Blogs > Hold the Coffee

Every so often, New-Herald Reporter Simon Husted camps out at a local neighborhood coffee shop reviewing its scene, menu, location and its space functionality. In an unusual twist, he reviews everything but the coffee.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Hold The Coffee @ Muggswigz in Downtown Canton

Hold the Coffee this week is featuring a nationally recognized coffee shop in a city with plenty of post-industrial and wild artistic flare.

Kelly is making her debut in my blog. awwwww...
I don't often have the time to drive an hour south to Downtown Canton, but when I do, It's like I've stepped into a whole new continent. The first few noticeable things about Canton versus any city I've visited is all of the small square blocks, the overwhelming presence of one-way streets, and the obnoxious need to type a "NW," "NE," "SW" or "SE" after every street name in my GPS. And when I thought I've seen it all, Canton decides to shake things up again and add something called reverse angle parking. It's not just on one street either. Its all over downtown Canton, and mostly along its one-way streets. When I first saw it, I thought I was driving in the wrong direction. On Saturday, March 14, I parked in one of them for the first time so I could visit Canton's most highlighted coffee shop, Muggswigz Coffee & Tea. (It's also the toughest name to spell I've seen among coffee shops.)

Canton has a high concentration of coffee shops for its size (in fact, it has more than Akron, a significantly bigger city), but saying Muggswigz is only the most highlighted shop in the city might be understating things. Muggswiz is a repeating finalist in Coffee Fest's America's Best Coffee House competition. And in 2014, USA Today listed the shop at 137 Walnut Ave. NE, as one of the nation's top 10 coffee shops. I remembered my eyes popping out as I read it being compared to coffee shops in Portland, Chicago and Seattle. I had been to Muggswigz once before in 2011 to watch my friend Katy perform a guitar and singing gig on-stage, and I remember being pretty impressed with the place, but I didn't think anything more of it than a neighborhood coffee shop.

It took a good seven minutes, but I successfully kept my
car between the two marked parking lines. I can't remember
the last time I reversed parked somewhere, much less
reverse-angle parked on a one-way street.
It's taken a year for me to make a second trip down there, but I did it last month, inviting Kent State friend and Canton Repository reporter Kelly Byer for a morning chit-chat and a tour of what is making Canton cool these days. (Kelly spent a couple years in Casper, Wyo., so I take her opinions about up-and-coming urban trends very seriously.)

Location: Like all rust belt cities, downtown Canton has suffered plenty of urban renewal and abandonment over recent decades, but it's turning that ill-fortune into the most exciting arts district I have ever seen. (I think that's saying a lot considering I am a big fan of Cleveland's Gordon Square and Waterloo arts districts.)

Muggswigz isn't per-se inside the Canton Arts District, but it's literately only a few minutes of a walk to it and all of its attractions. The arts district, which is centered around the Palace Theatre, includes some incredible pieces of public art like a life-size rhino made of rubber tires, a three-story building infested by a man-made octopus and a series of wood-panel murals giving the side of a parking garage more life. The district also includes six art galleries with regular hours and 21 studios.

This piece of public art is just unreal.
Kelly and I stopped by a few of them and the one that really blew my mind was a two-story warehouse-like gallery called Second April. It features many rooms filled with art and crafts from different local artists who don't have their own galleries. Very little art catches my attention, and that's why Second April and it's diversity of work has something to see (or buy) for everyone.

Art isn't the only thing making Downtown Canton attractive. It's also ahead of most cities its size on embracing bicycle culture, according to me.

Almost like its one-way streets, Downtown Canton is inundated with marked bike lanes. The street Muggswigz sits along, Walnut Avenue, has two bike lanes on each direction despite that car traffic is restricted to one way. The street it believed to be the first of its kind in the state.

Sadly, I forgot what Kelly ordered that Saturday. This is
what happens when I am behind on posts for a month.
Although Downtown Canton is making a comeback, the outskirt area Muggswigz was founded around is a bit depressive. When I visited, I couldn't help but wish the McDonalds across the street was built to the sidewalk, and the empty lot catty-corner to the coffee shop was infilled with apartments.

Food and Beverage: Muggwigz sticks to the pastry, tea and coffee menu that works best in a dense downtown-area like its own.

I got a little adventurous that Saturday morning and ordered a large spiced latte and a chocolate muffin with cream cheese filling. I hate destroying my diet, but I did drive a little more than an hour to a coffee shop, so I thought it was appropriate to indulge. Besides, the latte was DELISH.

After my downtown expedition with Kelly, I drove around Canton for a while, visiting the President McKinley Memorial, and then decided to return to Muggswigz to get some work done and drink some actual coffee. I got a large cup light roast like always, and it definitely had a distinctive taste. Was it better? I couldn't say because I just quite frankly don't care about the taste of coffee. It's all good as long as it is diluted with sweetener and milk.

What's not pictured here to the left of the frame is a big 
polished conference  table with big leather desk chairs. 
I guess Canton's hipsters need to hold their business meetings 
somewhere.
Space and Atmosphere: Modest. That's the best word to sum up my impression of Muggswigz's interior. It's not underwhelming or disappointing, it's just modest and different from the typical conventions of a coffee shop.

There's truthfully nothing wrong with Muggswigz space, but I expected by now with all of the success they've earned, the owners would've replaced their carpet flooring with hard tile or wood panel and updated their light fixtures to cast an ambiance that goes beyond a 1970s feel.

But like any good hipster would say: if its not broken, don't fix it.

Okay, that's not a hipster saying, but I think the idea is still conveyed. There are plenty of hipsters who order coffee and work at Muggswigz, and it's pretty impressive considering that all of the college campuses are on the outskirts of the city or in North Canton. (and another reason why the Canton Arts District's success is so impressive as well.)

Muggswigz does its roasting in the same building of its
Walnut Avenue store. I was meaning to buy a bag of grinds, 
but sadly forgot.
I know I have a bad record when it comes to discerning hipsters from typical coffee shop patrons, but I think I am right about Muggswigz. Consider this: when I asked the barista whether their Wi-Fi password used only lower case letters, she subtly smirked and casually responded "always."

I rest my case.

Again, if you have suggestions of a coffee shop for a future entry, send it to me via email--shusted@news-herald.com--or on Twitter at @SimonSaysNH.

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Sunday, April 5, 2015

Hold The Coffee @ Civilization in Cleveland's Tremont

Hold The Coffee returns to Cleveland's Tremont neighborhood this week to highlight a coffee shop with vintage flare.

This shoot was actually staged because I forgot to take 
the signature storefront photo when we left Civilization 
that afternoon. Doug was on his way back to work when I 
realized we still had to shoot this.
Civilization at 2366 W 11th St., has been staple of Tremont's dining and hangout scene for 25 years, and truthfully I am surprised I hadn't visited the place up until this year.

I've only been to Civilization twice. Once with Andrew Cass on a journey this past fall to expose ourselves to more of Cleveland's west side neighborhoods, and then recently Sunday, March 8, with Doug Vehovec to purposely feature the shop to this blog.

On both occasions, my coffee companion and I not only visited Civilization, but stopped by Loop, Tremont a coffee shop and record store. (The shop is only few blocks north of Civilization and it's a favorite spot for Andrew and I. Kinda of weird to see two coffee shops so close together, but as I tell most friends, there's never too many.)

This small garbage can on top of the bar counter is the
only one I found at the coffee shop both times I visited. You
can imagine it was full every time I needed it.
Location: Civilization is positioned as the classical, European-inspired, neighborhood coffee shop. It contracts its coffee from locally owned roaster City Roast Coffee, it's located inside a two-story building at the corner of two streets' filled with houses, apartments, businesses and retail, and most importantly, it sits away from public parking lots. Only a few coffee shops have their own parking lots, most have a municipal lot nearby, and some have at least diagonal street parking to accommodate drivers. None of this is true in the section of Tremont around Civilization.

Some may say it is hard to find free parking in Tremont--in fact I know plenty of people who say that. Unless Taste of Tremont is going on, I don't feel like I've had that problem. But I am also a type of person who parks first and then looks for my destination later, even if that means walking a mile away and passing through endless parking spaces closer by.

Like all city neighborhoods, Tremont is meant to be walked and cycled around--not driven and parked around. It's best that businesses like Civilization embrace that environment because it encourages denser housing and better transit. And besides, free parking is not really free and instead trickles down to the consumer or taxpayer.

Sigh, it would've looked so much better if we had mugs.
Food and Beverage: On my most recent visit earlier this month, I arrived to Civilization about 15 minutes before Doug, finding only one table for two available. That was no surprise. I've always known Civilization was a crowded hangout for neighbors living around Lincoln Park (The boy rock band has really tainted that name, I must say.)

Civilization offers some cold-cut sandwiches and baked goods, but I was interested only in coffee that day. I ordered a large coffee and a coffee-cake muffin for $3 and change.

As always, I ordered coffee "for here"--meaning poured in some sort of glassware, but I think the message was lost in loud environment because the barista returned with my coffee in a paper cup. The same happened to Doug 15 minutes later. I saw plenty of people around the cafe with mugs, and the paper cups did irk both of us a bit, despite how silly that might sound. Not so much because I care about environmental sustainability, but mostly because I knew my photo wasn't going to look nearly as glamorous without mugs.

I know nothing about decorating, but I would this a very
vintage interior, filled wooden surfaces and wooden furniture.
Space and Atmosphere: As I mentioned earlier, Civilization can get pretty busy in the morning and afternoon hours. But the crowd is more social and neighborly than what's seen at most coffee shops. The place carries Wi-Fi, but on both times I visited, the chit-chat-after-church crowds outnumbered laptop carriers easily 2-to-1. It's a place where stories and ideas are shared more between mouths and less by text displays and videos.

I think part of that is because Civilization has only a few bar counter seats, a very small amount compared to a Phoenix coffee shop, or most urban coffee shops I've visited. Although I love bar counters for their accommodation toward workers, I don't think they're needed at every coffee shop. Just like how some coffee shops are better working and reading environments than others, the same is true for picking a place to catch up over coffee with one or a few friends. Civilization is among that list of places, for sure.

Again, if you have suggestions of a coffee shop for a future entry, send it to me via email--shusted@news-herald.com--or on Twitter at @SimonSaysNH.

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Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Hold The Coffee @ Slow Train Cafe in Downtown Oberlin

This week, Hold The Coffee highlights my long-awaited visit to one of Northeast Ohio's coolest college towns and one of its coffee shops.

Matt and Andrew are pictured here waiting for me to
walk inside with them.
I've always had a strong attraction to college towns--partly because their coffee shops have expansive weekend hours, terrific public art, and thoughtful community spaces. Evidently the coffee shops are so nice that patrons typically need to fight for a table or seat--which is just what happened when my boyfriend / blog editor Matt, a team of friends and I visited Oberlin--home to Oberlin College--Sunday, Feb. 15, to check out Slow Train Cafe.

I've often told myself that the best time to visit college towns is during the summer, and for two reasons: the college campus and its thousands of dollars worth of landscaping are at its prime, and the student population impeding upon that beauty is at its lowest.

Friends and colleagues, Amy Popik and Andrew Cass, have discussed making the hour-long trip to Oberlin, but our schedules have presented many restrictions. Either one of us is working a weekend shift, I am in Mount Vernon for the weekend hanging out with Matt or Amy is working her second job.  With all of that in mind, we agreed Sunday, Feb. 15, would have to work. Amy's lifelong friend, Oberlin graduate and Akron's new urbanist poster child, Hannah Scott, joined us in our adventure. (She's also the daughter of our photo editor, Duncan Scott. The woman clearly wears many, many hats.)

Pictured here is Amy, Hannah and Matt ordering their coffees
to go. Well actually, Hannah ordered a
Chai Latte to go, not a coffee.
Like so many college towns, Downtown Oberlin doesn't just have one independent coffee shop, it has two: The Local Coffee & Tea and The Slow Train Cafe. (It actually has three when we consider Treehuggers Cafe in Oberlin.)  It took me a few days to decide which coffee shop to feature in my first visit to Oberlin. I chose Slow Train mostly because it doesn't close until 11 p.m. on Sundays and The Local closes at 5 p.m. (Do not fear. I will gladly make another trip to Oberlin sometime to feature The Local.)

Location: I expected a busy crowd, but I wasn't expecting standing-room-only busy when we all arrived at Slow Train a little past 1 p.m., that Sunday. I mean, even if it was just Matt and I, there still wouldn't have been anywhere to sit.

A good three-fourths of the patrons I saw were students on laptops presumably working on school projects. As frustrating as the situation was, it did remind me of the times when I was a Kent State University student looking for somewhere to camp out to work hours on a weekend. I still camp out, but I have since realized it's not worth keeping your fort up at a table if it means you're hindering someone else's coffee shop experience.

You couldn't throw a rock without hitting a humanities' major. 
 I wouldn't recommend doing so.
Not having much of a choice, my friends, Matt and I ordered coffees to go--an unheard of thing for me to do on a weekend.  We spent a few hours touring around downtown Oberlin, checking if The Local was equally packed--it was, and eating lunch at Agave Burrito Bar. We were also tallying how many college friends Hannah can run into on one day. It was too many to count.

My friends, Matt and I visited Slow Train again near the end of our adventure, and, to no surprise, it was still busy. However this time, there was one small table open with a handful of chairs in the middle of the room. We quickly hooked our jackets around the chairs and ordered Amy and Hannah to stand guard while Andrew, Matt and I ordered coffee and cookies at the counter. That's a bit of an exaggeration, but nevertheless, I've never felt so much relief and gratification as I did that day winning a table at a coffee shop.

Obviously, a big part of the shop's traffic is its close proximity to the academic halls and other such campus things.

Oberlin College's campus is weaved into the city's downtown more than almost any college town I've visited. Located at 55 W College St., Slow Train is a stone-throw away from its nearest campus building.

Those cookies are going to be my eventual cause of 
Type II Diabetes. I just know it.
What's most important about Slow Train's thriving location is that it's part of a remarkable story of three college graduates who were focused on building environmentally and socially sustainable mixed-use housing on a former Buick dealership lot. (Steven Litt's 2010 Cleveland.com story on the project is a terrific read.) It would be amazing if more of these projects were replicated in other cities like Painesville, Ashland, and Youngstown.

Food and Beverage: Like a few other coffee shops I've visited, Slow Train blurs the line a bit between coffee shop and bar--something Matt and I completely welcome. The shop serves wine, beer and cocktails, but sadly their alcohol is off limits on Sunday because of liquor license restrictions. (Lack of expansive liquor licenses is a common problem in Ohio college towns, however, Andrew reminds me often it is an even worse situation in his home state of Pennsylvania and his alma mater's town, State College, Pa.)

Slow Train's milk, coffee and pastries are provided by a handful of Cleveland-area vendors. That's good because Matt, Andrew and I need to find out where we can pick up more of the delicious cookies we ate--especially the salted chocolate chip ones. Andrew was compelled in ordering one during each of our two visits.

This is me shooting more photos from the fort we secured
in our second visit to Slow Train.
I am disqualifying everything I ordered in the first visit because I couldn't take nice photos of it. On our second visit, however, Matt and I ordered a cranberry-oatmeal cookie, a salted chocolate-chip cookie and two eight-ounce cups of coffee for $6 and change. I got a Columbian roast and he got a Brazilian roast. Don't ask me what the difference was.

Space and Atmosphere: Another big reason why I chose Slow Train to feature before visiting Oberlin is because the coffee shop had a band scheduled to play on their small stage that Sunday evening. I love live music at coffee shops and Slow Train's event looked like it would be a pretty fun in the off chance that everyone and I stayed in Oberlin past 7 p.m. (We obviously didn't. Like the post-college graduates we are, we called it a night by 5 p.m.)

Slow Train still had some neat music playing on its pretty expansive speaker system. The music ranged from The Eagles to Kanye West, and from Timbaland to Justin Timberlake.

I loved the shop's mixture of earthy colored walls, concrete flooring, wooden furniture and mounted photos and art. And just like any progressive college town, the shop's two single-occupancy restrooms are gender neutral.

The experience reminded me so much of my glorious time as a college student, and as of writing this blog post March 3, I noticed the coffee shop's event page has a trivia game and wine night scheduled for later in the day. They do it every Tuesday night.

... I think graduate school might be calling me. What's another $40,000 of college debt going to do to me anyway?

Again, if you have suggestions of a coffee shop for a future entry, send it to me via email--shusted@news-herald.com--or on Twitter at @SimonSaysNH.

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Monday, February 16, 2015

Hold The Coffee @ River Road Coffee in Newark

Hold The Coffee makes its return to Newark to highlight a unique coffee shop that, quite frankly, I didn't expect to like so much.

Matt making his signature pose in front of River Road's
back entrance. Now ironically, there's a Tim Horton's next
door. However, given its proximity to the local mall, it may
not be ironic afterall.
Blog editor and boyfriend Matt accompanied me on my second trip to the Licking County seat Sunday, Jan. 25. We made the 45 minute-drive partly because Newark has the closest Target to Mount Vernon and mostly because the two of us wanted to go to a coffee shop and Sips is closed on Sunday.

Located at 973 N 21st St., River Road Coffee shares the name of it sister coffee shop in neighboring Granville--home of Denison University. Considering the Granville shop's address sits at 935 River Road, you can imagine which one came first. Now oddly enough, the sister shop in the village of Gambier, Wiggins Street Coffee, derives its own name from the street it sits on. I can only guess the community of Kenyon College there wasn't satisfied directly connecting themselves with an establishment near Denison.

And just to add to the name game, One Line Coffee in Columbus' Short North neighborhood provides the shop's roastings.

I spent a heavy portion of my time at River Road reading a
couple issues this--something I didn't even know existed.
One of their issues had a terrific story about how some
coffee shops inadvertently stir gentrification
in low-income neighborhoods. 
Also, this past September, River Road opened a joint shop in downtown Newark with a Palumbo's Italian Market--offering the full-kitchen kind of coffee shop experience. Sadly, that place wasn't an option for us because its closes at 2 p.m. on Sundays. (Much like almost everything in downtown Newark, sadly.)

Location: Unlike the last coffee shop I visited in Newark--Sparta Restaurant and Coffee--River Road isn't in or near downtown. In fact, it's in the more sprawling portion of the city less than a mile away from Indian Mound Mall.

At first, this location soiled my first impressions of the coffee shop. It may not have a front parking lot, I thought, but the area is far from the pedestrian and bike friendly neighborhood of downtown.

That impression quickly changed during my visit with Matt. After chit-chatting it up with the baristas, I quickly learned the shop's building is a repurposed bank, and despite the sizable setback, it isn't all that difficult for a pedestrian to enter River Road Coffee from the sidewalk.

Regrettably, I ate most of that Stromboli...
I've always said every neighborhood needs a good local coffee shop, and that should be true no matter how many times over four-wheel vehicles out-number two-legged creatures. River Road's Newark shop stands out as the odd brother in the suburban-raised family who doesn't mind tagging along in a trip to the mall, but won't stop asking waiters and and sales associates just where their ingredients and materials are sourced and if it's done sustainably.

Food and Beverage: River Road's food menu doesn't go much beyond baked good, but because Matt and I had finished a workout at the gym less than an hour before arriving, I couldn't help but order a stromboli and marinara sauce at the shop. Along with that, Matt and I ordered a mug of light Ethiopian coffee and green passion tea for $8 and change.

I love the wall of local photo art.
Matt does tea quite often these days because its a "gentler coffee," or so he says. Nevertheless, later in our visit, Matt ordered a mug of light roast like mine. Except he didn't add any sweetener and milk like I very often do.

Space and Atmosphere: I am sucker for whenever vacant building is repurposed into housing or another type of business like a coffee shop. A repurposed bank may not be as incredible as a repurposed gas station, but it still blows my mind thinking about it.

Remnants of the bank's past still linger in the shop's interior, most noticeably the window dividers separating the counter area from the seating area. I am not sure how much has changed in the building since River Road took it over some 6-7 years ago, but I love the mixture of materials and colors used inside shop. The skylight also gives a calming mood to the space.

To my disappointment, I couldn't find a vault safe anywhere
inside the shop. That must have been removed when the bank
left.
I haven't yet visited River Road's home coffee shop in Granville, which is in a 19th-century Victorian farmhouse, but I've heard it's very different from the Newark shop. It makes me think the two places should have different names altogether like Wiggins Street does. I am not their marketer, but I'd consider renaming the Newark shop "North 21st Street Coffee." Sure, eliminating the word "North" might give it a better ring, but sadly, a shop in Pittsburgh has already taken that name.

Again, if you have suggestions of a coffee shop for a future entry, send it to me via email--shusted@news-herald.com--or on Twitter at @SimonSaysNH.

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Friday, January 30, 2015

Hold The Coffee @ Open Door Coffee Company in Hudson

This week's Hold The Coffee post features a coffee shop in a city that I haven't thought much of visiting up until recently-- the Akron suburb of Hudson.

Cass has a real future in modeling outside coffee shops, 
let me tell you.  ("Don't call people by their last names," says 
Matt, "This isn't gym class.  You might as well throw 
dodge balls at Andrew."
I am rarely excited over the idea of driving 50 minutes to sight-see an upper-middle class suburb, but Hudson's name has been buzzing in my mind's eye recently. It happens namely whenever I cover Concord Township for the News-Herald. After decades of rapid housing growth, leaders in the township of 18,200 people are trying to build a pedestrian-friendly town center on undeveloped land, and they want to model it after Hudson's First & Main.

As any good reporter, I wanted to investigate this downtown district Jan. 17. I took friend and colleague Andrew Cass with me on the road. Down in Hudson, we met up with three of my Kent State University friends: Katy Robinson, Rebecca Micco and Rosey Bower. (I know. How dare I mix work friends with college friends.)

And like any good reporter, I Googled "coffee shops in Hudson" before the trip, and found Open Door Coffee Company at the corner of Clinton and Main streets. The name is strangely close to Open Door Coffeehouse in Madison Village, but there's no relation. (I definitely didn't sense the presence of any Christian ministry there.)

My friend Micco, who is a language arts teacher for 
Youngstown schools, pointed me to the shop's
communal book swap area. She's just like my boyfriend,
who studied English at Ohio State: They can sniff out
books incredibly fast.
Location: Considering I dropped a 10 lb plate on my left big toe earlier that Saturday, My friends and I got a fair amount of sight seeing done at Hudson's First & Main. I was rather impressed with the neighborhood, which mixes Hudson's historic downtown buildings with new structures--mostly two-story buildings that try to fit with the area's architecture. Virtually all of the new builds are leased to either high-end retailers, restaurants or offices. It reminded me of the changes happening in downtown Kent--where new builds have almost overtaken the appearance of historic buildings.

Open Door Coffee is located inside a quaint,  two-story brick building on Main Street's historic strip. Without knowing anything about the building, I could tell it has some history. In fact, later I read Open Door Coffee's about webpage and learned that the building formerly housed a 90-year-old family drugstore.

Despite the massive parking deck separating Hudson's historic buildings along Main Street and its new builds to the west, Open Door still feels like it's in the middle of all the action,

The barista who took my order at the counter was
emotionally distraught when he became aware that
I wasn't ordering coffee to go and gave me a paper cup.
Finally, I've met someone who is as passionate about
using coffee mugs as much as I am.
Food and Beverage: Open Door Coffee offers the straight-forward menu I've come to expect at a coffee shop: blended drinks, teas, a variety of coffee roastings from light to dark, and baked goods that might hold you over until lunch.

That Saturday, I ordered 16 oz cup of medium-light roast with an oatmeal raisin cookie for $3 and change. Andrew ordered a 16 oz cup of medium roast with a chocolate chip cookie for the same price. I didn't take any notes on what Katy, Micco and Rosey ordered-- it was something like iced lattes and cappuccinos--stuff I order when I feel exceptionally adventurous. I don't analyze the taste of coffee, but its fair to say Andrew and I liked it so much, we returned to Open Door Coffee to pick up two more 16 oz cup's to go on our way back north.  ("Back north?  Are you trekking to Alaska?" asks Matt.)

Space and Atmosphere: Just like I imagined from the pictures, I fell in love with Open Door Coffee's space and it's oak-wood ambiance.

I shot this photo before storms of people began walking in.
Katy, who is a musician sometimes by night, and I took
immediate interest in the bangos and guitars decorated
above the counter.
Quite fittingly, the coffee shop shares some space with a picture frame business next door. (The two shops are connected to each other by a back hallway.)

Hudson isn't what I think of a farming community, but I very much enjoyed the artwork featuring sheep, cows and row crops that lined the wall behind the table where all five of us were sitting.

The whole shop was incredibly busy that Saturday, and most of its seating was occupied. Nevertheless, all five us were very comfortable just hanging out at Open Door Coffee, catching up on what's been going on in our lives and discussing the significance of what it means to be dating a man who is a homeowner.

As soon as our chit-chat-after-church reached one and a half hours, I interjected the conversation to suggest we should start touring around other parts of downtown before it gets too late. (My injured toe would later pay the price for that by suffering through two days of extreme soreness.)

I love the bar-counter area. Every coffee shop seemingly needs
a good bar counter.
Although Hudson First & Main is a pretty impressive place, nothing can beat a great coffee shop experience like the one I had at Open Door Coffee.

Luckily, I don't really need to tell that to the leaders of Concord Township. For as long as I've been covering the township, people there have been saying how desperate they are to have their own coffee shop.

Again, if you have suggestions of a coffee shop for a future entry, send it to me via email--shusted@news-herald.com--or on Twitter at @SimonSaysNH.

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Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Hold The Coffee @ Daily Planet Coffee in Buffalo's Hertel Avenue

Now that Decision 2015 is over, I am looking at a whole new year of visiting fresh and exciting coffee shops around Northeast Ohio and beyond. This week, I am featuring Daily Planet Coffee Company, a shop that opened this past holiday season in Buffalo's Hertel Avenue neighborhood.

Ironically, I had to model in my own photo because my mom
and oldest sister are too camera shy.
This Italian heritage neighborhood north of downtown Buffalo doesn't really have any ties to Superman--the owner is simply a very big fan, according to recent stories about the place. I am surprised no one in Cleveland--the comic book founder's home--hasn't started a coffee shop with a Superman-themed name.

My mom and my oldest sister Sarah joined me on a visit to Daily Planet Coffee Dec. 27, during our long Christmas weekend. We were also on a mission to buy my boyfriend Matt a few Christmas gifts in the neighborhood. (It turns out, half of the independent retail stores on my list of stops were closed for the long weekend. Amazed, I was.)

Location: That Saturday was the first time I've ever stepped foot on Hertel Avenue. (Not a rare thing for someone raised in the southtowns of Buffalo, mind you.) Hertel is a long-time shopping and residential district that is being refueled by new investment much like Buffalo's west side. Daily Planet is approximately a half dozen blocks east of the most active shopping and dining section of Hertel. Knowing so little about Hertel, my mom, sister and I were surprised it took us 15-20 minutes to walk between New Buffalo Graphics and Daily Planet. 

I love these padded seats. Very creative.
Although Daily Planet prides itself of being an independent coffee shop contracting with local roasters, one of the first things I noticed about the shop was the billboard that sat above the one-story building. It was advertising Tim Horton's breakfast sandwiches and coffee.

Daily Planet's Hertel Avenue block might be far from the brightest spot in Buffalo's art, culture, dining and shopping scene, but I found it rather attractive to live. The street's not overwhelmed with destination retail and eateries. It's not seemingly dangerous, and it's close to Buffalo's Metro Rail line, giving residents quick access to downtown.

Food and Beverage: Daily Planet offers a little more than caffeine to fuel the stomach--with a menu of soups, sandwiches and breakfast specials.

My sister Sarah said her Aloe tasted like melted Jello.
Ewww.
Although I was tempted, the three of us didn't order anything to eat. My mom and I, however, did go a little exotic with our drinks. I ordered a 12 ounce cup of cafe cocoa and she ordered a 20 ounce cup of frozen cinnamon dolce. My oldest sister, who was visiting us from Lincoln, Neb., doesn't actually drink coffee, I learned. She ordered a bottle of Aloe Strawberry. Altogether, my mom spent $11 and change. (I am not ashamed to say she paid.)

Space and Atmosphere: Advice to my fellow nerds: I wouldn't walk into Daily Planet expecting to find Superman-themed decor and shelves of comic books. With the exception of its WiFi password and sign outside, I couldn't find much of anything that resembled Superman that day.

Nevertheless, Daily Planet does have an interior that sticks out very nicely with mounted murals of Buffalo's urban landscape, a beautiful fireplace near the serving counter, and an expansive stage in the middle of the shop perfect for small bands.

I am in love with this wall. It's as if the decorators
pieced this together from a consortium of floor panels.
For a coffee shop that had only been open for one full month, I was really impressed with how much Daily Planet had going for it. With that said, incorporating a comic book store to Daily Planet may not hurt. I've been thinking about visiting a coffee shop-slash-comic-book store since I saw one portrayed in the first "Kickass" movie a few years back. I still can't believe I haven't found one yet.

Again, if you have suggestions of a coffee shop for a future entry, send it to me via email--shusted@news-herald.com--or on Twitter at @SimonSaysNH.

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Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Hold The Coffee's Decision 2015: Harbor Perk Coffeehouse and Roasting in Ashtabula

Editor's note: I know I said Decision 2015 would be posted yesterday, but sadly my car got a flat tire that evening while covering a fire in Euclid. Too many things were happening that day so I decided to break my promise and wrap the post up today. I apologize to all of those who missed the Ohio State game last night because they were waiting for my post. With that said, my friends tell me LeBron James kept people waiting for his big decision to come back to the Cleveland Cavaliers a year or so ago.

Editor's note 2: Those same friends tell me Lebron James made that decision just last summer, not a year or so ago. Shows how much I know about sports.

Picking a favorite coffee shop is like telling a group of friends I would feed them into a fire pit if it meant I and the other friends could stay warm. I say that because no matter who I pick and how I deliver the news, someone is going to feel rejected. But truth be told, of the 42 coffee shops featured in this blog, I've only met a handful shops that I wouldn't care to visit again. (And to respect those hard-working shop owners, I am not going to say which ones those are.) Every place I've visited and featured has been very cool and different.

Quite frankly, I am annoyed whenever I read a story or online slideshow declaring the best coffee shops. (Ironically enough, I am still compelled to click on them.) These days, neighborhood coffee shops have so many different premises and themes and target audiences, it's hard to judge which coffee shop tops others. And I am certainly not going to do that here.

What I am going to do, however, is tell which one is my favorite--something I've told people is nearly impossible because I don't have an exclusive commitment to any one coffee shop.

But there are qualities I do prefer in a coffee shop. Qualities like counter bar seating, plenty of natural lighting, a mixed-use building designed for dense pedestrian traffic, and plenty of exposed brick work.

To judge my favorite, I placed all 42 coffee shops in a spreadsheet and scored them in four categories: location, atmosphere, menu/offerings and service. Nine shops tied for the top scorer and from there, I began eliminating contenders based on personal preferences. Those include a lack of Sunday or weekend hours, a lack of sweetener options, missing chess board pieces on the communal chess board, or prices were beyond my income.

As of Jan. 13, I am still waiting for Zazzle.com
to mail this trophy-mug to me.
After a grueling hour of internal debating, I narrowed down my picks to Gypsy Beans Coffee and Baking in Cleveland's Gordon Square Arts District and Harbor Perk Coffeehouse and Roasting along Ashtabula's Bridge Street. I revere Gypsy Beans' dense, mixed-use location, its muffins, its massive Gothic wall art and it its window counter space. Nevertheless, by the end of Jan. 7, I concluded that if there was any coffee shop I would love to call my home today, it would be Harbor Perk. Ironically, it's 50 minutes away from where I live, but the two times I've been there, I've been thrown off my feet.

The coffee shop has an industrial flare that stands out, pride in its coffee roast blends, fun events like music nights, a vibrant staff and plenty of exposed brick. And most importantly, Harbor Perk plays a vital role in a city and neighborhood that's digging itself out of an economic downfall and turning it around into a regional destination for arts and recreation. An exceptional coffee shop plays a big role in how I perceive a neighborhood and that isn't any truer than Harbor Perk and Bridge Street.

Over the next couple of weeks I will present my first ever Hold The Coffee mug to the staff at Harbor Perk. (But I first need to wait for the mug to come in the mail. Poor timing on my part.)

Aside from Gypsy Beans, here are the honorable mentions that were pretty close into winning my heart: (They were also the top scorers mentioned above.)

Gathering Grounds in Downtown Wooster
Erie Island Coffee in Cleveland's East 4th Street
Stauf's in Columbus' German Village
Relax, It's Just Coffee in Downtown Mansfield
Rising Star Coffee Roasters in Cleveland's Little Italy
Loop in Cleveland's Tremont
The Root Cafe in Lakewood

Voters Choice Award: Sadly, I only got 21 votes when the poll closed at the end of Friday, ending in a four-way tie between Loop, Scribblers Coffee, Arabica Coffeehouse and one coffee shop I knew almost nothing about--Savor The Moment in Cleveland's Kamm's Corner neighborhood. (I am adding this place to my list of coffee shops to feature in 2015.)

I kind of figured this would happen. I don't do an incredible job marketing this blog. I am hoping to gather more votes in next year's Decision 2016 when I decide what is my newest favorite coffee shop,

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