This is the first trip I took after starting the Coffee Spot, long before I actually conceived of the Travel Spot. I flew to Boston towards the end of February 2013, spent some time in the city and then, along with a couple of friends of mine, hired a car and explored the New England coast north of Boston, getting as far as Portland, Maine.
From there, we parted company, and I went south by train to New York City for a few days, then headed north again, taking Amtrak’s Adirondack service from Penn Station along the Hudson Valley, across upstate New York and over the border into Canada, where I reached my final destination, Montréal. I spent a few days there, staying with a friend, before flying back to the UK.
It was a trip of contrasts, with Boston and New York City being very familiar (I’d first gone to both cities in 1998), while parts of the New England coast and Montréal were complete unknowns. It was also my first trip where I had my Coffee Spot hat on, so I spent a while delving deeper into the Boston and New York coffee scenes, although it was Montréal’s coffee scene which really blew me away. I arrived with no prior knowledge and few expectations, leaving with a complete admiration for the city and its coffee.
You can read more about the trip in the Travel Spots below, while you can find all the Coffee Spots I visited during my time in Boston, New York City and Montréal at the bottom of the page.
Header Image: the incoming tide at the Ipswich Marshes on the Massachusetts coast, northeast of Boston.
You can read about the trip in the following Travel Spot posts.
Brian’s Travel Spot: New England & New York
These posts are, in more ways than one, a first for the Travel Spot. They cover the first trip I made after starting the Coffee Spot (and long before I had the idea of the Travel Spot). Unsurprisingly, while I visited plenty of coffee shops, I didn’t make any notes about the trip itself, so they’re a combination of memories, sparked when I stumbled across my photos from the time.
This post, the first of three, covers the initial part of the trip, which began in late February 2013 when I flew to Boston. I spent a few days in the city before taking various day trips around New England with some friends. Finally, I caught the train down to New York City, where I also spent a few days.
From New York City, I boarded Amtrak’s Adirondack service, which is covered in the next post in this series. This took me through upstate New York and across the Canadian border to my final destination, Montréal, which is covered in the third and final post.Continue reading...
Brian’s Travel Spot: The Adirondack from New York to Montréal
Welcome to the second instalment of what is a first for the Travel Spot, a series of three posts covering the first trip I took after starting the Coffee Spot (long before I had the idea of the Travel Spot). It takes us back to late February/early March 2013, when I spent a few days in Boston, before taking various day trips around New England with some friends. From there, I caught the train down to New York for the weekend, all of which is covered in the first instalment on this series.
This post covers my journey on the Adirondack, one of Amtrak’s famous long-distance trains. The Adirondack runs once a day, departing New York City in the morning, before running up the Hudson River valley, through upstate New York and across the Canadian border to Montréal, arriving there 10 hours later.
It was just the second time I’d been to Canada, the first being in 2005 when I was all the way on the other side of the continent visiting Vancouver. This, therefore, was all new to me, as was my time in Montréal, which is covered in the third and final post in this series.Continue reading...
Brian’s Travel Spot: Montréal 2013
Welcome to the third and final instalment of what is a first for the Travel Spot, a series of three posts covering the first trip I took after starting the Coffee Spot (long before I had the idea of the Travel Spot). It takes us back to late February/early March 2013, when I flew to Boston, travelled around New England and went from there to New York City, all of which is covered in the first instalment on this series.
From New York, I took the Adirondack, one of Amtrak’s famous long-distance trains, up the Hudson River valley, through upstate New York and across the Canadian border to Montréal, the journey being covered in the second instalment of this series.
This, the third and final instalment, covers my time in Montréal. It was my first visit (I have since been back in October 2018, part of my second around-the-world trip) and, with hindsight, going in March, which counts as the depths of winter, might not have been the best introduction to Montréal. Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed what little I could see of the city and, in particularly, was blown away by its growing speciality coffee scene.Continue reading...
You can read about all the Coffee Spots I visited on this trip in Boston, New York City and Montréal (listed alphabetically for each city).
Here are the Coffee Spots I visited during my week in Boston.
Berkeley Perk Café
The Berkley Perk Café is a well-established and well-loved coffee shop in Boston’s South End, having been around for 15 years. It offers a typical American-style coffee shop menu, with the usual espresso-based drinks, the obligatory flasks of filter coffee and a sideline in iced coffee. It has a small but tasty range of cakes and cookies, a decent breakfast menu of omelettes, bagels and egg sandwiches and an extensive range of reasonably-priced sandwiches for lunch.
In conversation with the owner I learned that the inspiration had been a trip to London 15 years ago, which led to a desire to create something with a different look-and-feel than the run-of-the-mill American coffee shop. Whatever the inspiration, the end result is a wonderful place, the lovely atmosphere making it close to the perfect place to drink coffee. Quiet but busy, with friendly but not intrusive staff and a bright and warm interior to draw you in, the Perk is the sort of place you could spend an entire afternoon and leave wandering where the time had gone.Continue reading...
Caffé Vittoria is something of Boston institution, or certainly a North End institution (the North End being the Italian part of town). It’s an old-fashioned Italian Café, with heritage dating back to 1929. Spread over three floors, with four seating areas, I’ve only ever visited during the day, when just the ground floor café is open. At night it becomes more of a bar than a café, although the menus stay the same throughout the day, serving coffee, drinks, pastries and ice-cream.
As a day-time café, it trades on my sense of nostalgia as much as anything else; waitress service, a menu that is delightfully concise and to the point, and all with certain air of opulence. A real touch of old Italian class. It helps that the coffee is reliably good and, being an old-fashioned Italian espresso man myself, it very much hits the spot. The pastries, by the way, are divine.
If you want something a little different from the typical American coffee shop, then Caffé Vittoria is the place to go. For me, no trip to Boston would be complete without popping in for an espresso.Continue reading...
Charlie’s Sandwich Shoppe
Charlie’s Sandwich Shoppe is my go-to breakfast place in Boston. Although my first visit was in 2003, I’ve only been a regular since 2011 (if visiting at least once during my annual trip to Boston makes me a regular that is!), which is when I started staying in Boston's South End. Charlie's is the quintessential family-run American diner, although it's now in the hands of local chef, Evan Deluty. It’s so much a fixture of the neighbourhood that it’s even got its own Wikipedia page!
To the detriment of my waist-line, I’ve always been a fan of American breakfasts: fluffy, buttermilk griddle cakes, smothered in maple syrup; a plate full of eggs, fried potatoes with a couple of slices of toast; there are reasons why I put on half a stone whenever I go to America.
Charlie’s supplies these in abundance, along with bags of friendly atmosphere. It’s best experienced sitting on a bar-stool at the counter with a mug of coffee and enough food to last you for the day. There you can watch the regulars come and go, read the Boston Globe, or, increasingly these days, browse your smartphone or tablet. Not that Charlie’s has succumbed to the lure of wifi just yet...Continue reading...
Flour Bakery + Café, South End & Back Bay
Normally I write about a single place, but this post is about two branches of the Flour Bakery + Café chain. In all, Flour has four outlets, all in Boston and, on recommendation, I visited the Back Bay branch on Clarendon Street and the South End branch on Washington Street.
If ever there was a lesson that the physical space plays as big a role as any in whether I like a Coffee Spot, Flour is it. In terms of what’s on offer, both are very similar, the main difference being the space. There’s nothing wrong with the Back Bay branch: it just didn’t do it for me. On the other hand, the South End branch is exactly what I’m looking for in a café. It’s a smaller, more intimate space and, on the sunny day I was there, filled with warmth and light from the windows that go almost the whole way around the place.
What you’ll get from both branches is good coffee, breakfast, soup, made-to-order sandwiches and an outstanding selection of cakes. I only had time to try the coffee and cake, but if everything else is up to the same standard, then you’re in for a treat...Continue reading...
South End Buttery
Boston’s South End Buttery is an excellent bakery/café that, until this visit, I had tabbed exclusively as a breakfast spot. Its breakfast offerings aren’t as extensive as some other establishments; mostly egg sandwiches on biscuit (American, not British) or bagel, with hot oatmeal as an alternative. I usually opt for the egg sandwich on a biscuit which never fails to satisfy while leaving space for lunch and dinner later in the day!
If you come for lunch there’s the usual range of sandwiches prepared while you wait and some tasty pastries to tempt you throughout the day. The South End Buttery changes a little in the evenings and at the weekends. Brunch is served on Saturdays and Sundays from 10:00 to 15:00, while the bar (see below) turns into restaurant from 17:30 onwards, staying open until 22:00 (23:00 Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays).
Since I’ve only ever been there on weekday mornings I can’t really comment on the merits or otherwise of it as a dinner/brunch spot. One day I’ll visit on the weekend and let you know!Continue reading...
Some places I’m sold on when I walk in the door. Others take a little while to grow on me. Some never do and so don’t make it into the Coffee Spot. It’s fair to say that I was sold on True Grounds from the moment I saw it from across the street. I’m not sure why, but I’ve learnt over the years to trust my Coffee Spot radar: it rarely lets me down. So it was with True Grounds.
True Grounds is a neighbourhood coffee shop par excellence. It’s the sort of neighbourhood coffee shop that makes you want to move into the neighbourhood. It might be off the beaten track up in Somerville, north of Boston, but I’m glad that I went out of my way to pay it a visit. What makes it for me is the space, a bright, sunny, warm and welcoming place to drink my coffee, which was, by the way, excellent.
I might have been swayed by the bright, sunny day, but whatever it was, True Grounds made a lasting impression on me!Continue reading...
Wired Puppy, Boston
Wired Puppy managed to become my favourite Boston Coffee Spot in a matter of days when I visited in 2013. Even though I haven’t exhaustively tried the other options available in the city (I didn’t even manage to try all the options on Newbury Street, where Wired Puppy is located!) any challenger will have to go a long way to beat Wired Puppy.
The space might not be to everyone’s tastes (I loved it, by the way), but the real killer is the coffee, which is awesome. I had three espressos in Wired Puppy (out of four visits) and each one was perfect. They were easily the best espressos on the New England leg of my trip. However, if espresso’s not to your taste, Wired Puppy has about 10 different beans/blends on offer, with a variety of brewing methods available. And if coffee’s not your thing, there are plenty of other drinks to tempt you.
Finally, the staff are really lovely too. Passionate, engaging and knowledgeable about their coffee, they go a long way to making Wired Puppy what it is.Continue reading...
Here are the Coffee Spots I visited during my weekend in New York City.
Regular readers will know that I have a soft spot for old-fashioned Italian cafes and, in that respect, Caffé Roma fits the bill. It’s located firmly in the heart of New York’s Little Italy on the corner of Broome and Mulberry Streets. I started coming here a couple of years ago, drawn in by the offer of free wifi, but it soon became a favourite in its own right. The coffee is good, but the killer is the wonderful array of cakes.
Caffé Roma boasts the best cannoli in New York and the rest of the offerings are pretty good too. Everything is baked on the premises and if you can’t eat it all, you can take it away with you, courtesy of a massive takeaway counter...
Caffé Roma is a lovely place, established in 1891, with much of it looking as if it dates from that era, including the tiled floor. It’s the sort of place where I could happily sit for hours (helped by the long opening hours!). Little Italy has a bit of a reputation as a tourist trap, but Caffé Roma feels more genuine to me and seems very popular with both locals and tourists.Continue reading...
Gasoline Alley Coffee
New York City’s Gasoline Alley is a curious place. It could easily BE an alley, providing a cut across between Lafayette and Mulberry streets, on which some enterprising soul has put doors at either end and a roof on top to turn it into a coffee shop. Disappointingly, it’s not, but the feeling that you are sitting in an alley is hard to shake.
What made Gasoline Alley for me was the coffee; it serves Intelligentsia, a brand which I’m familiar with from my many visits to Chicago and one which I really like. Of course, great beans don’t guarantee great coffee, but in Gasoline Alley’s case, the baristas use their La Marzocco espresso machine to get the very best out of Intelligentsia’s Black Cat seasonal espresso blend.
Gasoline Alley is part of the growing trend of coffee shops with strong links to cycling. It proudly announces this with a racing bike hanging above the counter and, as if to confirm the link, the Arc Racing Team stopped by for coffee while I was there, adding a certain frisson of excitement!Continue reading...
Gimme! Coffee, Mott Street
Gimme! Coffee is both a roaster and a regional coffee shop chain with four branches in upstate New York, two in Brooklyn and the solitary branch in Manhattan on Mott Street. It’s been around since 2000, while the Manhattan outlet opened in 2008, making Gimme! Coffee a comparatively long-established player in the New York coffee scene (unless you compare it to somewhere like Caffé Roma!).
The Manhattan branch is essentially a takeaway place, although I got lucky with the weather and had a chance to sit outside while savouring my espresso. At a pinch, you could stand inside and drink your coffee, but when I tried that (while chatting to the staff) I found that I was constantly getting in the way of other customers.
For somewhere so small, Gimme! Coffee packs a lot in though, including bags of charm and character. As a result, instead of just being somewhere to grab a coffee to go, it’s established itself as a real asset to the neighbourhood. It’s the sort of place I’d make a point of going to if I lived in the area, even if it was only for a couple of minutes a day.Continue reading...
I Am Coffee
Normally I do my research when trying a Coffee Spot for the first time, but every so often I walk past somewhere and that’s enough for me. So it was with I Am Coffee: I was actually en-route to another Coffee Spot when I saw it while walking down St Mark’s Place (in case you’re wondering, St Mark’s Place is what E 8thSt is called for the three blocks between 3rd Avenue and Tompkins Square; I thought only us Brits did that with our street names!).
The first thing to catch my eye was the sign: calling your coffee shop “I Am Coffee” is enough to get my attention any day. It’s a bit of a challenge, really. Choosing “I Am Coffee” means you either have a hell of a lot of front, or you really know about coffee. Fortunately, Giovanni, the man behind I Am Coffee, knows about coffee. I mean, he REALLY knows about coffee.
Standing in I Am Coffee and talking with Giovanni was the coffee highlight of my time in NYC on the recent trip and that’s not counting the coffee, or the place itself. It’s a must visit!Continue reading...
Ninth Street Espresso (9th & 10th St)
Ninth Street Espresso has been around since 2001, making it something of an established player in New York’s speciality coffee market compared to newcomers such as Pushcart Coffee where I’d started my day. I tried two branches, the original on 9th Street in Alphabet City and the East Village branch just two blocks away on 10th Street/Tompkins Square.
In theory I should have liked Tompkins Square as much as I liked 9th Street. However, I didn’t. On such small things hang the status of a Coffee Spot, although in fairness to Tompkins Square, the reasons I didn’t get on with it were very much specific to that visit.
In both branches, the focus is firmly on the coffee, which is excellent, while what’s on offer is very typical for an American coffee shop. Although Tompkins Square has seating, it’s set up more for takeaway trade, while 9th Street is much more the place to linger for an hour or two. They’re a little off the beaten (tourist) track in the East Village/Alphabet City area, but if you happen to be in the vicinity, both branches are worth visiting.Continue reading...
Pushcart Coffee, East Broadway
Standing on the corner of Clinton Street and East Broadway, Pushcart Coffee is not, as the name might suggest, a coffee cart, but is, in fact, a lovely little coffee shop. Better still, it’s a couple of blocks from the Chinatown hotel I normally stay in when I’m in New York, which makes it a great first stop in the morning. In Pushcart’s defence, the three-wheeled cycle-powered cart which sits outside and gives the store its name, is in regular use, taking coffee to the people at events around New York.
Pushcart Coffee is rooted in its neighbourhood, using local produce where possible and baking much of it on the premises. It’s also in a lovely old building which used to be a butcher’s shop. It’s pretty small, but nonetheless manages a cosy, friendly atmosphere. However, the main focus is on the coffee and I have to say that I was impressed, particularly with Pushcart’s speciality, the cortado, which forms the perfect compliment for the Stumptown Coffee.Continue reading...
Here are the Coffee Spots I visited during my three days in Montréal.
Café Myriade can claim to have planted the seeds of the wave of new coffee spots emerging in Montréal in the last 18 months. It opened back in 2008 and many of the recent crop, including Pikolo Espresso and Le Couteau/The Knife, can trace their lineage and/or inspiration back to Myriade and its owner, Anthony. It can also stake a claim to having introduced the awesome-looking Kees van der Westen Triplette espresso machine to Montréal.
However, despite this impressive heritage, I very nearly walked out of Myriade about 10 seconds after walking in. It was heaving, all the tables were taken, there was a queue at the counter and the loud music was really very loud. To cap it all, I was in a foul mood. However, I forced myself to stay and was very glad that I did.
Once I’d settled down and got a table, I found that I loved the place. The atmosphere was great, as was the music, although it won’t be to everyone’s tastes. The coffee was excellent and the staff knowledgeable and helpful. Even the other customers were friendly! What’s more, it’s right in the heart of downtown Montréal where independent coffee spots seem thin on the ground.Continue reading...
Make no mistake, even though this is Montréal and its staff switch effortlessly between French and English, Café Olimpico is Italian to its roots. Compared to some Italian places I visited on my North American trip, it’s a relative newcomer, having “only” been around since 1970, when it was founded by the late Rocco Furfaro (it’s now owned by Rocco’s daughters, Rossana and Victoria).
It’s best described as a neighbourhood espresso bar. Located on the corner of Rue St-Viateur and Rue Waverley, right in the heart of residential Mile End, Café Olimpico feels like your local, except that it serves coffee, not alcohol, from seven in the morning until midnight, seven days a week. I’m not a fan of alcohol, so pubs and bars have never held much appeal. However, Café Olimpico is exactly how I’d imagine my local would be if pubs served (excellent) coffee instead of beer…
Warm, welcoming, friendly: the ideal place to pop in for a quick espresso or to meet up with friends for an hour or two over a latte; Café Olimpico is a wonderful place. If I lived in the neighbourhood, I really would be in here all the time!Continue reading...
It’s fair to say that I was blown away by the coffee scene in Montréal. I came to it armed with precisely zero foreknowledge and left deeply impressed with the range and quality of the coffee spots dotted around the city. Café Plume is another of the new crop of places which have bloomed in the last 18 months or so. It was recommended to me by Marie- Ève of the Pikolo Espresso Bar and her recommendation proved to be spot on.
Café Plume is best described as a neighbour café. Located on the eastern edge of the plateau area of Montréal, opposite Parc Jeanne-Mance, it’s a laid-back, relaxed and friendly place with coffee that’s every bit as good as its setting. Throw in a generous provision of power outlets and free wifi and you have the sort of place that makes you want to move in next door (or, in the case of Café Plume, move into one of the flats above the shop). Or maybe just move into Plume itself!Continue reading...
Le Couteau – The Knife
You know somewhere is going to be good when everybody you meet tells you to go there. So it was with Le Couteau (The Knife), one of the new wave of coffee shops that have sprung up in Montréal in the last couple of years. In fact, as this post is published, Le Couteau is precisely one year and six days old...
Located just around the corner from the Mont-Royal metro station, Le Couteau is a wonderful place. It’s spacious, full of light and the coffee is superb. The cakes are pretty awesome too. Like many of the places I visited in Montréal, the focus is firmly on the coffee, with little else to distract you, although there is tea and hot chocolate for those of that persuasion.
At first glance, the wooden benches don’t look that inviting, but they are actually very comfortable, while the much sought-after window seats look ideal (I never got to try one since they were all taken). At the risk of sounding like a broken record, if I lived in Montréal, I’d be in here all the time (except I’d be in all other great places I visited as well; something of a dilemma!).Continue reading...
Le Lapin Pressé
Montréal is experiencing a coffee boom: several of the Coffee Spots I visited during my brief stay had opened within the last 18 months. Not Le Lapin Pressé, though: by the time you read this, it will have celebrated its fourth birthday, making it one of the more established players on the scene. However, like many of my Montréal Coffee Spots, it came highly recommended. Starting with Jovan the Poet, who button-holed me in Café Myriade to tell me that I must go there, Le Lapin Pressé kept turning up in people’s lists of places I had to go. So, naturally, I went.
As well as its reputation for excellent coffee, Le Lapin Pressé is also known for its grilled-cheese sandwiches. Having tried both, I can confirm that the reputation is well earned: indeed, that’s pretty much all Le Lapin Pressé does. Well, that and tea/soft drinks for those who don’t like coffee, and salad/soup to go with the sandwiches. But really, in the grand scheme of things, it’s very firmly focused on coffee and toasted sandwiches and I admire somewhere that knows what it’s doing and pursues excellence in it to the exclusion of everything else.Continue reading...
Pikolo Espresso Bar
The Pikolo Espresso Bar in downtown Montréal came highly recommended. No, really. Very highly recommended: I’d only been in Montréal a day and already lots of people had said that I should go there. Under such circumstances, there’s always the possibility for disappointment, so it was with some trepidation that I visited one sunny afternoon.
However, I was far from disappointed. In fact, I fell in love with the place the moment I stepped through the door. Very long and thin, and with wonderfully-high ceilings, there is something about Pikolo to which I was instantly attracted. Located in a beautiful, old building, I knew this was going to be a great place to drink coffee. It probably helps that the coffee is pretty good too.
Frankly, what’s there not to like about Pikolo? It’s small, but never felt crowded; popular, but never felt busy; the staff are great and passionate about the coffee; it’s full of light and I even liked the music! Pikolo has been open about 18 months and is one of the places at the forefront of a quiet coffee revolution taking place in Montréal. With places like Pikolo, the revolution is sure to be a success!Continue reading...
One of the great things about my (now not so) recent trip to Montréal is the variety of the places that I visited. They all serve excellent coffee, but that’s about all they have in common. Take Résonance, another of the recommendations I got from Marie-Ève of Pikolo Espresso Bar. Down in a basement, it's in what I'd call an “interesting” part of Avenue du Parc (about 12 blocks up from Pikolo). Café by day, jazz bar by night, it serves a full range of vegan food, one of the few coffee spots in Montréal not to focus exclusively on coffee.
Résonance, supplied by Toronto-based Pilot Coffee Roasters, offers as wide a variety of coffee as any place I’d been on my trip. Along with the usual espresso-based drinks, pour-over and cafetiere coffee was also on offer, plus decaf options (essential, I would have thought, for somewhere that says open until midnight!). It was also one of the more spacious coffee spots I’d visited, roughly the same size as Café Olimpico but with a very different atmosphere, which changed as the evening wore on, the focus subtly shifting from coffee to jazz.Continue reading...
Toi Moi & Café
Toi Moi & Café (“You, me and coffee” for those who don’t speak French) is a micro-roaster with its own café, located conveniently just around the corner from my friend Adam’s apartment, where I was staying in Montréal. It’s the last of the Coffee Spots from the visit I made to Montréal back in March and rounds off an excellent visit. I came to Montréal with no expectations and left having found a wonderful coffee scene, with a wide variety of places.
Toi Moi & Café doesn’t fit the bill of the third-wave coffee shop: as well as serving coffee, which it roasts itself, it’s also an excellent breakfast, lunch and dinner spot in a residential part of Montréal. And it has lots of cake. In short, it does pretty much everything, and, being around the corner from Adam’s, I found myself a fairly regular visitor, heading there for both breakfast and lunch, as well as coffee and cake!Continue reading...