We continue our deeper look at coffee shops in St. Paul’s Mac-Groveland, and some farther afield. Herewith reviews of Quixotic Coffee in Highland Park, Groundswell in Hamline Midway, and Sister Sludge in South Minneapolis.
769 Cleveland Ave. at Ford Pkwy., St. Paul / Highland Park (website)
(across from the Highland Theater)
This shop, at a busy intersection in the Highland Park shopping district, places a major emphasis on locally sourced, superb ingredients. The young, edgy, urban atmosphere contrasts somewhat with the Highland clientele, an older and better heeled crowd. The decor is modern with a good deal of wood, including a lowered wood ceiling over the serving area. The walls are tiled in white and the ceiling is black with an industrial feel. Several walls are decorated with abstract metal sculptures with a circle motif. The light level is overall rather dark, but task lighting illuminates the seating areas — a rather modern approach to lighting. The seating features hip-looking metal-framed stools and chairs with an industrial “pipe” aesthetic; the seats are wooden and comfortable. Table tops are marble.
The first time we tried Quixotic, at lunchtime, there was not a seat to be had, so we turned about and exited. We had better luck on the next visit, at 3:00 of an afternoon.
Vibe — Katharyn: mixed; Keith competent.
Crowd — upscale 30- and 40-somethings predominated.
Wi-Fi — 98.4 Mbps downstream and 19.5 Mbps up during our visit, with about 8 others sharing the signal. The speed is simply outrageous. Latency 23 msec. Provisioned by Comcast Residential. Both 2.4 GHz and 5.8 GHz are available, with a common password.
Staff — Very friendly to regulars. We heard the cashier talking at length with a customer and remembering details of her sister’s car trouble the week before. The barista’s expertise was at the master level.
Beans — Quixotic sources their beans from the St. Paul-based Bootstrap Coffee Roasters. Bootstrap offers four varieties of medium roast and one espresso roast, from $14 to $18 per 12-oz. bag. They aim for clarity and sweetness in the cup with only green beans prepared in a fully washed process.
Cup — I had a latte, as usual, and it was unusually gorgeous. Katharyn’s Cortado (double ristretto, steamed milk) was likewise. Both were made with milk from Autumnwood Farm in Forest Lake, north of the city. This farm suppplies a good number of Twin Cities coffee (and other) establishments. Quixotic also serves Blackeye Roasting Company cold brew on tap.
Food — We each had a sandwich, one turkey/apple/brie and the other ham/gruyere, and both were excellent. They were pre-made and artistically wrapped in butcher’s paper with twine. The bread was from Patisserie 46 in South Minneapolis, and it was amazing.
Music & noise — Edgy music with a beat; a raucous mix. The ambient noise level was medium to loud where we sat in a booth under the lowered ceiling.
1340 Thomas Ave. at Hamline, St. Paul / Hamline Midway (website)
This very cheery neighborhood place clearly draws from a wider cachement than just its Midway environs. It’s a big place with three storefront rooms. An old white tin ceiling contrasts with walls painted in soothing tones of brown, tan, and sea-foam. Floors are wood. The light level is bright, especially in the front room with big north- and east-facing windows. Tables are wood squares and chairs are metal-framed and comfortable enough. There are a few wooden stools and nothing plush. Wall decorations are few and simple, mostly posters. The main aesthetic interest is claimed by a shop-within-the-shop called Hwy North, where partner Emily Anderson curates a selection of handmade objects by local artisans.
Groundswell is unusual in the variety of its offerings: it serves baked goods, coffee products, meals, and drinks (beer and wine), as indicated in its brilliantly simple logo. The shop is open from 7:00 am to 9:00 pm seven days, so breakfast, lunch, and dinner items are on offer at appropriate times, and brunch is served on weekends.
Vibe — Katharyn: students; Keith lively.
Crowd — College students & 20-somethings predominated, with a scattering of folks from the 40s to retirement age. The location is “midway” between Concordia & Hamline Universities.
Wi-Fi — 2.5 Mbps downstream and 3.8 Mbps up during our visit, with about a dozen others on the access point. There were 9 other Wi-Fi hotspots visible from the shop, which may have affected the usable bandwidth; but the rather dismal speeds were consistent across several tests. Latency 23 msec. Only 2.4 GHz is offered.
Staff — Neutral, neither excessively friendly nor chilly. The barista was journeyman-level.
Beans — Groundswell offers Dogwood coffee exclusively. This Minneapolis-based outfit sells at wholesale and through their own coffee bars in Uptown and East Lake.
Cup — Katharyn had a Honduras pour-over, and it tasted great. My latte was nicely built and decorated, and fully satisfactory.
Food — Both beautiful (as pictured above) and scrumptious. It took a while to arrive as the place was so busy. I had the “Midway Neighbor”: local ham, bacon, fried egg, provolone, and maple butter on a house-made brioche roll, with nicely dressed mixed greens on the side. Katharyn ordered the quiche (of the month): bacon and chipotle sundried tomato, an individual deep dish puff pastry, with orange slices and again the mixed greens. The dressing had a curry bite; quite tasty.
Music & noise — The music level was low enough to ride below the conversational buzz, so I couldn’t really tell what style it was. Conversation is loud when the place is full, as it was when we arrived. People at most of the tables were talking and not just working on their devices.
4557 Bloomington Ave. at 46th Street, South Minneapolis / Nokomis (no website)
This place is about down-home friendliness and neighborhood old-shoe comfort, not excellent coffee beans or preparation or appreciation. It has an entry on the Not For Tourists Minneapolis site. Dogs are allowed. A book club meets there.
There is no website. A Facebook page, which may or may not be controlled by the shop’s owners (triplet sisters Katie, Maggie, and Judy), calls it “An intimate little coffee house… Born from a love of French bistros, English pubs, and Italian espresso bars. We love to host. Get to know us and dare us to know your name.”
The name of the place is Sister Sludge (as the sign painted on the 46th Street wall demonstrates), with no plural on sister and no apostrophe anywhere. The shop’s online presence, however, is seriously mixed up: the Twitter account seems to be run by the owners, but it is not clear if any of the others are.
Sister Sludge Google Plus page Sisters Sludge Bing Local page Sisters’ Sludge Facebook page Sister’s Sludge Foursquare entry @SistersSludge Twitter, with account name Sister Sludge
We were the only customers when we came in at 2:00 pm, but by 2:45 had been joined by 7 others.
Seating is small round tables up front with simple matching wooden/vinyl chairs. In back there are matching leather sofas and chairs. The front is quite sunny and bright, but the back is dimly lit. The ceiling is tin, the old-fashioned decorative kind, and the walls are painted a sort of eggplant.
Vibe — Katharyn: welcoming; Keith neighborhoody.
Crowd — Locals, very mixed, mostly over 30.
Wi-Fi — 17.1 Mbps downstream and 0.9 Mbps up during our visit, with little company on the access point. Latency 40 msec. Provisioned by CenturyLink fiber. Only 2.4 GHz is offered, an open signal with no password.
Staff — Notably friendly, as the reviews on Google and elsewhere stress. Katharyn was impressed that the staffer (not one of the owners) greeted each customer promptly and cheerfully, and also said goodbye to each as they left. A mark of excellent training.
Beans — None for sale.
Cup — Katharyn’s “Gloria” (with caramel and cardomom) was glorious; my latte was just OK. Both were served in paper cups. No decoration was in evidence.
Food — Cookies, scones, and breakfast sandwiches — we shared one of the latter. There are wrapped sandwiches.
Music & noise — An eclectic mix á la Radio Paradise, with the volume set low. Conversations were easily audible.