When I used to stay in downtown Chicago, my hotel was just around the corner from Tempo Café, an amazing 24-hour diner in Chicago’s Near North (I say “used to stay”: it was all of three times!). However, I loved the place and made sure I visited for breakfast at least twice on each trip. Therefore, when I was back in Chicago as part of my coast-to-coast extravaganza last year, and unexpectedly found myself north of the river, I made a beeline to Tempo for a late brunch.
Tempo, along with Boston’s Charlie’s Sandwich Shoppe, is one of my favourite American diners, although compared to Charlie’s, it’s a very different place, slightly more upmarket in layout and feel, but still great value for money. All the usual diner staples are there, but you can also get full meals and everything is available 24-hours a day, seven days a week. Comfort food at its best!
I first discovered L.A. Burdick in my pre-Coffee Spot days, after a recommendation by some Boston friends. It sounded so awesome that I had to seek it out when I was looking around Harvard. I must confess, I was not disappointed… When it came to starting the Coffee Spot, L.A. Burdick was one of the places I wanted to write about, but, of course, in traditional Coffee Spot style, I first visited L.A. Burdick’s New York City branch, plus the branch in Boston’s Back Bay, before finally getting around to a return visit to Harvard at the start of my coast-to-coast trip last summer.
As well as being the hot chocolate equivalent of a coffee shop, L.A. Burdick sells chocolate (and chocolates), the retail space usually being of equal size to the café part. There’s also tea, coffee and a wide range of sumptuous-looking cakes. However, for me, the whole purpose of coming to L.A. Burdick is to indulge in the amazing, rich and, above all, chocolaty hot chocolate.
Be warned: Harvard is smaller than the other two branches. You’ll often struggle to get a seat, having to wait for a one to become free before putting in your order.
Charlie’s Sandwich Shoppe, the quintessential family-run American diner, had been in the Manjourides family since it opened in 1927, serving the people of the South End from 429 Columbus Avenue. I discovered Charlie’s in 2003 and when, in recent years, I started to stay in the South End, it became my go-to breakfast place, dishing up my favourite staples of poached eggs, home fries and griddle cakes.
I wrote about Charlie’s Sandwich Shoppe in 2013, visiting again in 2014. However, towards the end of that year, I heard troubling rumours that Charlie’s had closed. It was only when I returned to Boston in June 2015 that I was able to confirm it for myself. I swung by in the vain hope that it would be open but it was well-and-truly shut, although deep inside I heard sounds of construction. Disappointed, I went on my way, ending up in the nearby Render Coffee.
However, when I returned this year, I was once again walking down to Render, and, instead of finding the empty shell of Charlie’s, or something new in its place, there was Charlie’s itself, looking superficially very much as it had year after year. Intrigued, I stepped inside.
Anthony’s Italian Coffee House, on 9th Street, is a slice of culture/history in Philadelphia’s Italian Market district. Recommended (once again) by my friend and guide, Greg Cohen (of Coffee Guru App fame), Greg comes to the Italian Market to do his shopping. After taking me around several old-fashioned grocers and delicatessens, themselves a delight to visit, particularly if you like Italian food, he abandoned me at Anthony’s (“left” would be a more accurate statement, but abandoned has a more dramatic quality to it, don’t you think?).
Anthony’s is an old-fashioned (in style; Wifi being just one of the concessions to the modern age) Italian-American espresso bar/café of the type that I love. Less grand than say Boston’s Caffé Vittoria or New York’s Caffe Reggio, it has more in common with Soho’s Bar Italia. This, I feel, is much more in keeping with Philadelphia’s working class, blue collar roots.
Don’t come here looking for the latest third wave coffee experience though. The espresso is good, but you won’t find any single-origins or fancy hand-crafted pour-overs (although there is the obligatory bulk-brew filter). Instead, come for a slice of character and history, plus to put your feet up after all that shopping!
I first came across L.A. Burdick exactly three years ago after a tip-off from a friend in Cambridge (Massachusetts, not UK). I tried the branch there and loved it, but was a little put off by how busy it was. Even late on a weekday afternoon, I still had to wait 20 minutes for a table, such was its popularity!
On my trip to Boston a year ago, I learnt that there was a branch on Clarendon Street in Back Bay, around 10 minutes from my hotel. Although excited, I nevertheless approached it with some trepidation, expecting crowds. However, I needn’t have worried: it was an oasis of tranquillity in comparison. It might have helped that it was gone six o’clock on a freezing cold Tuesday evening, but I wasn’t complaining.
The main draw of L.A. Burdick is the hot chocolate and the Back Bay branch is no exception. However, there’s also coffee, tea and a range of cakes and pastries. And, of course, chocolate. L.A. Burdick is definitely at the luxury end of the chocolate market and both prices and décor reflect this, making L.A. Burdick one the more sumptuously-appointed cafés you’ll visit.
When I originally started the Coffee Spot, the intention was to write about places where I liked to have coffee. Although it’s evolved a lot since then, this original motivation is still very much at the heart of the Coffee Spot. On that basis, I present today’s Saturday Supplement, The Java Room. Located in a small plaza on Littleton Road in Chelmsford, you might be mistaken for thinking that this represents my first foray into Essex, but this happens to be Chelmsford, Massachusetts. Confusingly, the New England version of Chelmsford is in Middlesex County. Go figure, as my American friends would say.
The Java Room offers pretty standard coffee-shop fare. There are no flat whites and piccolos here, no single-origin beans or micro-lots, just large lattes, cappuccinos and espresso, along with bulk-brewed filter coffee and various iced and blended beverages. Where the Java Room really scores is in its atmosphere. It’s a lovely spot, the perfect, small town, neighbourhood coffee shop, friendly, relaxed and welcoming. I’m kicking myself for having been to Chelmsford many, many times and not discovering it before last year.
March 2015: Correction. I popped in one Monday in March (since I was literally passing by) and there are indeed flat whites to be had at The Java Room. Naturally, I had to have one and it was very fine.
As the Coffee Spot approaches its second birthday, I thought I’d present another first. I’ve visited a few Coffee Spots that serve full dinner menus, but I rarely go for (or write about) the food. However, at the start of the summer, I was en-route to Leeds for my most recent Caffeine Magazine feature when I found I had a couple of hours to kill before my evening train. Instead of grabbing something at King’s Cross station, I took a short stroll to the north and today’s Saturday Supplement was born…
A roastery, coffee bar and restaurant, Caravan, in its cavernous space in an old grain warehouse next to Regent’s Canal, is many things to many people. For me, it’s always been a great place to sit inside at the counter at the back, drinking coffee and shooting the breeze with the baristas, or, on a summer’s evening, somewhere to sit outside with a carafe of one of Caravan’s many fine single-origins. It’s also one of my favourite roasters: as well as the single-origin pour-overs, I’ve always liked Caravan’s Market espresso-blend, keeping an eye out for its coffee wherever I go.
The Tea House Theatre is, as the name suggests, an old theatre (actually, it’s not, it’s an old pub) which serves tea (actually, it does; one out of two’s not bad). It’s somewhere I’ve been going, on-and-off, for the last year, and have always meant to write up for the Coffee Spot. I’ve just never had the excuse. Until now, that is.
During a recent visit by the esteemed Bristol Café Watcher to the fair city of London, I remembered one of Café Watcher’s rare faults: a penchant for drinking tea. I therefore decided upon the Tea House Theatre as the final destination of a day spent wandering around London in the sunshine. When it comes to tea, it doesn’t get better than this, with numerous (I ran out of fingers and toes while counting) loose-leaf tea offerings.
However, probably the most relevant thing about the Tea House Theatre, given that this is the Coffee Spot, is that it DOESN’T SERVE COFFEE! That’s right: after dallying with the “other stuff” in Cardiff, I’ve finally gone the whole hog and written about a place that only does tea. And superb cake. And food. But not coffee.
It’s lovely by the way.
September 2015: I’m delighted that the Tea House Theatre was short-listed for this year’s Lunch Business Awards Best Tea Experience.
Today’s Saturday Supplement (yes, I know it’s a Wednesday; shush!) is a two-for-the-price of one deal: a visit to the third Bea’s of Bloomsbury outpost at Farringdon, and an update of sorts on the original Bea’s of Bloomsbury on Theobalds Road.
Having written about the original Bea’s and then the second outpost in St Paul’s within the first four months of the Coffee Spot’s life, I’ve taken my time to get to the third, and latest, of the Bea’s of Bloomsbury Empire of Cake. In fairness to myself, the Farringdon branch (or Mini-Bea’s as I like to call it) wasn’t actually open when I wrote about the first two. Even so…
Tucked away opposite Farringdon station in a curiously-shaped little building that’s almost all windows, there’s not a lot to Bea’s. Certainly it’s not the sort of place you go for a sit-down afternoon tea (unlike the other two). Although a pair of benches graces the pedestrianised street outside (with an excellent view of the Cross-rail excavations), this really is a takeaway coffee-and-cake kind of place, with a major emphasis on the cake (although there are sandwiches as well). Mind you, I expect nothing less when the company’s motto is “life is short, eat more cake”!
Jany’s, in downtown Philadelphia, was introduced to me by Greg, of Coffee Guru App fame, my guide during my stay in Philadelphia. For those who don’t know it, Jany’s is an old-fashioned American diner of the type that I adore, akin to Charlie’s Sandwich Shoppe in Boston. Serving typical diner fare (ie good quality comfort food), the food is both excellent and extremely good value for money, with a massive menu to choose from. So, that’s the good news.
The bad news is that, having been run by Jany and her family since 1977, Jany is hoping to retire this summer and is looking to sell the business on. With luck, someone will buy it and carry it on much as it is, but who knows what will happen? So, if you get the chance, check out Jany’s while you can. Or buy it. But don’t change anything!
It would be great if Jany’s was still open, still serving the same wholesome value-for-money food when I next come to Philadelphia.
Update, March 2015: Jany’s is still here! I’ve just called in for brunch on my return to Philadelphia and am delighted to report that Jany’s is under new ownership and going strong. As far as I can tell, other than the addition of Wifi, nothing else has changed 🙂