros you have an all you can eat breakfast where everything is homemade and they will make perfect farm fresh eggs to order. Plus the cappuccino is pretty good too. The brunch serves up fresh bread, spreads and great jam (so good that I even bought too small mason jars of it). Fresh salads and fruit are also on the laden banquet along with a great meat and cheese selection.

To Visit: Berlin is known for it’s checkered history and there are powerful reminders throughout the city. Two world wars have left the city with a host of interesting cultural sites and several should not be missed. To begin with The Wall business we found that the Black Box (History of the Cold War) mini museum next to Checkpoint Charlie had a great interactive history of the time during the divided city. One must also check out the East Side Gallery, while touristy it is a impressive strip of beautifully decorated murals on The Wall from artists all around the world. The backside of the “gallery” also has some amazing graffiti and a solid view of the River Spree.

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Mitte is aptly named and contains the heart of the government and Berlin’s cultural sites. The area is marked with the beautifully ornate Brandenburg Gate. We did a cheap hop-on hop -off bus tour that took us around Mitte and our favorite spots were the Vicotry Coulmn, which was actually moved by Hitler’s urban planners and boasts a mini musum that pays tribute to monuments around the world. You can also climb up to the top for a good view of the Tiergarten. The Holocaust Memorial and museum underneath is very moving and the memorial pulls you into a maze of grey that is chaotic and very moving.

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For two incredible views of Berlin that have awesome audio guides that provide an incredible amount of information check out the Reichstag and Berliner Dome. Both contrast each other very well and provide quality sites. The Reichstag Dome is a modern glass globe that is an incredibly enormous indoor-outdoor space designed by the famed architect Norman Foster. the audio guide is timed as you work your way up the curved walkway of the dome and gives commentary on each point of interest in the 360 degree view. The Berliner Dome is a classic cathedral dome with a steep winding staircase and a narrow indoor and outdoor passageway. You get a great view of the church itself looking out to the spires and gargoyles as well as inside to the alter below. We went at night and managed to capture a great sunset over Berlin.

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Some final tour stops include a free show at the modern Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester. The Symphonie puts on free lunch time shows several days of the week which are a fun informal gathering of tourists, businessmen, and art patrons. Also, depending on when you visit Berlin it is absolutely necessary to hit up a traditional German Christmas market. Drink gluvine (mulled wine), eat tasty baked goods and be merry. We fit in three markets in our three days in Berlin.

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To Drink: There are a lot of places to get beer in Berlin, make sure to consult a local for their favorite beirgarten. For some alternative choices I’d recommend Roses Bar, Prinzipal Kreuzberg, and SO36. Roses Bar is tiny gay bar that was perfectly described by my flatmate as “the inside of tacky 70s furniture.” Why this odd description? Because the bar is literally vinyl, studs, and pink furry walls all put together. The place is also electric, not just with the friendly crowd but the literal electric hum of fluorescent lights and other colored bulbs that cover entire walls. Prinzipal is a burlesque bar that has high quality drinks (be warned they have high price tags attached as well). Stop in for one drink to feel fancy and see the speak-easy style decor, very 20’s and Baroque inspired. Finally we stumbled upon S036 accidentally when coming out of Roses. Turned out it was a dance hall that hosts a variety of different events each night. Once a month they have a Roler Disco, which was, you guessed it, the day we went. Grab Roller Skates and stumble to the bar, have a drink for courage then skate around the disco ball lit rink to German techno and old R&B because what could be better?

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To Party: While we were on too much of whirlwind trip to put in the time to enjoy Berlin’s famous club scene. I will pass down some words of wisdom from a fellow ex-pat who took up residence in Berlin for a year. According to Mathew Jones “if you wanna dance to some great techno music; Check out Sisyphos (if its open) it is the best club in the world in my opinion. If closed I would also recommend Greissmhule or Kater Blau. As with most clubs in Berlin, doors don’t open till after midnight Friday and are open till Sunday or Monday, but be ready to wait in a line.”

A River Runs Through It: 48 Hours in Amsterdam

The title should be several canals run through it but this was more catchy. Living close to mainland Europe has it perks, mainly quick, cheap flights to little European treasures. Amsterdam provides a great setting for a quick getaway as it is small and very easy to get around. Here’s an insider guide to my perfect trip to this Netherlands staple.

To Stay: There are some great hostels in Amsterdam that have been personally recommended to me although I stayed with friends. For excellent location check out the Hotel Van Gogh , right in the heart of the museum quarter. This budget hotel has a youth section that serves the function as a hostel and is simple and clean. For a more communal, party vibe check out the The Flying Pig. This funky hostel has a few locations and serves up some unique decor and a youth-centered vibe.

To Eat: In Amsterdam there are “coffee shops” and there are cafes. Don’t confuse the two or you’l end up eating an edible for breakfast and your day will take an odd turn. A great cafe to start the day is Coffee and Coconuts. CT is in the very trendy neighborhood of Die Pijp, right by the Heineken Factory. The cafe is in a converted cinema and has three spacious floors with low beige seating. The feeling is sophisticated beach resort and they hit the nail on the head with the nautical decor and wood touches. The food is spot on and very health conscious. Coconut are incorporated in many of the sweet dishes, I had an amazing coconut sponge cake with lime mascarpone icing. My friend had a packed acai bowl with palm berry puree,  raw buckini, blueberry, banana, & dried coconut. On the savory side, we enjoyed two Le Croissants, a grilled croissant with bacon, cheese and tomato, CT’s mustard and garden cress. The mustard was grainy and went well with the tangy tomatoes. The bacon was real American “stripey” bacon which is hard to find in Europe. The croissant was a touch over-grilled and turned out to be a bit smushed so maybe ask for light on the panini press. Our cappuccinos were perfection, make sure you indicate you want a double shot so they are not too weak. Another thing you must try in Amsterdam is Rijstaffel, which translates to “rice table”. Rijstaffel is a collection of small Indonesian dishes served tapas style. I’ve been told that this you’ll get more of a variety of Indonesian food in Amsterdam because when visiting Indonesia the cuisine is highly region-specific but Rijstaffel lets you try it all. We were recommended a great place by CT that we didn’t get a chance to try called Albina, a tiny restaurant that’s hard not to confuse with the kitchen supply store next door. Our host had a great quote about Dutch cuisine that went like this “The Dutch don’t do food very well but they do get desserts right.” What she means is that you MUST visit street vendors for authentic Dutch desserts usually consisting of fried dough, waffles and caramel. Another dish that the Dutch do get right are Dutch pancakes duh. Our favorite place was a tiny upstairs joint called Pannenkoekenhuis Upstairs. Make sure you check google maps for their very strange hours.

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Museums, Museums, and more Museums: Amsterdam is oversaturated with museums and the thing about their museums is that they are NOT cheap. So you have to get strategic. All art tastes are different but I’m going to go ahead a lay out the path that worked best for me and I think ticked a lot of art and cultural boxes. First, the Anne Frank House cannot be missed. It is beautifully preserved a very moving tribute to the Jews persecuted during WWII. Without giving too much away I will say that flowing through the eerily preserved house is powerful and after the capture of Anne Frank and her family the museum architecture shifts to emulate a concentration camp in a very unique way. Ajacent to the Anne Frank House are two (shockingly) free museums that will make you smile after your sombre experience. The Cheese and Tulip Museum are definitely cheesy (har) but worth a trip to a. nosh on some cheese samples and b. learn about the Tulip trade in The Netherlands which is actually quite interesting. Next, the Rijksmuseum provided the biggest bang for your buck. The museum houses everything from Dutch masters such as Rembrandt’s Night Watch to various works by Van Gogh, as well as, contemporary works and baroque artifacts. The design of the museum also gives is an edge as it is very grand and ornate. The public garden in front tops it off and you can take a quick jaunt over to the “I Amsterdam” sign. I always need a reprieve from serious classic paintings and a perfect place to get your modern fix is Foam, a photography museum that is smartly curated and designed.

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To Drink: Once you are wiped out from walking in parks, touring museums, and canal biking (paddle boating on canals is a must) then you will need a drink (or two, or three). So beer is the name of the game in Amsterdam and theire are two great places to get it. One, Brouwerji ‘t IJ a craft brewery in a windmill, need I say more? Make sure to get there before 5 PM for flight tastings of their amazing selection of hoppy brews. Second, TAPROOM, they have over 25 beers on tap that are all craft brews from all over the world. They have some killer stouts and porters. The atmosphere gets funky in the late evening when the Justin Bieber comes on.

Sigh, one trip done. In Britain “Lateness is Rudeness” so I’ll try to be more one it for future postings. Look forward to Berlin, Norway and Turkey coming up.

Coffee Shop Review #20 Crema Coffee House

Back on the Denver coffee shop circuit, business is blossoming. Categories out of 5.

Location-4(On Larimer Street, the popular area used to be South of the baseball stadium with Edison Lightbulbs strung over restaurants and shops. However, ever since the creation of the new and hip RiNo, or River North Art District the North end of the street has been getting its fair share of attention. Crema Coffee House is still a little off the beaten path and you will probably find yourself parking near the homeless shelter but fear not because after you grab a coffee at Crema you can stroll South and see beautiful murals and graffiti that liven the slightly run down landscape).

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Barista Cuteness-4.5(If scruffy hipster baristas are what you like, you got ’em at Crema. The friendly staff gave lots of smiles and suggestions for food and drink. The man serving us had no problem explaining the differences between the two espressos they were serving as well).

Coffee Knowledge/Expertise-5(Crema takes their drinks seriously and does them right. Most drinks are served in one size and one size only which indicates that they will contain the proper ratios of espresso, milk, foam and crema of course. My mom and I ordered a pair of cappuccinos while my friend Seth sampled their Ethiopian single origin espresso. The cappuccinos lived up to my expectations perfectly cupping a third espresso, milk and foam. The latte art was also very impressive, illustrating the perfect steaming of the milk. The espresso was hearty enough to stand up against the rest of the cups’ contents and you could even taste the subtle chocolate notes).

Ambiance-5(Crema is deceptively large with a spacious front room, wraparound bar and quiet back room. The front room has bright blue folding chairs and bucket seats. Modern wood tables match the quirky art on the walls. The photography displayed across from the entrance is probably swapped out but is is currently beautiful photographs with ink detailing that makes them intricate and eye catching. The back room looked cozier, with larger furniture perfect for reading and doing work).

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Food/Pastry Selection-4.5(Crema is not only serious about their coffee but about their food as well. The food menu is small but has interesting twists on classic lunch foods. PB&J is now peanut almond butter, date-balsamic jam, and chèvre and a Reuban Sandwich is made “Korean” with duck pastrami, sambal aioli, fresh kimchi slaw, and chèvre. While I have not sampled any of the lunch fare yet I can safely give them points for creativity. We of course did not leave without grabbing a couple pastries to try. We sampled an interesting strawberry brioche roll and a slice of almond lemon sponge cake. The two baked goods were quite a vision and it was hard to cut into them. Once past that we dug into the amazing treats that were incredibly light and flavorful).

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Overall Rating: 4.6

Coffee Shop Review #19 La Colombe

La Colombe is a Philadelphia based coffee roaster that has expanded to New York City, Chicago, and D.C.

Location-4(La Colombe’s DC location is located in the Shaw neighborhood that we are constantly being told is up and coming, which it is. Don’t be fooled by the N Street address however, the cafe is located in Blagden Alley. I biked right past it the first time so some signage would have been nice. Upon finding the tucked away building, the secluded location was very enjoyable).

Barista Cuteness-4(The baristas at La Colombe are all smiles, although not the most helpful when it comes to coffee selection. I appreciated when a barista came by to take my finished dishes instead of watching them stack up. I was even startled out of my Pharrell work mode by an employee coming up to complement my ring).

Coffee Knowledge/Expertise-4.5(This was my first taste of La Colombe coffee so per usual I started with the cappuccino test. I was happy to be offered my choice of espresso and a recommendation of which would stack of best against milk. La Colombe’s coffee is robust and doesn’t try to be anything to fancy, which I can appreciate as a change of pace).

Ambiance-3.5(There are hits and misses for La Colombe when it comes to their cafe design and environment. The long narrow space is very interesting but the seating is a little stagnant. Simple wooden chairs are not too comfortable and they don’t match the exposed brick aesthetic. La Colombe also does not believe in posting menu boards which is an extreme form of pretension that is difficult and inconvenient. While you probably enter knowing what you are going to order you have no idea how much it is going to cost and for those who are not as coffee savvy it poses an even bigger problem. The best part of La Colombe’s DC location is the outdoor buildout. Wide wooden benches are covered by the entrance and provide a very nice shady place to enjoy your coffee year round).

Food and Pastry Selection-4.5(The best part about La Colombe is the beautiful pottery that food and drinks are served on. You’re immediately going to fall in love with anything you get because of it. The pastry selection mainly consists of classic french baked goods including olive oil cakes, canelles, and macaroons. The one issue is that they don’t get enough pastries so you have to make sure you get there in time to sample a good treat. I chose a Nutella morning bun with a fancier name. The crunchy glazed top was delicious and the delicately intertwined layers of buttery dough and Nutella were fantastic).

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Overall Rating; 4.1IMG_3750

Coffee Shop Review #18 ThreeFifty Bakery and Coffee Bar

Adams Morgan and U Street have received some special exploring attention now that my boyfriend has moved there. He showed me this sweet spot with ratings out of four.

Location-4.75 (ThreeFifty Bakery and Coffee Bar is located on U Street and 16th. It is a prime location, right below the heart of Adam’s Morgan and to the West of trendy 14th Street. The bakery is tucked under an apartment building amongst other houses giving it an intimate charm. At ThreeFifty you are in a residential haven in the city. Coming from Chicago, I sometimes miss the neighborhood feel of local shops and cafes so ThreeFifty sits perfectly outside the busy main streets of Adam’s Morgan and Logan Circle. The only thing that would make ThreeFifty the ultimate spot is if it were a tad closer to a metro stop, then again, it could loose its charm).

Barista Cuteness-4.0(Forget barista cuteness and let’s talk about patron cuteness. No, I am not biased because I went there with my boyfriend, he is not counting in this scenario. There were so many peacoat adorned dapper gentlemen in and out of the coffee shop on my few visits.  In addition, I sat next to an exceptionally attractive and friendly Kate Hudson look-a-like on my first visit. Pivoting back to the Baristas, they are sweet and come off as very humble, a quality I don’t often see).

Coffee Knowledge/Expertise-3.5(The baristas at ThreeFifty are seem knowledgable and know their coffee stuff. The bad is the coffee stuff itself. ThreeFifty serves Illy coffee and espresso which is received better by some more than others. For me, Illy is far too bitter. Illy coffee is imported from Italy and is straight up coffee. No-nonsense, not too many flavor notes, very dark. After having a cappuccino and an ice coffee I needed to switch it up so I ordered a London Fog. A London Fog is Early Grey tea with steamed milk and a drizzle of honey. The two London Fogs I have had at the coffee bar are the best I have ever had. They serve a very high quality French Early Grey tea with the perfect ratio of hot water to milk. The Jasmine tea is also smooth and lovely, so I would recommend the tea side of things).

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Ambiance-5.0(The ambiance of ThreeFifty is in line with it’t neighborhood feel . The decor is rustic and simple. The wood floors make the small space all the more cozy and warm. The prime seating is at the huge bay window in the front where light pours in on you as you do work. The first time I was there, I was sitting in the window as flakes of snow danced about, it was utterly fantastic. The amount of seats is very small, but people move in and out fairly quickly. The patrons of the cafe are very local, as one has to be to find such a tiny spot).

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Food/Pastry Selection-4.75(ThreeFifty’s claim to fame, or at least to my high rating and four visits in two weeks, is definitely their bakery. I first had the ricotta muffin from the bakery and it was amazing. I typically despise muffins, agreeing with those who call them bald cupcakes but not this muffin. The creamy ricotta on the inside was a fresh bite that added flavor, moisture and texture to the wonderful muffin. Other pastries that I have consumed include a ginger scone and blueberry lemon pound cake. Both had very subtle flavors from their main ingredients but were perfectly balanced. My boyfriend has also ordered two of ThreeFifty’s quiches. The savory side of the bakery has also had great results. The crusts of the quiches have constantly been buttery and flakey. The mini quiches also pack in quite a lot of ingredients into each little bite, more filling then their size would indicate. The only reason why I marked the bakery down a quarter of a point was due to the fact that they were out of my precious ricotta muffin not once, but twice! Oh the horror! I suppose it did force me to review other treats, however it was still upsetting).

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Overall Rating: 4.4

Coffee Shop Review #17 Elixr Coffee Roasters

What came out of the briefest stint in Philadelphia was this wonderful coffee shop and roaster. Five points for five categories holds true in Philly.

Location-3.5 (I am forced to discuss location based off of feel and recommendations because I did not get a chance to traverse the whole city myself for the coolest areas. I would put Elixr Coffee Roasters in the SoHo of Philly, with high end boutiques and a random Chipotle flanking the Sydenham Street location. So if your Uniqulo bags are weighing you down or you are staying at one of the many hotels on Broad Street stroll on over for a relaxing visit).

Barista Cuteness-5.0 (The men behind the counter at Elixr were charming and very friendly. After explaining my own affinity for coffee and sharing that I also worked at a coffee shop wonderful discounts and conversation streamed in. The baristas were very in tune with the DC coffee scene and loved swapping restaurant and gelato recommendations. Stellar personality and attractiveness should garner the three bonus points but a five will suffice).

Coffee Knowledge/Expertise-4.5 (As the name suggest Elixr Coffee Roasters is not only a cafe but also a roastery and they serve up their own single origin beans ad espresso blend. I started with a Cafetin pour over from Costa Rica. The cup was slightly bitter and not my favorite cup of coffee. For those who like fuller bodied coffees with darker roasts this is a fitting selection. I did enjoy the earthy taste of the coffee but it was a little one note. I grabbed a cappuccino on my way out which was made very well but the espresso could have been a bit more robust. On my trip back to Elixr the next morning I scooped up a bog of Konga, a single-origin Ethiopian. This coffee has proven to be extremely delicious with a bright, natural acidity and interesting floral notes).

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Ambiance-5.0 (I spied Elixr before even going in by the large plated glass windows that looked in to the cozy wood interior. The coffee shop was bustling, warm, and cozy. My three favorite things. In addition, the charcoal and blue tones were demure yet still very interesting. The large mural over the cushy seating pit was striking and is apparently changed out every so often. Wooden tables and chairs provide sturdy tools for work while the couches have a thoughtfully placed backs that provide outlets and spaces for cups of coffee. There seemed to be a mix of families, students, and professionals all seamlessly blending in a rich and vibrant sea of sweaters, saucers and coffees).

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Food/Pastry Selection- 3.5 (I am hoping the quaint pastry selection quality aligns with the rest of Elixr but I am purely judging on the options I saw. The fresh croissants were certainly calling to me in the morning but a prized doughnut shop awaited (review to come). I will have to sample on my next trip or maybe some write-ins can attest to the treats’ greatness).

Overall Rating: 4.3

Brooklyn Baby Part 2

And the Brooklyn outings move on to new locations…

Greenpoint

After spending time in Bushwick it was time to meet back up with Maddy in Greenpoint. Maddy had told me she had a secret surprise that combined two of my favorite things.  We met at McCarren Park, a comprehensive green space that has a track, football field, work out areas and that is opposite the street of the physical park with paths and trees. We ambled along bustling Franklin Street looking at unique boutiques and cafes. We grabbed macaroons at Cookie Road, which we both agreed was a stupid name for a cute bakery. Since the macaroon is my favorite dessert I had to see how it stacked up against the many other samplings I have had. Cookie Road’s macaroons were decent but were a bit too chewy for me. However, a bunch of the other cookies and pastries looked quite good. We stumbled upon Alter, a boutique that mixed vintage and new pieces. The clothes and shoes were very clean and simple, featuring a nice array of niche designers.

After going in and out of a few more stores we arrived at the big surprise, Budin. Budin is a nordic coffee bar and their in lies two of my beloved items-coffee and anything Scandinavian/nordic. I have grand dreams to live in Stockholm or Copenhagen one day, two truly extraordinary cities. Budin was quintessentially nordic with a sleek slate bar and simple Ikea inspired wooden tables and chairs. If you continue to the back, you are greeted by a small offering of accessories and an outdoor patio with delicate wooden folding chairs. The extra special-ness we were trying to be there for was a free cupping of Norwegian coffees that had occurred the previous week. While unfortunately the tasting was not happening this weekend the super kind barista let me sample the cold brew before I purchased it to make sure I approved. All the offerings were light roasts and this one was an Ethiopian rosted by Tim Wendelboe out of Oslo, Norway. The brew was crazy fruity and aromatic, it was almost slightly acidic too-so interesting, different, and good. I absolutely must revisit Budin in the winter so I can sample some more of their imported offerings.

Williamsburg

A short walk from Greenpoint takes you to the allegedly ultra hip Williamsburg but after the neighborhood’s four predecessors it seemed less than impressive. The trying too hard Greenwich Village snobby art students seemed to be reincarnated as adults who are not any more or less cool than when they had started. We did find a lovely bakery, Caprice, that had fresh baked goods and a flakey, buttery croissant as big as your head.  along with delicious pastries. There was also gorgeous backyard to relax in that is walled off from the outside world.

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Park Slope

Sunday, brunch day brought us to Park Slope, a neighborhood very reminiscent of Brooklyn Heights. We spied the Brooklyn Public Library from the subway stop, an impressive building flecked with glimmering gold leaf. We headed down Union Street to Rose Water, which blew us away with an exceptional brunch. The prix fixe menu including a drink and entree was a very reasonable $16. Maddy got the Challah French Toast with fresh fruit, creme fraiche, pistachios and cherry chutney. The sweet dish was a very harmonious melding of all the different sweet, nutty and tart flavors. I decided to go savory and ordered the Roast Chicken sandwich with tomato, swiss, bacon, lettuce and a basil aioli served on ciabatta bread. The dish also came with pimenton herb fries which happened to seal the deal on this choice. While seemingly basic the dish was executed flawlessly and the basil aioli and french fries with homemade ketchup were a huge hit.

Before heading off to the airport I again ventured to Park Slope in hopes of visiting the Botanical Gardens and Brooklyn Museum, both being closed on Monday I had to adjust my plan but I did take time to walk around the “mini-Metropolitan” Brooklyn Museum. I headed to Breukelen Coffeehouse to get one last cappuccino before I left. Technically in Crown Heights, the cool, narrow coffeeshop was again serving up Stumptown so my drink was pleasant but not outstanding. I grabbed a slice of bacon and gruyere quiche that was incredibly smooth and rich due to the use of local duck eggs. Wandering on, back down Union Street. I was craving something refreshing and light after my heavier breakfast so I stopped into Union Market and grabbed a Bruce Coast Ginger Ale. Ginger Ale has become my most recent obsession and the unfiltered pomegranate with hibiscus version  from Bruce Coast is a new favorite of mine. I have tasked myself to try some others and will begin some diligent reporting. Bruce Coast is based in Brooklyn so it was a rather fitting selection. I turned on “the other” 5th Avenue where there are also many clothing stores but ones that are far more economical than their Manhattan counterparts. I stepped into Mavi, a premium denim store, Mavi, which is the word for blue in German was started in Istanbul and has a few stores around the world. At Mavi, I found a denim shift dress that was is going to make the perfect transition piece from summer to fall. The shirt dress is easy to wear now with simple wedges and will be smashing with thick tights and a scarf.

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Brooklyn Baby Part 1

I’m going to borrow Lana Del Rey’s crown for just a moment after my three day quest around Brooklyn last weekend. After spending many winters, falls, and  Labor Day weekends in Manhattan my latest trip called for a change. Brooklyn turned out to be the most beautiful change possible with a more relaxed feel and less scene-y environment. I toured around a majority of this borough, beaming with excitement. Here is my Brooklyn Breakdown.

Brooklyn Heights

My base for the weekend lied in Brooklyn Heights, on Clark Street, steps away from the new waterfront promenade. My most excellent hostess, Maddy, has become quite the local after living in the city for only two months. Her coffee shop and subway knowledge was most impressive and she made the perfect guide. The promenade which I explored on my own is a very exciting addition to the neighborhood and was packed with people enjoying the riverside. The renovation of old piers into athletic fields, basketball courts, water parks adds a cool texture to the landscape and your normal recreational activities becomes literally elevated above the water. Brooklyn Heights is a bit blissful and is is so quiet and calm, it’s shocking. My tour de Brooklyn was marked with countless cups of coffee, too many to do a review for each but I’ll mention my caffeine stops in each area. For Brooklyn Heights, Vineapple is an elongated, elegant coffee shop that is dark and cool during the summer heat. Most coffee joints here seem to be serving Stumptown Roasters, so this can be assumed unless noted otherwise. Unfortunately, Stumptown a Portland-based company is not my favorite coffee and I think there are probably local roasters that are more suitable.

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Dumbo

Dumbo is teensy tiny and it is hard to to tell when Brooklyn Heights ends and Dumbo begins. The easiest indication is that D-U-M-B-O is an acronym for “down under the Manhattan Bridge,” which directly points to its size. Nicely nestled under the bridge Dumbo’s  narrow, cobbled streets and arching underpasses evoke an almost European feel. I was immensely disappointed with the popularized Brooklyn Roasting Company, whose enormous flagship location offered up a weak cold brew coffee and an even more mediocre peanut butter cookie. The antique and thrifted atmosphere felt very forced in the enormous Starbucks-like space. One evening, we chose to do prepared food roof dining, as the Clark Street Studio offered up a nice view of “the other”  (Manhattan). Stepping into Foragers, a quaint speciality store we walked out with a nice vegetable medley and Lentil soup.

Bushwick

Getting to Bushwick from Booklyn Heights does require a tedious trip into Manhattan, subway transfer, then move back into Brooklyn. In Bushwick I met up with a friend, Julian, an artist I have previously written about (here). I certainly could not have navigated this area without some pro supervision so I was very happy to meet up with Julian. We first stopped for a pair of good cappuccinos at Kave. This super interesting spot is tucked away behind a wooden gate, making it appear to be quite secretive. The courtyard behind the gate was smartly curated and felt very calm and cozy. Strolling on from Kave and the recycling plant there are rows of old factories, now transformed into studios, sound stages, and other creative spaces. However, the outside of these cracked buildings displays little indication of what lies inside. For brunch we headed to Cafe Ghia, a petite spot packed with diners. The highlight was the Ranchero Benedict, a twist on the clasic composed of poached eggs on corn griddle cakes with avocado and Huancaina sauce (yellow pepper and Feta). Bushwick is well-known as a sort of ‘artist’s colony’ with it’s most prominent group being The Bushwick Collective which is advertised an an outdoor street gallery. Julian explained it succinctly as a bunch of graffiti artists that decided to unionize. The work is now, ironically the opposite of street art with building faces as approved canvases, semi-regular turnaround, and often less gritty depictions. Some of muralists are extremely talented and others are less successful but still, the covered walls bring a lot of vibrancy to the streets.

Still to come… Greenpoint, Williamsburg, and Park Slope

 

Coffee Shop Review #15 St. Mark’s Coffeehouse Denver

The long-awaited next coffee shop review installment has come at last. If you can still recall, from way back when, categories are out of 5.

Location-4.5 (Taking a break from the coffee wasteland that Boulder has become, I headed down to Denver to meet my awesome friend Serena for an after work cafe catch up. We drove to St. Mark’s Coffeehouse which is near City Park in Northeast Denver. This parkside neighborhood is super cute and has lush trees covering up small, ornate houses. The neighborhood is not the most easily accessible from say downtown Denver and parking can be hit or miss but it has carved out it’s own little niche of the student/worker vibe).

Barista Cuteness-5 (For the first time, I think in my coffee outing lifetime I saw a single barista behind the bar handling everything from ringing up customers, doling out baked goods, and, of course, finessing the espresso machine. This single barista was also quite handsome and very personable. He executed all of his jobs with great ease and he served up perhaps the most efficient service I have ever seen. Sometimes less is indeed more).

Coffee Knowledge/Expertise-4 (The simple menu yielded the standard cappuccino test but I did see a line of jars of coffee beans that I will be eager to scan more thoroughly on my next visit. The barista made some cute and comical attempts at naming his coffee art blobs and the espresso had a bit of a singed, bitter taste. This saddened me, as I had high hopes for the amazing creamsicle colored espresso machine and the man behind it).

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Ambiance- 4 (Both inside and out were eclectic and humming with a nice relaxed tone. One table was paired with two chairs with insanely large sculpted backs that almost connected to make a canopy over the table. A bar very reminiscent of an Italian stand-up espresso shop sat empty and a touch out of place in the middle of the room. The outside was very pleasant with lots of umbrella coverage and sturdy iron tables. However, the creaky, metal folding chairs were in dire need of some love and oiling. The huge open sliding window gave a great view into the front of the cafe which had perfectly reasonable tables for working and chatting with Edison bulbs strung over them).

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Food/Pastry Selection-4.5 (From the case of glistening cookies, cakes, scones, croissants and more we elected to share a peach tart. The pastry was extremely buttery and light while the peach filling was nice and tangy, not too sweet. It was quite a hard choice to make so another trip back will surely be needed to satisfy further pastry indulgences. The panini menu looked simple and was actually quite affordable as far as coffee shop standards go, with sandwiches ranging in price from $5-$6. A group across the way got a savory treat that smelled very good so I have a feeling that the taste probably lined up).

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Overall Rating: 4.4