"Veni, vidi, venti."

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Other Brother Coffeehouse

1549 Sherman Ave, Evanston, IL 60201

Continuing the theme of coffeeshops within walking distance of Evanston's campus, I decided to venture to a place I've never been to before, just a couple more blocks down Sherman. The Other Brother Coffeehouse, located on the corner of Sherman and Grove, is the newly opened sister store of The Brothers K on Main Street. Taking the spot of the Italian Coffee Bar that closed just last year, The Other Brother certainly seems poised to hang on to this location for a while.

Although the inside walls are a bold turquoise color, they aren't the element of The Other Brother that sticks out most to me. Instead, it is the lack of tables that captures my attention. Perhaps reflecting the goal of this store to be more of a coffee dispensery than a place to write a thesis, The Other Brother simply has a counter along the windows with metal stools to sit upon. Personally, I have no problems with this approach, as it leads to some interesting people-watching while I enjoy my coffee. Other Northwestern students that like to use cafes as study alcoves would probably object to this philosophy, but this coffee shop is probably just far enough from campus to escape most of the criticism.

When it comes to their food and drinks, The Other Brother likes to keep it local. They serve pastries, scones and other delicacies from a variety of places in town and brew their coffee from Metropolis's beans, which they have brought in several times each week. Leading up to my visit, I heard mention of what was described to me as "the best pastry in Evanston"--the apricot cheese flakey. How could I resist something with such high acclaim? I managed to snag the last one they had in the store along with a piping hot cup of their Metropolis coffee for my Sunday morning breakfast.

The pastry was awesome--like something you would drool over on the Food Network. A perfect mixture of flakey and doughy, sweet and savory, it certainly lived up to its reputation. The whole experience was made even better with a cup of coffee...but then again, what isn't? Their brew seems to be a little milder than Unicorn's from last week, allowing more of the beans' subtlety to shine through. The coffee maintained its flavor and depth throughout the entire mug, making for a satisfyingly consistent drink.

Although Unicorn Cafe and the Other Brother both serve the same coffee beans, the two stores don't hold much else in common. Different in food selection, location, and most definitely in atmosphere, The Other Brother makes me excited to drop by their other store, The Brothers K. That way, I'll be able to see if there's much of a sibling rivalry, or if Mom and Dad pick favorites.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Unicorn Cafe

1723 Sherman Ave, Evanston, IL 60201

Happy New Year coffee drinkers! My apologies, I've neglected this blog for far too long. I was away from the city for the last month, so I haven't had the chance to go on any epic coffee quests. Instead, I was able to be in charge of the coffee brewing at my household, which is usually pretty dangerous. My family almost exclusively brews coffee from Peet's. My personal favorite is their Garuda Blend, a full-bodied roast with a bit of a nutty aftertaste. On average, we went through three pots of coffee per day, and I drank an average of about a cup per hour. I probably set myself up for some excruciating withdrawals now that I'm back on campus, but it sure was fun while it lasted.

Over my break, I came to the realization that most college students can't exactly relate to the great lengths that I'm willing to go for a satisfying cup of joe. For this reason, coupled with the fact that I've got a heftier course load this quarter, I've decided to sample the array of coffee choices available here in Evanston. For a smaller-sized city, there is actual a pretty good variety of unique coffee shops. I decided to start with one of my favorites that is only about a block from my dorm, Unicorn Cafe.

For the typical Northwestern student, Unicorn represents a perfect study haven--far enough away for most as to be somewhat indulgent, but close enough to campus to remain convenient. For me, Unicorn presents the respite that I always need from the mudwater that they serve in the dining halls. I hope the name Seattle's Best is intended to be ironic! Unicorn brews Metropolis Coffee, so you know you'll get a good mug every time.

Today, I order a 16 oz. brew and a muffin loaded with nuts, fruits, and carrots. The coffee has the fullness of Metropolis that we all know and love. A deep, dark roast, this mug is extremely savory, leaving me wanting more only minutes after my cup is empty. Paired with the muffin, this coffee provides the perfect pick-me-up before the long day of studying that lies ahead.

Inevitably, college students like to complain, so I figured I should at least include a passing mention to the negative attributes that NU students often attach to Unicorn. The seating is pretty tight and limited, so if you come at a peak time and expect to plop down immediately, you'll probably be out of luck. In addition, Unicorn closes pretty early each night--unfortunately, usually right around the time that late night studiers are in need of some caffeine. However, for people like me that just want a very good cup of coffee with only a few minutes to spare, Unicorn is the best choice that I've found. Check back in the future to see how they match up against Evanston's other coffee joints.
Unicorn Cafe, the on Urbanspoon

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Grind

4613 North Lincoln Avenue, Chicago, IL 60625

When I was home for the holiday last weekend, I saw the first flakes of snow for the season—enough to signal that winter was really going to happen again this year, but not enough to persist through the night. Back on campus now, I saw a few snowflakes drifting down when I was walking home last night. But this morning, when I woke up, I looked out the window to see we had been graced by at least an inch of the stuff. Not to be deterred by a measly environmental obstacle such as this, I resolved to get my morning coffee just the same. Weather be damned—The Coffee Tyrant will not be denied!

For this week's coffeehouse, I decided to wade my way through the snow dunes to The Grind (quite cleverly named, in my opinion). A hop, skip, and a jump away from the Brown Line's Western stop and you'll be standing in front of The Grind, although you probably wouldn't notice unless it jumped out and bit you. This coffee shop is squeezed into a little space among other boutiques and has little more than a neon sign to announce its presence.

Once inside, The Grind seems only marginally larger; however, this manages to add to the appeal in a way. Tables are crammed close together, which probably helps me warm up a bit faster from the elements. In contrast to what I was expecting, the customers do not hesitate to sit down across from strangers. Pleasantries are candidly exchanged and beverages are kindly shared. Because of the cold air outside, the tall windows have fogged up, further adding to the intimacy of the atmosphere.

The menu includes the usual pastry suspects as well as a nice selection of sandwiches and quiches. I also see many gluten-free options and some cupcakes that look downright dangerous. Intelligentsia coffee sits bagged up on their counter. I order a sixteen ounce mug of their house blend of coffee, and I’m coaxed into getting what is called a spinach and feta cheese pie. The latter resembles a scone from the outside and contains a warmed-up concoction of veggies and crumbly cheese on the inside. The coffee comes with one complementary refill.

After plopping myself down in one of the few empty seats across from a jovial middle aged woman doodling in answers to today’s crossword and nibbling on what appears to be an egg sandwich, my food is brought to me by a waitress. I notice a few strands of complexity layered throughout the brew, while it still manages to bring some intensity. Although the coffee doesn’t astound, it is certainly not average. The slight bitterness of the brew also pairs well with the savory flavors of my pastry creation.

Although I’d like to stick around and drink my free refill before venturing back out into the snowy miasma, several people have accumulated with nowhere to sit and my friendly Midwestern conscience gets the best of me. In my opinion, such a structurally small shop shouldn’t give out free refills, as it gives customers an incentive to stick around, thereby depriving later patrons a place to sit. However, such criticism is minor compared to the overall comfort provided by this cozy enclave in the face of a snowy morning. Even Mother Nature holds little sway when compared to the omnipotent powers of coffee.
Grind on Urbanspoon

Saturday, November 27, 2010

New Moon Café

401 North Main Street, Oshkosh, WI 54901

I'm back in my old stomping grounds of Oshkosh, Wisconsin for the Thanksgiving holiday, so I figured I'd write a quick review of my all-time favorite coffee shop, New Moon Café. Any time I'm home for an extended period of time, I find myself there at least once a week. If I'm only making a quick pass through Oshkosh, like this weekend, I still try my darndest to make an appearance. Whether I'm visiting for a night-time performance by a local musician, a Tuesday night open mic, a weekend lunch, or a midmorning coffee run, the New Moon has never let me down.

The New Moon is housed in an historical old building on the corner of Main Street and Algoma Boulevard across the street from the sundial. The inside of the coffee shop has several unique features that are always amusing to see—the floor is a hypnotizing pattern of black and white squares, several squishy couches sit beneath artwork from local artists, exotic plants criss-cross in front of the tall windows looking onto Main Street, and a big aquarium type thingy housing birds was added just a few months ago. It's always somewhat of a déjà vu experience for me whenever I walk in.

When it comes to food and drinks, the New Moon consistently impresses. They serve righteously strong Victor Allen's coffee, roasted in nearby Little Chute, and have a great selection of loose-leaf teas. Foodwise, burritos, sandwiches, soup, and tiramisu all come highly recommended. A few years back, they used to serve some saliva-inducing thai coconut curry soup, but it has sadly disappeared. However, their spicy veggie chili makes an adequate substitute. All of these can be enjoyed leisurely in the New Moon's environment that is always welcoming.

Since I arrive around lunchtime, I order the spicy veggie chili to eat and Victor Allen's Breakfast Blend to drink. Although the breakfast blend is described as a light roast, it packs a heckuva punch—awesome! Likewise, the spiciness of the veggie-riddled chili goes perfectly with the coffee. For me, going to the New Moon is like slipping on my three-year-old loafers—instantly comfortable, impossible to imitate. And no matter how much my mom pesters me, I will never throw those old shoes away.
New Moon Coffee Company on Urbanspoon

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Kopi Café

5317 North Clark Street, Chicago, IL 60640

When it comes to coffee, there can be almost too many places to choose from when you’re deciding where to grab a cup—I’ve started realizing this more and more as I travel around Chicago sampling different brews. This has only strengthened my belief that in order to stand out, a coffee shop needs to offer something unique, fill some sort of niche. Cafés can do this by adhering to a certain theme, providing a refreshingly different atmosphere, or even just by providing such exceptional quality products so as to set themselves apart. My favorite coffeehouses that I have reviewed on this blog fill at least one of those criteria. Therefore, when I heard about Kopi Café, which is uniquely described as an Indonesian coffeehouse, I knew I had to give it a try.

Not far from the Berwyn L stop and along the hoppin’ Clark Street, Kopi Café sits annoying across the street from both a Starbucks and an Einstein’s Bagel shop. However, as soon as I spot Kopi, I lose my worries that Corporate Coffee will force this brave independent store out of business. With a small outside seating area and an inside seating area clearly visible through the front windows, Kopi is instantly welcoming. In addition, “kopi” is the Indonesian word for coffee, so my hopes are instantly raised that a quality brew will be able to quickly warm me from the blustery Chicago morning.

The first thing I see upon entering is the awesome seating area up front—patrons can enjoy their steaming beverages while sitting cross-legged on pillows. This unique touch, coupled with the musky wafts of incense and strains of Eastern-inspired tunes, earn Kopi instant points in my book. We are promptly greeted by a waitress and told to choose a table. My surprise that Kopi is a sit-down-and-order place is quickly accompanied by worries their service will be painstakingly slow.

As I make my way to a table, I quickly forget these fears. Kopi has a knickknack store in the back that sells interesting trinkets from the far corners of the world, such as jewelry, statuettes, and pictures. This international vibe is doubled when I see an extensive collection of travel books along one wall below five clocks all displaying different time zones.

After scanning the eclectic menu, I notice that they have several lighter food options as well as some more substantial offerings for the bold breakfaster. In addition, Kopi’s menu contains a garden’s worth of creative vegetarian choices that all sound delicious, even for the meat eater in me. In particular, The Elvis, a peanut butter, honey, and banana toasted sandwich, catches my eye. I ultimately decide to go with their house blend of coffee with a bowl of oatmeal.

About ten minutes later (lamentable, but still not quite as bad as I had been predicting) the waitress returns with my oatmeal and mug of brown deliciousness. The coffee is described only as “a blend of three coffees”, so I’m not exactly sure what I’ve gotten myself into. The oatmeal is topped with raisins, dried apples, and dried apricots, making me anxious to give it a try. The coffee has a deep flavor, with something unexpected, but delicious, detectable in the aftertaste. As I had hoped, the oatmeal and coffee go perfectly together—my absolute favorite combination! Although I had to forgo muffins and scones in making my breakfast choice, I have no regrets with my satisfying selection.

All in all, I found Kopi Café to be a nice place to go if you have a little extra time on your hands and want portion sizes a bit larger. The relaxing atmosphere and continual coffee refills from the roving waitress make Kopi a good place to spend 45 minutes or an hour. Their peculiar lunch options also make me want to go back for lunch to try something vegetarian (hey, a guy’s gotta broaden his horizons!). Kopi succeeds in offering a distinctive experience with many menu options that prove to be as different as they are delicious—or “lezat,” as they say in Indonesia.
Kopi Cafe on Urbanspoon