I continue to be amazed at the depth and breadth of the coffee shop culture here in the Twin Cities. In this installment we review a West St. Paul coffee house, one in Uptown Minneapolis, one by Lake Nokomis, and one in St. Paul.
Links to all reviews in this series, 25 at this writing, are at the bottom of the post.
879 Smith St. at Annapolis, West St. Paul (website)
This comfortable corner coffee shop has a real neighborhood feel. The front windows let in plenty of light, and (unusually) a wall of windows does the same at the back of the space.
Seating consists of a handful of wooden tables for 2 or 4 with padded wooden chairs; four rather beaten-down armchairs; and two communal tables that can seat 6 to 8. The tin ceiling is painted a kind of butterscotch color.
Amore features music every Friday and Saturday from 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm. And the coffee shop offers — uniquely as far as I know — high-intensity interval training from 7:30 am to 8:00 am on Saturdays.
Getting to Amore is challenging at the moment. It will be trivial once the High (Smith Street) Bridge re-opens in 6 months; but for now it’s either the I-35W bridge or the one at Wabasha Street in downtown St. Paul, followed by significant backtracking.
Vibe — Katharyn: friendly; Keith neighborhoody.
Crowd — 20s to retirement age. Almost all of the people who were present when we arrived were still in place when we left two hours later.
Wi-Fi — 0.875 Mbps downstream, 1.59 Mbps up; latency is a reasonable 36.5 msec. This result was averaged over four tests; the lowest was 320 Kbps down. This is perhaps 1/40 of the speed most of us are used to at home. The staff said that one person had been doing a large download, but personally I doubt that would explain the numbers I was seeing. Provisioning is by Comcast Business and is based on wireless technology. The staff also mentioned that Comcast had recently throttled their Internet connection, for reasons not known, but reportedly was not doing so during our visit. Six others shared the access point, and 17 access points were visible: a reasonably quiet neighborhood.
Staff — Exceptionally friendly and personable. Barista chops are at the journeyman level.
Beans — Amore does its own roasting. During our visit three varieties were on offer, two light-roast (Papua New Guinea and El Salvador) and one dark (Guatemala). Decaf is available. None was organic.
Cup — I enjoyed one of the better lattes in my Twin Cities experience. Katharyn’s Vienna latte (with honey and cinnamon) was excellent.
Food — We both had the daily special chicken chili, and it was fine. A little too hot for Katharyn and a little not hot enough for me: in other words just right. A grilled cheese sandwich was just OK. The cafe had had a refrigerator mishap earlier in the day of our visit, and no meat was available for sandwiches, but ordinarily customers can design their own sandwich with ham, turkey, tuna, etc. There is a daily quiche, and breakfast sandwiches are available.
Music & noise — Music was at a good level from where we sat in the front — not so loud as to be intrusive but enough to be discernible. A customer could choose his/her desired level for the music by moving back in the space; there is only the one set of speakers in the front. Some of what we enjoyed: I’ll Take Care of You (Beth Hart & Joe Bonamassa); Way Out West (Andrew Bird); Sinking Feeling (Chris Thomas King).
Bottom line — The space is quite amenable to settling in for hours with a laptop. Katharyn would rather the two ceiling fans were not moving the air around quite so assertively. The coffee is top-notch but we didn’t get a fair chance to judge the food.
Corner Coffee Uptown
W. 28th St. at Hennepin, Minneapolis (Uptown) (website)
This space is one of three locations for Corner Coffee; the others are North Loop and Camden. After the first visit, Corner Uptown has taken the top spot in our quest for a great coffee shop in which to hang out.
In addition to the wide-open space of the main room, Corner provides a small side room with two tables; this is ideal for those preferring less background sound as an aid to concentration.
Seating is mostly wooden chairs at tables for two or four, but no fewer than three groupings of leather couch-and-chair are provided as well.
To Katharyn’s delight, there are no overhead fans.
The space is set up for live music in one corner, with overhead spotlights and a pair of large speakers mounted on the walls. The calendar doesn’t list any upcoming gigs, however. Perhaps they’re publicized elsewhere.
Vibe — Katharyn: radiant; Keith chill.
Crowd — Mixed, 20s to middle-aged, with just a couple of olds (ce serait moi!).
Wi-Fi — 53.9 Mbps up, 52.8 Mbps down; latency 18 msec. Forty-three access points are visible from here, making this one of the noisiest neighborhoods I have encountered. Provisioning is by US Internet fiber, and as you can see above it delivers solid symmetrical connectivity.
Staff — Eric was friendly, smiling, accommodating, and served up excellent and appealing drinks and food.
Beans — This location does the roasting for all three Corner Coffees. On the day of our visit, the coffees available in the bean were from Honduras, Ethiopia, and Mexico — the latter in deepest supply and therefore apparently the most popular. There was also a decaf from Columbia, which the website notes is sourced green and sugar processed on these shores.
Cup — My Americano, made with Mexican beans in an espresso roast, was fine if not exceptional; a latte was a thing of beauty. Katharyn had the Mexican medium roast done in a Bonavita pourover.
Food — I had a BLT on toasted cranberry rice bread, and it was just what it should be. Katharyn enjoyed her veggie and hummus wrap very much, calling it the best she has had. It was high on the garlic scale.
Music & noise — The soundtrack was by the New England band Dispatch (via Spotify): Mayday, Two Coins, Midnight Lorry, and Passerby, all from different albums. Level of the music was perfect: distinguishable but not overly loud and distracting. Conversation was rare as most of the patrons (us included!) were on their laptops and/or phones.
Bottom line — At the moment Corner Coffee tops our list for long-term comfort, quality of the food and coffee, and overall friendliness. Great Internet connectivity.
Nokomis Beach Coffee
4956 28th Ave S, Minneapolis (Minnehaha / Keewaydin) (Facebook; no website)
This busy and lively space is two blocks off of Minnehaha Parkway and right off the beach on Lake Nokomis that gives it its name. It has seating for about 30 at matched wooden tables and chairs with vinyl cushions, plus an attractive curved bar at the serving counter. A dozen outside tables line the sidewalks along 28th Ave. S and E 50th St. There isn’t any of the plush leather seating that is common in establishments of this sort.
Nokomis Beach does not give the impression of hewing to any one coffee fanatic’s vision. The space, its contents, and its commercial procedures all seemed to us to be a bit ad-hoc. For example, when your order is up they don’t call your name (they didn’t request it upon ordering) — they just call out the name of the dish. They don’t bring it to you, you traipse up and fetch it. Similar to the way other coffee shops operate perhaps, but the overall impression here is that not a lot of thought has been devoted to the customer’s experience.
We visited on a hot day and the air conditioning was not really keeping up. The place was not drafty, which was a plus.
The big windows along the corner streets bring in plenty of light, even in the back of the large space.
As we left the area we went by the entrance to the Nokomis public beach, which was mobbed on a hot Sunday after the 4th of July. I suspect that many of the patrons we had seen dropping by the coffee shop were heading to or coming from that beach.
Vibe — Katharyn: neighborly; Keith ad-hoc.
Crowd — Mixed, college-age to olds. A few families with small children but most of the patrons were midlife adults.
Wi-Fi — Among the slowest I have tested in a Twin Cities coffee shop: (speedof.me) 1.6 Mbps down / 770 kbps up; (speedtest.net) 2.0 / 0.7; (fast.com) 1.6 Mbps; latency 168 msec (that’s bad). Provisioned by Quest (a.k.a. CenturyLink), probably over copper DSL. About half a dozen devices shared the Wi-Fi signal. The neighborhood was noisy, with over 20 access points visible. Not a place to watch a Netflix movie on your device.
Staff — The server who waited on us was young and apparently inexperienced, but she was backstopped by more professional staff. Overall there was an air of competence but not of membership in a rarified coffee culture. They were all friendly enough.
Beans — I saw only French roast and one decaf for bulk sale; no price was evident. The beans come from Roastery 7, a wholesale roaster in Brooklyn Center. I had not heard of this operation; it looks impressive, and I give Nokomis Beach major props for doing business with them. Roastery 7 builds a carbon-negative footprint into their business plan, and have since 2010. They offer barista training and business consulting for coffee retailers in addition to wholesale beans.
Cup — Katharyn got an iced “Noko,” which is espresso, steamed milk, and white chocolate; I just had a cold lemonade on a 91° day. So we can’t fully evaluate the coffee expertise in practice.
Food — The shop offers pastries, sandwiches, and waffles. Katharyn ordered a daily special — which is any two of the offered build-your-own sandwiches, soups, and salads in small portions. Very consumer-friendly, but it has to be labor-intensive. The bread (from Patisserie 46) was outstanding. Katharyn ordered half a tuna sandwich on multi-grain and half a Cobb salad. It was all excellent and prices were reasonable.
Music & noise — Nokomis Beach is a tall, empty space with hard surfaces. We stayed inside — the preponderance of customers elected for the sidewalk tables. Conversational level and traffic noise were high. The music was mostly inaudible beneath that background.
Bottom line — A fine neighborhood space, clearly very popular, but not the most comfortable place to hang out for hours on one’s computer (and the connection is dog-slow). Good food at fair prices.
Roundtable Coffee Works
2386 Territorial Rd. at Raymond Ave., Saint Paul (South St. Anthony Park) (Facebook; no website)
This tiny space has room for four large adults to sit; eight if they are smaller or exceptionally friendly. Plus room for kids on a bench. Roundtable started out as a roasting operation but fairly quickly outgrew the South St. Anthony storefront; now the roaster here is rented out to friends and colleagues, and coffee and pastries are served to walk-ins and a few stationary patrons at a time.
The seating is three plywood bench units and two tables, not particularly comfortable for long-term laptop work. The coffee and the baked goods are far above average.
Vibe — Katharyn: harmonious; Keith: gemultlich.
Crowd — We were the only sedentary customers in the tiny space during our visit. The people coming in for takeout were mostly 20- and 30-something.
Wi-Fi — (speedof.me) 16.1 Mbps down / 6.5 up; (speedtest.net) 29.7 / 6.1; (fast.com) 29 Mbps. Latency is 24 msec. Only one or two others were sharing the access point with us, and a dozen or so access points are visible, so the neighborhood is quiet. Provisioning is by Comcast (Xfinity) cable.
Staff — Exceptionally friendly and personable. Real. Katharyn, former waitstaff, was impressed by the professionalism: they made every trip count, e.g. picking up plates after delivering drinks. One uncomplainingly turned down the air conditioning on request on this 80° day, as we were sitting in a considerable cold draft.
Beans — Tasty Decaf, Ecuador, Ethiopia, Hot Mess, and Hashtag. The latter two have no fixed composition; they are blends of what the roastmaster feels are the best beans on hand week to week.
Cup — Since I have begun working my way through non-dairy milk substitutes, I had a latte with almond milk. The plain latte tasted very faintly of almonds, and was quite competently made (see photo). Katharyn ordered a cappuccino with Minn Easy syrup. All the syrups on offer are made here; this one featured a touch of bitter orange.
Food — We both had a ham & cheese croissant from Patisserie 46. Outstanding. The server told us we were lucky as those croissants are usually gone by noon.
Music & noise — The music was playing at an agreeable volume, audible but not overbearing. A sampling: Liar and Out of Site (Built to Spill); Heart It Races (Dr. Dog); Gone for Good (The Shins) (as reported by Soundhound; I’m not personally acquainted with any of this music).
Bottom line — South St. Anthony Park has plenty of coffee choices, and Roundtable makes a nice friendly alternative to pop into for a cup, a snack, and to grab some connectivity.