May 24, 2007

Velo Rouge Cafe, SF

Impossible as it seems, I, the ever-loyal Peet's fan, have identified an emerging new favorite. A great place to enjoy my "for here" cup.

This is the type of place that prompted the saying, "Friends don't let friends drink Starbucks."

Look, for the record, I am not anti-Starbucks. I have my issues with a coffee company that calls itself a lifestyle brand, I'll admit. Mostly, though, I operate with the belief that you will usually get a decent espresso at a Starbucks. You might even get decent service. Rarely, though, will you get heart. Or soul. And, never-ever do you get that neighborhood-y sense of belonging. I prefer heart. I prefer soul. I prefer a neighborhood-y sense of belonging.

But more importantly, I prefer good coffee.

Unfortunately, as any genuine coffee snob will tell you, locally owned and operated rarely means great. I still try local coffee houses. I just don't have high expectations about the coffee itself. And, if the coffee meets my low expectations I don't usually return.

With Velo Rouge Cafe... I've been back. Often. And I don't live in San Francisco. So that tells you something right there. I recommend you visit. I bet you return, too.

You'll find Velo Rouge Cafe at 798 Arguello Blvd, at McAllister. On the approach, you'll see funky bike racks (red), an impressive black, white and red awning, and a life-size bicycle with red tires hanging above the door. At the entrace there is a fun magnet board with the letters you usually see on people-with-kids' refridgerators listing the hours. They were a little bit jumbled up but, essentially, Velo Rouge opens up early during the week and at 8 a.m. on the weekends. They close a little early on Monday & Tuesdays, have an amazing nomadic restaurant on Wednesday & Thursday evenings (look up Radio Africa & Kitchen on the website), and Live Music EVERY Friday night.

Inside you'll see a great black board menu announcing breakfast and lunch. You'll notice they've got beer on tap. Fat Tire, no less. You'll notice they've got cool finger puppets and the game Battleship on a shelf for entertaining the kids. You will also see bike tire repair kits available for purchase. In fact, you'll realize this cafe embraces the bicycle enthusiast. If you're like me, these things will prompt skepticsm regarding the coffee itself. But you'll search for syrups to flavor the coffee and see none. This will make you smile.

The drip coffee is (hold on to your seat) made to order. Each time I've had it, I have to say, I'm really impressed. It is excellent. The owner, Meg Lynch, has taken her cafe to the next level with beans from SF-based roaster: Blue Bottle Coffee. Coffee purists will consider it top notch. Those not quite so 'in-the-know' about coffee will still take notice.

The team that prepares the coffee (and the food) are welcoming and (again, hold on to your seat) seem to enjoy working there.

So, you get heart, soul, a truly wonderful neighborhood-y feel AND amazingly good coffee. For that I can only say, Thank You, VRC!

February 27, 2007

Red Bank, NJ Coffee Culture

Have you ever heard of Red Bank, NJ? It is a cute town located near the Jersey Shore (about 15 minutes from the ocean). A few years back it was voted the "hippest" town in NJ. I know, I know.. some of you are saying - wow, that can't be hard. Jersey girls are used to Jersey jokes, and I really don't mind since I lived in NYC for 8 years - I am immune.

Red Bank has 2 main java hang-outs. Of course, Starbucks is well-positioned. But across the street is the local guy, "No Joe's Cafe," which has an excellent offering of food as well as a full coffee bar. I do frequent both. Kind of depends what mood I'm in. If I'm feeling more rebellious (or hungry), it's off to No Joe's. Havenít spotted any famous people at either Ė well at least not yet. (Keep your eyes peeled if you visit - locals Bruce Springsteen and Jon Bon Jovi do hang out in town occasionally).

Spring is on the way, so why not make a day trip down to Red Bank if you live in the Tri State area? There is great shopping, restaurants, and coffee Ė all right along the Navesink River! If antiques are your thing Ė Iíve been told itís a hot spot. You can also fit in a cultural gig at either the Count Basie Theater or the Two River Theater. Consider yourself invited.

February 16, 2007

What a rip-off!

I know better. I know better than to order an espresso in most restaurants. I certainly know better than to order an espresso when I haven't checked out the coffee station. There are little tell-tale signs that indicate the quality of drinks served. Signs like the cleanliness of the steam wand on the espresso machine. I am certain that in THIS establishment the steam wand is caked with dried, burned milk.

This particular drink was really, really bad. Really bad. The liquid was the color of faded cardboard. I complain to my friends. They laugh. They know better than to let me order an espresso in a restaurant. One of my friends launches into a story that finally explains to me precisely 'why' I should not order espresso in most restaurants.

"When I was a waitress I never understood why people would order espresso. I'd go to the back and fill that little cup and handle 'thingy' with the ground coffee and hit the button and out would come this little bitty dribble of a drink. I'd look at the tiny cup, less than half full, and think, You're paying two bucks for that pissy amount?! What a rip-off! So, I'd hit the button again and, at least, the cup would be almost filled up."

Yes, indeed, what a rip-off!

February 9, 2007

There is no X in Espresso

"I'll have a double espresso, con panna."

I get the look of confusion. So, I revise. I dummy it down for her and repeat my order, "I'll have two shots of espresso topped with whip cream."

She twirls her green apron ties the way I once twirled my hair (when it was long and I was young). "Just eXpresso?"

I inhale s-l-o-w-l-y. I have not yet had my coffee. I am here because I am in a strange city that does not have a Peet's Coffee & Tea. Focus, Lisa. Focus on the most important issue first: your coffee. "Two shots, espresso, (emphasis on the letters 's') and a dollop of whip cream." I know she's about to ask, A dollop? What's a dollop? I quickly add, "The barista will understand." Of this I am sure.

"Your name?"

Today is not a Julio day. I say my name, but pronounce the "s" in Lisa with a zesty "z" sound. I hand her my money. She hands me back a few coins. I do not immediately drop them into the wide mouth jar. I haven't decided yet if a tip is deserved. I pause, and, then, just before the coins fall from my not-so-relaxed palm, I inform her, "There is no X in espresso."

Like I said, I haven't had my coffee yet. Fortunately, I do not have to wait long before I hear the barista call out, "LiSa? Double eSpreSSo with whip." Emphasis on the letters 's'.

February 1, 2007

Four pumps or five?

During the past decade, my attitude toward individuals ordering flavored coffee has mellowed. I no longer roll my eyes at the site of syrup bottles lined up behind the espresso bar. I've grown to accept that my order (double espresso) represents a minority preference among those waiting in line. And, when I'm ordering on behalf of others, I've ceased grimmacing at the special requests or fru-fru names. I simply order and move on to observe the barista in action.

Today was an exception. My silent disdain for the candy-ization of coffee got a little volume.

What got me started was a question that I'm sure the woman asking it considered appropriate. How many pumps did I want in that vanilla latte? Seriously? How many pumps?

I delivered my friend's drink. She complained. It was a little too sweet. Really? Maybe I shouldn't have included instructions that with each press on the pump the barista should do the hokey pokey and turn herself about...

January 29, 2007

On the Road... in San Fran

I live in Boston. We're not supposed to be nice. We're especially not expected to be nice pre-caffeine fix. So last week, on a trip to San Francisco, I was a little thrown off when I came across a barista who was not keen on the idea of customer service. West Coasters are supposed to be nice. I know, I was raised as one and Boston has taken some getting used to.

A colleague of mine and I had ordered and were standing at the end of the bar with a small collection of others watching the barista place cup after cup on the bar... silently. Unable to wait any longer, I spoke up once I saw a cup that looked like it might have the right boxes checked along the side and asked, "Is this a grande nonfat latte?" I was met with a very annoyed "Yes, I've been calling out the orders. If you had listened you would have known that." I grabbed the cup and joined the crowd shooting him a "yeah right buddy" look.

It briefly crossed my mind that he may be a transplant from Boston. Although in fairness to the Bostonians who may be reading this, I've never come across that kind of attitude here.

Coffee in Maine?

So - imagine (if you will) a place where (when we moved here 6 years ago) there was a single Starbucks in the entire state and now we are the proud owners of more than 10 (again, in the state)

We are so excited that there is a rumour that a Starbucks may be going in about 7 miles from our house, but I can say during a raging blizzard, even 7 miles can become too far away...this truly causes a coffee snob to become desperate (to the point of suggesting a trip to "the big city of Augusta" so I can get a fix)

We have found the local coffee houses, but it really isn't the same (besides, they just don't understand the vernacular - especially up here in Maine where we are surrounded by redneck potato farmers (not that there is anything wrong with that))

When we went back to California (where we moved from) for a visit, every morning we had breakfast at Starbucks (the kids were a little hopped up, but it did hit the spot).

It is interesting to me that we are so devoted to a place that doesn't serve particularly good coffee...I wonder what the allure is? Is it the entire thing where you need to know the lingo in order to be cool with your order and so only people who spend many mornings in a row there can order "like a local?" (kind of like ordering an "animal-style" burger at In-And-Out)

January 17, 2007

Tully's Veinte

Tully's is a traitor to all that is good in the world of coffee.

I flew out of Burbank Airport this morning. Talk about convenience. Easy to get in and through security. Then I went for my coffee. Tully's. I thought it might be a nice change.

Veinte?!?

You got it... Tully's sizes with Tall, Grande and Veinte. No, I didn't misspell Veinte, Tully's took the Starbucks misnomer and changed the spelling.

My Order

I ordered a large coffee.

January 16, 2007

Red's Coffee Shop, Santa Barbara

My little seaside town is blessed with great weather and beaches, and also a few awesome coffee joints that still wave the banner of the small, independent coffee shop. Red's Coffee is my favorite by far, because it's a hold over from the days when Santa Barbara was more of a hippie destination than a resort town. It's two blocks from the beach, but early in the morning the parking lot is still foggy when you pull in which makes the romantic in me swoon. And, if it's really foggy and the fog horns are still sounding....well, all the better.

Does my double cappuccino taste better at Red's because the hippie-chick behind the counter seems to really enjoy making it? I think so.

January 5, 2007

Eva Klein

While Eva may have fallen a little behind on her writing about her coffee experiences (OK, so she hasn't written yet), the Hangouts wrote a song to her back in the 80s. Then again, I hope they were just planning for the future as she was a kid back then.