Today we profile two coffee shops over on the Minneapolis side of the river: Sparrow Cafe in Lynnhurst and Fireroast in Longfellow. These represent two of our favorites among the establishments we have visited so far.
Previous posts in this series have reviewed Coffee Bene, J & S Bean Factory, and Spyhouse (Northeast); and Quixotic Coffee, Groundswell, and Sister Sludge.
(Links to all reviews in this series are at the bottom of this post.)
This little gem of a local coffee place is located just two blocks from the Lake Harriet Elf. Last December Sparrow celebrated its third anniversary.
We have been here three times now, partly because Sparrow is on a route we travel frequently to visit family, but also because we just love the place.
Parking is provided in an off-street lot (in conjunction with another local restaurant), a welcome amenity given the busy nature of this commercial intersection.
Inside Sparrow, it’s birds all the way down. The predominant color is robin’s-egg blue with an accent of an apple-green of the same color value. A mural wall features a rather stunning large-scale depiction of birds amid flowers in the wild, executed by the innovative local artists Broken Crow. In addition there are a bird border at the top of another wall, birds on the counter, and a stand-alone bird painting.
The ceiling, of silver-painted tin, enhances the light from two picture windows, making for a pleasantly bright space. The wooden cafe chairs with vinyl seats are comfortable enough. Katharyn is sensitive to temperature and drafts in public spaces such as this, but she pronounces Sparrow very comfortable.
Vibe — Katharyn: pretty; Keith pulled-together.
Crowd — A mixture of apparently local folks, ranging from the 20s to 40s.
Wi-Fi — We saw decent mid-level performance at 20.4 Mbps downstream and 2.7 Mbps up. Only a couple of others were sharing the access point. The latency was 23 msec and the provisioning is by Comcast residential.
Staff — The baristas are pleasant and friendly to newcomer and regular alike.
Beans — Sourced from Birds & Beans. Sparrow is the only place in MN to buy this certified bird-friendly coffee in bulk (the bags sport a Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center seal). The coffee is USDA organic and fair trade, as most conscious suppliers boast these days. But Birds & Beans goes farther. The website has copious information on the meaning of “bird-friendly” — the Central and South American plantations from which the beans are sourced all provide winter habitat for the songbirds that we in North America enjoy so much in the summer — thrushes, orioles, tanagers, warblers, and others. The company donates “over 10%” of its gross profits to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and other bird-related organizations.
Cup — I had a latte, as is my habit for these reviews, in a mug that matched the house blue. The drink was not adorned with a foam “flower.” Katharyn tried the green tea latte (in a house green mug). Both were excellent.
Food — We shared a chicken, bacon, and maple sandwich on a baguette and a cup of turkey chili, accompanied by Deep River rosemary & olive-oil potato chips. We didn’t want the food to end. On earlier visits we sampled the baked goods and they were uniformly fresh and delicious.
Music & noise — On this criterion Sparrow ranks as the favorite of all the coffee shops we’ve visited so far. Music was a mix of trance, nouveau flamenco, new-age, etc., played at a low level. Conversation was muted, below the level of the traffic noise from the busy streets.
37th Ave. & 38th St. (Longfellow), Mpls. (website)
This corner storefront is just about the only business in sight for blocks around in its residential Longfellow neighborhood. It is almost exactly a mile due west of our Mac-Groveland neighborhood of St. Paul, but to get there one has to travel a good way north (to the Marshall Ave. bridge) or south (to the Ford Pkwy. bridge), cross over, and then backtrack on the Minneapolis side.
Fireroast says their goal is to “build community over great food, coffee and service [sic, Oxford comma omitted].” They look to be doing a fine job of it. When we got there in mid-afternoon on a weekday, the large, bright front room was full up, and we found a booth in the smaller back room.
There is seating in the front room along the two windows sides. The interior seating looks quite comfy. There’s a 4-place table marked Reserved in front — it was empty when we arrived and we passed it by, but the barista later clued us in that we could have sat there. The smaller back room has two mini-booths in the rear, plush couches and chairs by the window, and a round table suitable for business meetings (one was in progress during our visit).
The hanging art, which the cafe’s website says changes monthly, was evocative oil paintings by the well-known local artist Bruce Nygren.
Vibe — Katharyn: Happy; Keith Alive.
Crowd — A plurality were in their 20s; folks in the 30s, 40s, and older were in evidence. There were 15 others besides us in two rooms. I would describe the mood as mellow with an undertone of engagement.
Wi-Fi — We saw 55.6 Mbps downstream (and a peak of 87.9 Mbps), and 1.5 Mbps up. Only a handful of other signals were in evidence, and 7 others shared the Wi-Fi with us. Latency was 21 msec. Provisioning by Comcast residential.
Staff — The barista was expert. A cashier was in training. Friendly to newcomers, as noted above.
Beans — Fireroast sells beans from Up Coffee Roasters, a wholesaler that offers 16 varieties of beans mostly at $12 and $13 per pound, with a couple of specialty beans at $26 per pound.
Cup — Katharyn had a half-caf latte, which was expertly made and decorated. I tried a pour-over Sumatra. It was flavorful and milder than I am used to, because the paper filter removed most of the highly acidic compounds.
Food — We shared a yummy cardamom & ginger bar. Sebastian Joe’s ice cream is on offer, but we didn’t indulge this trip.
Music & noise — During our visit the music was a mix from the 60s and 70s, playing at an unobtrusive low level. Conversation was a muted buzz. The back room has a low tin ceiling, but also carpeting and soft surfaces (plush couches and chairs) to absorb sound.