Today we look at two coffee shops, one quite local to us and one far afield in north-central Minnesota. Both easily qualify for our shortlist of desirable third places. Bonus: a northern getaway interlude.
(Links to previous reviews in this series are at the bottom of this post.)
This new offering on St. Clair Ave. has been open since mid-June. Its owner and proprietor, Pete Poire-Odegard, aims to grow the roasting business over time, but for now most of the custom seems to be neighbors who come in to check out, and then stay to enjoy, the clean, new space.
Large windows facing north and east bring in lovely morning light. The substantial wooden chairs all match and the tables are so far unmarked. There is no upholstered seating.
In the wintertime the place to be will be seated at the counter at the north-facing windows — both stretches of counter sit atop the old cast-iron radiators.
Roots Roasting in Mac-Groveland, St. Paul. The construction signs hint at the challenges of running a business one block from the building site for a new 6-story residential / commercial development on Snelling Avenue. (On one of our visits pile drivers were operating, and they drove us right out of the neighborhood.)
Sidewalk sign for Roots Roasting.
Decoration in the large side room is limited to educational posters about the coffee plant and the global business it has spawned. There is also a copy of the new coffee flavor wheel produced by the Specialty Coffee Association of America and World Coffee research. Faithful readers may recall that I mentioned this poster in the kickoff article in this review series, over two years ago.
Vibe — Katharyn: bright; Keith shiny.
Crowd — Cross section of the neighborhood: 20-somethings to olds. Many folks popped in for a quick take-out.
Wi-Fi — (speedof.me) 78.2 Mbps down / 17.0 Mbps up; (speedtest.net) 86.3 / 15.5; (fast.com) 68 Mbps; latency 24 msec. Provisioning by Comcast (Xfinity) residential. Two or three others shared the signal, and over two dozen access points were visible — a moderately noisy neighborhood.
Staff — Pete seems to be manning the operation all by himself to start out. He is friendly, open, and approachable, and a seasoned barista. He comes here from Portland OR, where he apprenticed in the coffee roasting business.
Beans — Five varieties are available in 12-oz. bags for $14 — Guatemalan, Ethiopian, Indonesian, a Brazilian espresso, and a decaf. I bought a bag of Guatemalan and will edit this post with impressions once I sample it at home.
Cup — I had an Americano made with the Brazil-based espresso. Katharyn was not in a caffeinating mood and at Pete’s suggestion ordered a steamer, which is essentially a Virgin Latte. Both were fine.
Food — Baked good are from Patisserie 46 and are as wonderful as you might expect. I had a plain (butter) croissant and Katharyn ordered a banana and chocolate chip muffin and, on another occasion, a macaron — very French and very good.
Music & noise — Noise level is quite tolerable (when the AC is not running), thanks in part to high ceilings and one wall of barn wood, which acts as a sound absorber. Music is what I think of as “middle jazz” — neither smooth nor hardcore, and predominantly instrumental. Examples during our visits: Straight (Speedometer), Swing Down (Soopasoul), and Tuff Love (Galactic).
Bottom line — We found Roots Roasting an excellent place all around — good coffee and pastries, fine Wi-Fi, comfortable tables to work at (though the hard chairs seem to get harder after an hour), plenty of outlets, pleasant music, and a tolerable noise level. I was heard to mutter to Katharyn: “Qui sono felice.”
Our fear is that Roots will continue getting discovered (and this review may help there), and will eventually be overrun.
Interlude: an overnight trip north
The occasion of our visit to Grand Rapids in July (see below) was a tour of the Mississippi headwaters at Lake Itasca and the Lost 40. The latter is a patch of old-growth forest that a 19th-century surveying error preserved from logging; it is now a state-protected Scientific and Natural Area.
The Mississippi headwaters at Lake Itasca, about 4 hours north & west of us. In the photo I have just walked across the mighty river, in the company of assorted 5-year-olds.
The Lost 40 is 144 acres of untouched old-growth forest in northern Minnesota. Some of the pines there, such as the red pine in the photo, are believed to date from the time of the Pilgrims’ landing at Plymouth Rock, 400 years ago.
24 NE 4th Street, Grand Rapids MN (website)
This unique venue has everything: a genuine coffee-shop experience with excellent baristas and locally roasted Fair Trade beans; blazing fast Wi-Fi; an extensive menu of breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert options; plentiful organic, gluten-free, vegetarian, and vegan choices; a local and farm-to-table sensibility; local art on the walls; and regular live music.
Brewed Awakenings got a favorable mention in this Grand Rapids travel review from the Star Tribune. The local Grand Rapids Herald covered the venue’s change of ownership earlier this summer.
The name Brewed Awakenings seems to be irresistible to a certain strain of coffee shop owners — those with a fondness for puns. I found shops with this name in Arizona, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Belize. There’s also a roaster sporting the name in the Pacific Northwest.
Exterior of Brewed Awakenings, Grand Rapids MN. Note the decorative mosaics made of bits of broken coffee mugs.
The Grand Rapids space is large and bright, its corner location providing north- and east-facing windows. The decor tends to elementary school colors, an impression reinforced by the mid-century red vinyl-topped tables and booths. There are several murals, and local artists hang their work around the space. (The shop also hosts monthly art openings as part of the Grand Rapids “First Friday” art walk.) I’m told the ladies’ room features a mosaic of a steaming cup crafted out of bits of broken crockery mugs. Mosaics adorn the street facade as well.
Vibe — Katharyn: light; Keith foodie.
Crowd — Everyone in town and everyone just passing through (as we were). There were business groups, individuals on laptops, students, seniors, and one possibly homeless guy. The new owners say they want to perpetuate and encourage the feeling of a community gathering place that Brewed Awakenings has fostered since its founding over 20 years ago.
Wi-Fi — (speedof.me) 54.8 Mbps down / 93.0 Mbps up; (speedtest.net) 91.9 / 90.8 Mbps; (fast.com) 89 Mbps; latency 23 msec. Provisioning is by paulbunyan.net, a local communications cooperative of long standing. The coffee shop gets the connectivity for their public Wi-Fi network by a cooperative arrangement with the computer repair operation next door, and I believe it is backed by 1 Gbps fiber service.
Staff — Everyone on the young staff was competent and speedy. At one point the co-owner, Jenny Erickson, waited on me and it’s an understatement to say that she went above and beyond.
Interior of Brewed Awakenings, Grand Rapids MN.
Beans — The other co-owner, Mike Erickson, told me the story of the beans that Brewed Awakenings sells. The founder of the business, Joan Foster, sourced beans from Alakef, a Duluth roaster. At one point the business was struggling and Foster wasn’t able to pay for the beans in a timely way. Alakef continued with regular shipments and told her to pay when she could. The crisis passed and Foster never forgot the roaster’s generous approach to customer service. The Ericksons want to honor that generosity, so they have remained with Alakef as a supplier.
Cup — We don’t have a clear memory of how we caffeinated during our visits 6 weeks back. I probably ordered a latte and Katharyn something exotic. I remember that they were speedily and expertly prepared.
Food — I had the daily soup, cauliflower-curry, and a fennel and feta quiche, and both were beautifully made and full of subtle flavors. On a second visit I hugely enjoyed the 4-berry Minnesota pie. Katharyn ordered a daily special vegetarian stew flavored with lemongrass and enjoyed it very much. She admired, but didn’t order, a 4-layer cake with carrot and dark chocolate offered in a generous, Minnesota-sized portion. We appreciated finding food of such big-city quality in a small Minnesota town.
Music & noise — The noise level wasn’t punishing even though the place was hopping on both of our visits. I didn’t capture details of the music that was playing, but Katharyn remembers it as pleasant and perhaps chosen by the young staff of twenty-somethings and college students.
Bottom line — This singular venue, far more than a coffee shop, would be on my shortlist of go-to third places if it weren’t 175 miles away.