A cold and cloudy Saturday morning, 9:47AM, and I was looking for duck fat. The main shop at Star Provisions hadn’t yet opened, so I was left out in the cold. Luckily, the little coffee stand tucked off in the corner opens at 8, so I ducked in to grab a cortado. The guy behind the counter, in the vest and the apron and the jaunty cap (is that twill?) said good morning with some sort of foreign accent. Maybe Italy. Maybe not.*
No matter, he made me a perfect cortado, beans roasted by Jittery Joe’s from Athens. I couldn’t help but snap some photos with my iPhone – those Star Provisions folks know how to dress up a place, something like Southern Martha Stewart if Martha Stewart were a whole lot nicer. Bless her heart.
Did I mention it was a damn good cortado?
* UPDATE: It is confirmed. The barista is Enrico. And he is Italian. Grazie Star Provisions.
Here’s the short story – there are three things you need to know about Taproom Coffee in Kirkwood: Jonathan Pascual. Counter Culture Coffee. Craft Beer. That’s it. Go.
Of course, there’s a long version to that story as well. Starting with Jonathan Pascual. He’s the guy who probably most famously helped kick off the rockin’ coffee program at Empire State South a few years back. Earlier this year, he started up Taproom Coffee, and there’s a good chance his smiling face will be there to greet you when you walk in the door. To give you a feel for what Taproom is all about for Jonathan, here are his words from the Kickstarter campaign that helped fund the endeavour:
The Dream: I always wanted to own and run my own place. But I didn’t feel like it should be just another coffee shop. Connecting to people in relationships is very important to me. And no matter how friendly I think I am, sometimes I feel like I just need a little something to grease the wheels of connection. I’ve come to realize that two things frequently (and easily) bring people together: coffee and beer. My dream is that through the medium of these two beverages, Taproom Coffee could provide a comfortable, approachable environment where we facilitate connections. Great coffee, great beer, great memories.
Sounds good, right? And how ’bout the beans? Jonathan turns to Counter Culture Coffee for the wide range of coffees available as espresso, or pour over, or by the bag to go. They do good stuff. Their mission is to “source, roast, and deliver the most exquisite, freshest coffee in the world,” and even if they’re not quite the very most exquisite in the world, they’re close enough. And just look at all those single origin lots and exotic sources and fancy names and pretty packages – Banko Gotiti, Ollke Birre, Elias Benata, Haru, Idido, Finca Nueva Armenia, Ngunguru… it’s probably a bit overwhelming, and definitely a lot colorful, but Jonathan can help guide you through the flavors and merits of each and every one.
I picked up a bag of Aleme Wako (the farmer), Biloya (the village), sundried single lot, from Kochere (the district), Ethiopia (the country), Africa (the continent), Earth (enough said). I can’t personally fill you in on all the intricacies of how it was grown and harvested and roasted – it probably deserves its own Wikipedia page (OK, this is close enough) – but I can tell you it makes a mean cup of coffee in the morning.
And now the beer? Jonathan’s pride and joy is his “Beerspresso Machine” – an old 4-group La Marzocco Linea espresso machine that he gutted in his garage and had converted into a glimpse of beer nirvana. You’ll find a nice mix of local and not-so-local craft beers on tap: the current list includes Eventide Nitro Dry Irish Stout, Monday Night Nerd Alert, Creature Comforts Reclaimed Rye, Smuttynose Noonan Black IPA… on to La Trappe and St. Bernardus and Sierra Nevada. Now the question is just whether you want beer or coffee. Or maybe one of each. Or maybe two.
It may not seem like it yet, but warm weather is just around the corner. And that means iced coffee season. I happen to dig the cold brew approach, which keeps the flavors especially bright. But, you know what? It takes some time and effort to do it well. Which brings us to Slingshot Coffee Co., out of Raleigh, NC.
Slingshot cold brews locally roasted (in Raleigh) organic beans from Counter Culture Coffee, then they bottle it up so it’s ready to roll. Better still, they offer both a ready to drink version, and a concentrated version for those of you that dig on dropping dairy in your drink without diluting the delicate flavors. Dang.
Slingshot changes up the beans they use based on the seasons, and they’re kind enough to mark the coffee origin and the brewed-on date on the side of each bottle. (See, check that out over there on the left). It’s hand brewed, bottled in small batches, just coffee and filtered tap water, nothing else. They seem kinda proud of the fact that the water used is the local tap water from Raleigh, which they refer to as “our beloved City of Oaks,” so I assume it’s decent stuff. Here in Atlanta? The water stinks. Literally. Like chlorine. So I’m happy to consume water from elsewhere in the South.
I recently tried Slingshot’s current batch, brewed just a couple days before I tasted it. The beans were from Columbia (the country I presume, not South Carolina), and the bottles noted that I might find notes of “caramel, chocolate, cherry, and a bit of citrus.” I tried both the Ready-to-Drink and the Concentrate, in various combinations of coffee, ice, milk (fat free, yo!), and simple syrup.
Straight out of the bottle, the Ready-to-Drink is darn delicious stuff, both smooth and bright, with plenty of lemony citrus (more than “a bit” if you ask me), and, yes, some bright cherry and dark chocolate notes. I just had to try the Concentrate straight, and it is not unlike espresso in character – with a much more assertive acidity than the Ready-to-Drink. Milk mixed in with the Concentrate gives the coffee a fuller, softer profile, with that caramel coming out more. The flavors, though, remain bright. My favorite iteration was the Ready-to-Drink with a bit of sugar (syrup) added. Now, it does not NEED sugar, and there are those among you that may scoff at adding sweetness to the coffee, but I found that the added sweetness really made the flavors pop. The fruitiness in the coffee came much more into focus, and I had a “wow” moment even after having tried the coffee in several other variations.
These come in 16oz. bottles, which means several servings in the Ready-to-Drink version, and several more for the Concentrate. If you drank 16oz of the Concentrate at once, you would be bouncing happily off the walls all day and all night. Are they cheap? No. It’s $8 or so locally for a bottle of the Ready-to-Drink. If you’re comparing this to a bottled Frappucino or a Java Monster mega-can, though, you’re in the wrong frame of mind. The right frame of mind is truly excellent coffee, ready to drink out of the fridge. And Slingshot delivers a great coffee for that frame of mind.
So, the question is… where can I find this stuff??? Slingshot has good distribution in the Raleigh/Durham area, and has managed to make it to the cooler (as in cold, but maybe also as in cool) shelves in a handful of other Southern cities like Birmingham and Nashville and Charleston. In Atlanta, look for Slingshot at Star Provisions or Whole Foods Buckhead. You can also buy them online from Slingshot, though the shipping prices are a bit daunting ($11 shipping for two bottles).
Samples provided by Slingshot Coffee Co. for tasting.
Now, there are two types of people in the world – those that care about the fact that a new coffee bar is opening (you perchance?), and those that care about the fact that a new coffee bar is opening and want to go out and snap photos of it on its opening day (me). Yeah, maybe there are a few other folks out there who don’t give a spit, but they’re probably not here reading this anyway, so we can ignore them.
The truly exciting thing about this new coffee bar in Atlanta (the second location for Dancing Goats after their shop in Decatur), though, is not just the fact that it’s excellent in concept, design and execution; it’s the fact that this is the real kickoff for the massive Ponce City Market project that may someday (2014!) make for a really interesting new hub of community activity in this city. Seriously, this is a fascinating development, and having a first rate coffee bar drawing in crowds in the early stages of the development is a brilliant way to raise awareness and get people (literally) buzzing about what’s to come. As my wife and I sipped our coffee this morning, we even got a quick tour of the wonderfully detailed model of the Ponce City Market by one of the people working on the development – their office is right next door to the coffee bar and the model is basically IN the coffee bar. A stop at Ponce City Goats is worth it for that alone.
Enough words, here are some images to get you thirsty for Dancing Goats and the Ponce City Market future.
I get to New York about once a year on average. I make lists each time. Bars, restaurants, food trucks, coffee shops. Places I just have to hit. It’s always a blend of the old and new – I lived there many years ago and still have to hit some favorites each time I go back. And I usually make it through only a small portion of “the list,” defeated by human limitations on time and consumption. And, of course, walking the streets of New York, there are always places that were never on the list that end up beckoning you in.
For cocktails this trip, I ended up hitting PDT and Mayahuel and Blue Ribbon Downing Street Bar (which also has an incredible wine list), and had time to walk in and check out Death and Company but not enough time to actually get a drink (bummer! this was at the top of my list but just didn’t work out). Other places I had really hoped to hit were The Beagle, Amor y Amargo, Booker & Dax, and Employees Only. Amazingly, The Beagle, PDT, Death and Company, and Mayahuel are all in an area about four blocks square in the East Village. That would be some cocktail crawl. Another time.
Mayahuel rocked. Thanks to some local Atlanta bartender friends who insisted I go there; I had never heard of it. Mayahuel focuses on tequila and mezcal, and does tremendously well with those spirits and a number of infusions and interesting flavor plays. There was the “Slight Detour,” with a jalapeno-infused tequila, reposado tequila and mezcal, agave nectar, and Xocolatl mole bitters. And there was something else… I can’t recall thanks to the tequila and mezcal. It’s a cool little underground space, an intimate bar with good things going on.
Blue Ribbon Downing Street Bar was one of those places I just happened upon, another tiny little space that seats about 15 people max. I know the Blue Ribbon folks do just about everything well, so was confident that we’d find something good there. There were oysters, champagne, and deviled eggs, and then a cocktail involving gin and cucumber that was bright (naturally) green and tremendously interesting and complex. I just wish I could have done a few wine flights here as well.
And the heralded PDT? Let’s just say I’m over the whole speakeasy-enter-through-a-secret-door thing, and I’m also kinda over gimmicks like bacon-infused bourbon. PDT has been doing this particular drink (the Bacon Old Fashioned) for more than four years now, but it seems people won’t let them take it off the menu. I may not love bacon-infused bourbon, but, luckily, I do love stuffed bears.
The only beer stop on the trip was Birreria, the rooftop bar at Eataly. The rotation of three house-brewed beers here are a co-production of Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head and Italian brewers Baladin and Del Borgo, but I was really disappointed in them (despite being a fan of Dogfish Head in general). All three are unfiltered, unpasteurized and naturally carbonated cask ales. All sounded interesting – there was a witbier brewed with coriander and peppercorns, a chestnut ale, and a thyme pale ale. But none met the mark, more due to the beer lacking character than the presence of the flavoring elements. Service was equally disappointing.
Coffee? Holy smokes, it seems like there are excellent coffee choices every block or so in Manhattan and Brooklyn. I had the wonderful New Orleans ice coffee at Blue Bottle, a few fabulous espressos with different portions of steamed milk (no Italian names here) at Ninth Street Espresso, a great latte and espresso from Joe, a spot-on cortado at Third Rail… and I passed many, many more places that I wish I could have checked out, including the Mudtruck on wheels. Like I said, holy smokes.
Wine? That list at Blue Ribbon blew me away, and I had some really nice wine pairings at a “fancy” lunch at Eleven Madison Park. Favorite wine of the trip? A funky Savennieres from Domaine aux Moines that really woke up my taste buds with excellent acidity.
Oh, also at Eleven Madison Park, one of my favorites things imbibed this trip, an orange cocoa-nib “egg cream” that was perfection, with a subtle chocolate kick beneath a sharp orange cream bite. Like liquid dark chocolate-covered orange rind. In case you didn’t know, egg creams have no egg, no cream (discuss…), but are based on seltzer water, milk, and (most often) chocolate syrup. A high end take on this humble New York specialty was a surprising treat.
Of course, there was lots of food to go along with the drinks. A few places that I’d highly recommend: Kin Shop for semi-upscale Thai, Red Hook Lobster Pound for lobster rolls, the Lounge at Le Bernardin for late night seriously upscale seafood, Lonestar Empire at the Williamsburg Flea Market for an awesome brisket sandwich, and the always amazing chocolate chip cookies from Levain Bakery. Sure, there was some damn good pizza and pasta and bao and soup dumplings and pastrami, too, but the names above stood out most.