Brian’s Travel Spot: Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor

One of Amtrak's locomotives on the Northeast Corridor, waiting on the platform at Philadelphia's 30th Street Station.Welcome to the second instalment of this edition of Brian’s Travel Spot, covering my latest Grand Adventure. In the first instalment, we saw how that no sooner had I returned from my previous trip to Florida/Phoenix than I was off again, flying out to Boston. My dilemma, if you can call it that, was that I had to be in Phoenix (again!) three weeks later. Rather than fly home (again), then fly back to the US (again), I decided to stay in the US, slowly making my way from northeast to southwest, taking in some sights as I went.

Given my dislike of flying in the USA, and my past record of taking ludicrously long train journeys, it should come as no surprise that I decided to do the whole trip by train. Or, at least, as much of it as I could, a route that took me from Providence, Rhode Island, down the eastern seaboard to Washington DC, with stops in New York, New Jersey and Philadelphia. From there, I took two overnight trains, one to New Orleans and the other from New Orleans to Tucson, Arizona, where I hired a car to drive to Phoenix, my final destination.

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Pax Treme

A single-origin Colombian espresso, roasted by Onyx, from Arkansas, and served, in a classic blue cup, by Pax Treme in New Orleans.Following hot on the heels of yesterday’s Coffee Spot, Spitfire Coffee, comes Spitfire’s new big sister, Pax Treme, which I visited last Sunday. I’d not heard anything of Pax before I arrived in New Orleans, but that’s probably because it only opened the Monday before my visit. Talk about good timing!

I’m indebted to Marissa, the barista at Spitfire, who gave me the heads-up about Pax. It has perhaps the most (initially) unpromising location for a coffee shop, almost directly under an elevated section of the I-10 freeway which thunders through the heart of New Orleans Tremé neighbourhood, north of the French Quarter. About 10 times the size of Spitfire, and that’s not counting the balcony, it’s a handy getaway from the hustle of the French Quarter and just a short walk away across Louis Armstrong Park.

Like Spitfire, Pax is a multi-roaster, with a single-origin on espresso and three more available either as espresso (ground using the Mahlkönig EK-43) or pour-over through V60 or Chemex (with plans to add Kalita Wave and maybe Aeropress, plus bulk-brew) There’s also a kitchen at the back, so Pax has a small (for now) breakfast/lunch menu, plus cakes, all baked on-site.

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Spitfire Coffee

Watching espresso extract from my seat by the counter at Spitfire Coffee in New Orleans.My first speciality coffee in New Orleans came courtesy of Spitfire Coffee. A tiny spot in the heart of the French Quarter, it’s the number one option when you need decent coffee during a hard day’s sight-seeing. Given its size/location, Spitfire could be forgiven for serving a middle-of-the-road espresso blend and a big flask of drip coffee to go. But no, Spitfire is cut from a different cloth.

The coffee comes from a cast of five roasters, with a different option on espresso every day, coupled with multiple options on pour-over using V60 or Chemex. There’s also cold-brew, a decent selection of tea and some signature drinks (Las Tres Flores and a Cuban Cortado). You can also have an iced espresso or latte should that take your fancy and, refreshingly, there’s no batch-brew on offer. If you’re hungry, there’s a choice of two cakes, baked at Spitfire’s sister location, Pax.

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Sólo Espresso

The recessed wooden double doors of Sólo Espresso in New Orleans.Doing my research before my short trip to New Orleans, not many names came up when I asked about speciality coffee. However, of those that did, the most prevalent was Sólo Espresso, which was also highly recommended on the ground. The first thing to say is that if you stick to the usual tourist areas, you’re not going to come across Sólo. It’s east of the French Quarter, on the border between Bywater and St. Claude, and across the canal from the Lower Ninth Ward.

However, as I always say, good coffee’s worth travelling for. In this case, you have several options, including a fairly pleasant 50-minute stroll through Crescent Park on the north bank of the Mississippi. There’s also a couple of buses or a 10-minute taxi ride, depending on traffic.

Whichever route you take, you won’t be disappointed. Occupying the ground floor of a long, low building, there’s something of the basement about Sólo. The coffee, meanwhile, comes from old friends, Miami’s Panther Coffee, with the East Coast blend on espresso, where it’s joined by a guest single-origin, plus decaf. There’s also bulk-brew, cold-brew or pour-over using the Chemex. If you’re hungry, there’s a breakfast/lunch menu, plus cake.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: Another Grand Adventure

The nose of the British Airways Boeing 777 that flew me to Boston, on the stand at London Heathrow Terminal 5.No sooner had I returned from my previous trip to Florida/Phoenix than, it seemed to me, I was off again, back to the USA for another grand adventure as I like to call my ridiculously long trips. In reality, I had nine days between flights, which included three days at home, four days away in the UK, squeezing in visits to Foundry Coffee and Grasshopper Café, then two days at my Dad’s. And then I was off again. In case you’re wondering, no, it was not nearly long enough.

This time I flew from Manchester, via Heathrow, to Boston for a long-standing social engagement. I was then faced with a dilemma. I had to be in Phoenix (again!) an annoyingly-inconvenient three weeks later. I could have returned to the UK (again), had another 9 or so days in the country, then flown back to Phoenix (again), picking up another two rounds of jetlag in the process (and no, they do not cancel each other out).

Or… I could stay and use the three weeks to slowly make my way from north-east to south-west, taking in some sights as I went. No prizes for guessing which option I went for.

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ReAnimator Coffee Roastery

Detail from the door of ReAnimator Coffee Roasters on Master Street on Philadelphia's north side.We round off the week of all things Philadelphia with the ReAnimator Coffee Roastery in Kensington, a district of northern Philadelphia. I first came across ReAnimator back in 2014, when I visited what was then its only coffee shop on my first trip to the city. That’s a little further north in Fishtown, where you’ll also find the likes of One Shot and the La Colombe flagship.

Back then, ReAnimator was roasting, but from a small facility that wasn’t open to the public. Fast forward two years to my return in 2016, and I learnt that ReAnimator had opened a new coffee shop and roastery, so naturally I had to go. Occupying the ground floor of a large, brick-built standalone warehouse-like building, ReAnimator has plenty of room to grow. The coffee shop part is in the front, with the roastery at the back, both having plenty of space.

As you would expect, there’s a wide range of coffee, with the Telemetry blend and decaf on espresso, joined by up to five single-origins which can also be had as pour-overs through V60 or Chemex. There’s the obligatory bulk-brew, tea and a small range of cakes and other snacks if you’re hungry.

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Ox Coffee is Roasting!

A beautiful Gibraltar (Cortado) from Ox Coffee.For a long time, Philadelphia has been one of my favourite coffee cities: understated (and underrated), easily walkable and with some really excellent coffee shops. Top of that list is Ox Coffee, which I visited on my first trip to the city in 2014. Back then it hadn’t long since celebrated its first birthday and was just finding its feet. I returned two years later, when the “new” back room and garden were open and, when I finally made it back to Philadelphia last week after another absence of two years, I made a point of calling in to see what Max and Will, the owners, had been up to…

I was on a bit of a coffee trek that day, having already called into the new Rival Bros as well as Plenty Café on Passyunk Avenue, so, with a couple more stops to go, I ordered a decaf Gibraltar. It was only then that I realised that since my last visit, Ox Coffee had started roasting. Naturally, I then had to try all the coffee…

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Peddler Coffee

Espresso in a glass at Peddlar Coffee, a single-origin Brazilian Materia.I was last in Philadelphia two years ago when I visited a bunch of places, took photos and wrote them up, but, for a variety of reasons, failed to publish them. This week, therefore, is going to be Philadelphia week, which kicked off yesterday with the original Plenty Café, on Passyunk Avenue, and continues today with Peddler Coffee, another in a long line of Philadelphia coffee shop/roasters.

When I first visited Peddler, following a tip-off from my friend Greg, it had been going for just under a year, serving a range of single-origin coffees on espresso and on pour-over, exclusively through the Chemex. Fast-forward two years and Peddler will be celebrating its third birthday next week. It’s still going strong, still roasting great single-origin coffee and still essentially doing the same things, with a few tweaks here and there for good measure. As well as coffee, there’s tea, and, if you’re hungry, a range of cakes and pastries.

In a city full of physically beautiful coffee shops, Peddler is up there with the best of them. Indeed, I had forgotten how beautiful it is. Kitted out in dark wood and exposed brick, it’s a glorious place to drink your coffee.

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Plenty Café, East Passyunk

The sign hanging outside Plenty on East Passyunk Avenue, Philadelphia.When I first visited Philadelphia, Plenty Café, in Rittenhouse, was one of the first coffee shops that my friend Greg introduced me to. Back then, Plenty was a chain of precisely two, the Rittenhouse branch having recently joined the original on East Passyunk Avenue in South Philadelphia. Having really liked the Rittenhouse branch, I was determined to try out the original on my return to Philadelphia in 2016. Sadly, for various reasons, I never actually got around to completing my write-up, so when I finally returned to Philadelphia two years later, I decided to rectify matters…

The original Plenty Café is quite a different beast from Rittenhouse. Here the emphasis is more on food, with full (and excellent) breakfast, lunch and evening menus, backed up by a generous selection of cake. There’s also beer, wine and a fully-stocked bar. And then there’s coffee, for, despite the focus on food, Plenty has the sort of coffee-offering that you’d find in any decent speciality coffee shop. There are bespoke blends on espresso (Gallivant) and bulk-brew (Wayfarer), roasted by Lancaster’s Square One. The Gallivant blend is joined on espresso by a bespoke decaf (Voyager) and by a rotating single-origin, also from Square One.

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Parlor Coffee – Tasting Room

A single-origin Guatemalan coffee extracting through a bottomless portafilter on the Kees van den Westen espresso machine at Parlor Coffee in Brooklyn.I first discovered Parlor Coffee in 2016 via a combination of serendipity, a tip-off and keeping my eyes open. Back then, as well as being a roaster, Parlor Coffee ran a small coffee bar in the back room of the Persons of Interest barbershop in Brooklyn, which I spotted as I walked past one day. It was a lovely place, pulling some awesome espresso on a single-group Kees van der Westen, so I was rather upset to learn that it had closed last year.

However, I recalled the barista, Vanessa, telling me that the roastery, also in Brooklyn, was open at the weekends, so when I found myself in New York on a rainy Sunday afternoon, I made a beeline for Vanderbilt Avenue. You’ll find the roastery here (which will have its own Meet the Roaster feature in due course) along with the subject of today’s Saturday Short, the Tasting Room.

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