This time we visit three St. Paul coffee houses a little more off the beaten path: one on Selby in Summit-University, one north of Downtown, and one out Snelling Avenue.
(Links to all reviews in this series are at the bottom of this post.)
Golden Thyme Coffee & Café
921 Selby Ave. at N. Milton St., St. Paul (Summit-University) (website)
This is a narrow storefront space on a corner, with an adjacent conference room. Seating is mostly padded wooden chairs at formica tables, with a few stools at the front window bar. There are two leather armchairs at the back (which we scored).
The bright light from the south-facing windows doesn’t reach all the way back into the narrow space; the overhead lighting is adequate.
Two ceiling fans set on slow help the heat to circulate without producing uncomfortable drafts.
Original jazz-themed art decorates the walls, and it repays study.
Golden Thyme is a very comfortable place to spend some time. It’s not so much the physical environment, it’s a combination of a laid-back friendliness, a real sense of community, low sound level, and warm air.
Vibe — Katharyn: warm; Keith relaxed.
Crowd — Mixed: all races and ages. More people were talking together than isolated on electronic devices.
Wi-Fi — 7.52 Mbps downstream and 2.98 Mbps up during our visit, with just a couple of others on the access point. Latency was 24 msec.; provisioning by Comcast residential. A further 23 hotspots were visible: a noisy neighborhood.
Staff — Very friendly and warm.
Beans — None for sale.
Cup — The coffee drinks are named after jazz greats, and in this establishment the naming seems to be more than an affectation — those are the names programmed into the cash register. On two occasions I had an Ella Fitzgerald (a.k.a. Americano), and it was so fine that I dispensed with the cream I would normally add. Katharyn had a Duke Ellington: mocha & espresso & foamed milk & whipped cream (she quipped, “Life is short, drink dessert first!”).
Food — All homemade and all prime. On one visit I had a hot tuna sandwich on wheat and chicken noodle soup (one of the daily specials). Katharyn had the other soup, cream of potato. Both were expertly spiced, with many more flavors than one has a right to expect. On another visit I had a large breakfast sandwich on a croissant, which comes with a choice of turkey or pork sausage. Katharyn ordered an apple fritter, and it was unexpectedly moist and delicious.
Music & noise — Conversational buzz was muted. Music was mostly oldie R&B during our visit: Superstition (Stevie Wonder), I’m Walkin’ (Fats Domino), Hit the Road Jack (Ray Charles), Use Me (Bill Withers). We both enjoyed it all very much.
The Goat Coffeehouse
699 E. 7th Street, Saint Paul (near Payne-Phalen) (website)
The downstairs room is rather dark, but two big upstairs rooms are light-filled. Downstairs seating is varied, including a counter, high-tops, tables for two, a bench, and a couch and club chairs. Upstairs has a work table for 6 or 8 with a fine view of downtown St. Paul to the south. There is a conference room for rent at $10 an hour.
The website tells the tale of how a goat discovered coffee:. We can tell it’s apocryphal because it features an “Islamic monk” in a monastery; in point of fact Islam has no monastic tradition.
This is a lively neighborhood hangout predominantly patronized by the local college students.
Vibe — Katharyn: college-y; Keith brusque.
Crowd — Almost exclusively college age (the establishment is across the street from Metro State University). There were a couple of other folks of retirement age.
Wi-Fi — 45.5 Mbps downstream and 12.6 Mbps up. Provisioning by Comcast residential. Three or four others sharing the signal; a dozen access points visible.
Staff — Young and not service-oriented. No smiles, no friendliness.
Beans — By True Stone Coffee Roasters, with the Goat’s branding on the label.
Cup — My latte (undecorated) was among the best I’ve had in the Cities. Katharyn’s breve (like a latte but with foamed half-and-half) was good.
Food — We shared an Italian cheese sandwich — like a Caprese salad in a grilled cheese. A scone with oats, ginger, and fig from Isles Bakery (S. Minneapolis) was dense and excellent.
Music & noise — High decibel level of conversation and the music was cranked up to ride over it. Examples: Elephant (by Tame Impala); Black Sands (Bonobo); Turning Tables (Adele); Billie Holiday (Warpaint).
721 Snelling Ave. at Minnehaha, St. Paul (website)
This establishment has been in business for 25 years. Snelling is the original location; four others are in hospital / medical settings around St. Paul. Snelling has music on Wednesdays and weekends (schedule here).
The space is large with a variety of seating at tables, booths, and benches. South-facing windows let in a good deal of light and the unpainted tin ceiling bounces more in. Decor is eclectic. The space has a settled, established feel. We were reminded of the original Dunn Bros. location at Grand & Snelling. It’s not spiffy and modern the way Fresh Grounds is, for example — the place has the feel of the 1990s. (The website is in keeping. It seems to have been developed in Dreamweaver, back when Macromedia owned it, and many of the pages are rendered in the Comic Sans font.)
Overall I found the environment comfortable and conducive to a long settling in.
Vibe — Katharyn: music!; Keith established.
Crowd — Various; not many students.
Wi-Fi — 53.4 Mbps downstream, 13.0 up; latency 29 msec. Provisioning by Comcast residential. Few if any others shared the signal. 17 Wi-Fi signals were broadcasting in the area.
Staff — Friendly and real.
Beans — They sell both Fair Trade and San Lucas (Guatemalan) coffees in bulk, some of them organic. The website doesn’t have a list; ask what’s available if you visit. The San Lucas beans, the website explains, are sold by the Guatemalan suppliers themselves for prices higher than what Fair Trade would afford them. These beans are roasted by Alakef Coffee Roasters in Duluth and shipped to the Cities overnight.
Cup — I had a straight latte, and it was competent. Katharyn tried a red latte brewed in an espresso machine using a caffeine-free red tea.
Food — An unusually wide range of food is made & served on-site: breakfast items, baked goods, sandwiches, homemade soups, ice creams, salads, grillers, and comfort foods such as mac & cheese and lasagna.
Music & noise — MPR’s Heartland channel was playing, which delighted both of us. The level was sufficient that my SoundHound app could identify songs. Conversational buzz was low to nonexistent.