Working down my growing backlog of coffee shop reviews, here are two in Minneapolis and one in St. Paul.
(Links to previous reviews in this series are at the bottom of this post.)
And before we get started, by way of a blogroll, please check out Decaf Doug, my neighbor’s blog chronicling his search for the ultimate cup of decaf. It’s very Minnesotan. I will never be as Minnesotan as Doug if I live to 100.
Vicinity Coffee [permanently closed]
This is one of two locations for the Vicinity Coffee franchise, which recently changed its name from Bull Run Coffee Bar. (Their Wi-Fi access point still sports the old name, as does the Shopkeep credit-card processing software.) The operation has been going since 2011.
There are several square Formica tables with cast aluminum chairs and a long central communal table with leather and chrome directors’ chairs. At the back is a (matching!) set of two cushy leather armchairs and a sofa.
Windows and glass bricks on north and west-facing walls allow plenty of light, even in the back where we perched. This is a very comfortable place for long-term hanging out. Temperature was good; a ceiling fan over our seating area was mercifully still. I found an outlet for charging our computers.
Vibe — Katharyn: calm; Keith calm. (We choose our words separately; did a high five on this one.)
Crowd — Mostly 30-somethings, a few 20s. We were the oldest patrons during our visit — as is frequently the case.
Wi-Fi — The access point is unprotected. I measured 64.9 Mbps downstream and 12.8 up (using the 5-GHz signal) with four other people sharing the access point. From this location 17 access points are visible, so it’s a moderately noisy interference environment. Latency is 27 msec. Provisioned by Comcast Business.
Staff — Very friendly, helpful, and knowledgeable, if laid-back.
Beans — Vicinity’s beans are private-labeled from Lone Wolf Coffee Company, a family-owned roaster in Hanover, MN. On the day we visited, 13 varieties were available for sale at $12 to $17 per pound. On Tuesdays the beans are $2 off.
Cup — I got a Boone’s Beard (house-made vanilla, coriander, and black Hawaiian sea salt); unusual to say the least. Katharyn had Italian roast in a “Clever” drip, and it was 12 ounces of strong and good.
Food — I ordered a breakfast sandwich (egg, cheddar, sausage) on an egg-brushed biscuit; fully satisfactory. Katharyn had the daily scratch-made quiche, which on that day was tomato and basil. It was pretty wonderful. The baked goods didn’t look all that interesting. There is a case for Sebastian Joe’s but it was empty of ice cream.
Music & noise — The music was at a level low enough that my SoundHound app couldn’t pick out songs over the background. This is a good thing. Most of the music on offer was reasonably mellow, nothing with a backbeat. Conversational buzz was muted; much of the background came from the kitchen.
Penny’s Coffee [permanently closed]
This is the second incarnation of an operation that started in downtown Minneapolis. This location is housed in an old garage, complete with industrial-size roll-up doors, which will be nice to open up in warmer months. The decor is hard and modern; it’s not a touchy-feely atmosphere.
Seating is in open areas except for a few tables in an alcove. During our visit the entire space was uncomfortably breezy from heating/ventilation ducts (which mostly seemed to be ventilating on a cold and rainy winter day), and overhead fans spread the breezes everywhere.
That and the noise level mean that this is not a place to hang out in. Which is a shame: the space is visually striking, the Wi-Fi is amazing, and we found both the food and the coffee to be among the best we have had in the Cities.
Vibe — Katharyn: cool; Keith industrial.
Crowd — An eclectic mix, average age probably 30s.
Wi-Fi — 170.8 Mpbs (!) down, 23.0 Mbps up (as measured by speedof.me). Latency 21 msec. Provisioned by Comcast residential. About 5 others were sharing the signal, one of 32 visible access points — a very noisy Wi-Fi neighborhood. That speed is simply outrageous, the fastest I have seen in a public venue. Note that fast.com reported 250 Mbps down!
Staff — Journeymen barista & food prep.
Beans — Penny’s brews coffee from La Colombe Torrefaction (yeah I had to look it up too), a New York-based outfit.
Cup — The best coffee we have had in the Metro. Mine was a latte and Katharyn ordered a Noisette.
Food — Uniformly excellent. I had a “Tuna Dean” sandwich featuring pickled cucumbers; Katharyn elected for the ham & gruyere crepe. Her first words were “Can we come here every day?”
Music & noise — Conversational buzz was near to overwhelming. Music was turned up fairly loud, playing modern stuff with a beat — Katharyn called it “boom-boom-shhh music.”
Bottom line — Penny’s has the bones of a great coffee shop, but it wouldn’t be first choice if your top criterion were comfort for a longish visit.
Spyhouse St. Paul
We tried out the much-anticipated St. Paul incarnation of this beloved coffee house and roaster early-ish on a Saturday morning. It had opened for business only the day before and was featured prominently in the Strib, PiPress, and City Pages. We thought perhaps that the student population would still be sleeping in. No such luck. The place was pretty consistently mobbed, and hardly any of the customers were olds like me. (I was going to say “like us,” but my first reader Katharyn reminded me that she is “35.”)
When we left at 9:00, all seats were occupied and 15 people crowded inside the door.
Spyhouse is known for a high-style industrial-midcentury vibe, but in St. Paul the shop has elected to honor the early-20th storefront aesthetic. The tin ceiling remains in place, as do the 1940s schoolhouse light fixtures. But the tables are squared-off, hard-edged, and bolted down. Katharyn gives me leave to reveal that upon trying to squeeze in to the bench seat on the back wall, she hit her thigh in exactly the same place she used to bruise it on passenger armrests, back in her airline days.
The storefront windows on one and a half walls let in plenty of light at the front of the shop, but it gets a bit dim in the back.
Vibe — Katharyn: hard; Keith hopping.
Crowd — 20-something. As the crowds ebbed & flowed, more than a score of patrons during our visit, we were sometimes the only ones over 30 in evidence.
Wi-Fi — Latency 22 msec; 63.0 Mbps down, 13.1 Mbps up at 5GHz; provisioned by Comcast Business on a static IP address. Half a dozen others shared the Wi-Fi signal (both 2.4 and 5 GHz on a single password), and up to 20 other Wi-Fi signals were visible: a moderately noisy neighborhood.
Staff — Two journeyman baristas and a young woman (perhaps a student) on the Square register. They were stretched pretty thin handling the jostling crowds, but kept their cool.
Beans — Spyhouse began life as a wholesale commercial roaster, so it sells a full range of beans on the website and in the coffee shops. I didn’t see beans for sale during our visit; it’s possible that that part of the business hadn’t gotten up and running yet on St. Paul’s opening weekend.
Cup — I had the daily pour-over (whose identity in the bean was not revealed, that I saw). Katharyn got a cappuccino. Hers came nicely decorated with a foam heart, but it was decidedly on the tiny side. My pour-over was excellent, nutty and mellow.
Food — Spyhouse St. Paul carries baked goods from Sarah Botcher‘s Black Walnut Bakery: scones, croissants, cookies, muffins. I ordered a croissant and Katharyn enjoyed an almond and coconut pastry; both were fine but nothing exceptional.
Music & noise — Conversation was lively given the crowds and the buzz of a new place. My SoundHound app was easily able to pick out the music though from where we sat in the back: Miedo (Carolina Nissen) and More Than This (Roxy Music) during our visit.