Ninth Street Espresso (9th & 10th St)

The window of Ninth Street Espresso, disconcertingly on 10th Street and Tompkins SquareNinth 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.

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Gasoline Alley Coffee

The Gasoline Alley Logo, crossed-espresso basketsNew 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!

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South End Buttery

My cup of coffee surveys the bar at the back of the South End ButteryBoston’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!

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Charlie’s Sandwich Shoppe

Charlie's Sandwich Shoppe sign hangs proudly over the sidewalk on Columbus AvenueCharlie’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…

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Berkeley Perk Café

The Berkeley Perk Cafe logo on a flag hanging outside the shopThe 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.

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Toi Moi & Café

Toi, Moi & Cafe | Cafe TorrefacteurToi 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!

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A fine vegan cortado from Résonance, the milk being a blend of almond and coconutOne 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.

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Le Lapin Pressé

Le Lapin Pressé, café + grillcheeserie.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.

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Café Olimpico

Café Olimpico, depuis 1970 (since 1970)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!

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Café Myriade

The Cafe Myriade LogoCafé 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.

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