Saturday, September 29, 2007

Monday, September 24, 2007

The Fresh Pot (Hawthorne)

I only recently discovered that you can order books from and instead of paying for shipping, you can pick them up at any Powell's location. I picked up my two books at the Powell's on Hawthorne the other morning and then stepped into The Fresh Pot for coffee.

There always seems to be a line eeking into the bookstore boundary and I absolutely love the utilitarian design of the long bench, small tables and opposing chairs all spaced so evenly like a study hall.

There was a large selection of Sweet Pea bakery treats along with the ubiquitous Voodoos and some Pearl Bakery croissants. I chose a Marionberry muffin from Sweet Pea and a chocolate Voodoo for my coffee partner. (She was next door perusing the books on how to can any type of fruit or veg you can imagine. It is fall harvest time, after all.)

When I got to the counter and placed my coffee order I failed to notice the "No debit or credit cards" sign until my shots were already being pulled. I apologetically explained to the counterperson that I forgot it was cash only and pulled out four ones that I had off-handedly grabbed from home on the way out the door. The total for drinks alone was going to be $6.50.

She seemed unfazed and explained it was fine and I could just pay the balance the next time I was in.

I can recall another instance where a coffeehouse that I visited very often was having problems with their debit card machine and so if customer's couldn't pay cash they just wrote down what they ordered in notepad and asked people to pay next time. This seemed reasonable to me since I and almost everyone else who visited that spot were regulars.

The Fresh Pot, however, is a place I haven't been to in maybe 8 months, so I am anything but a regular. Did the counterperson just not want to deal with denying me coffee since the shots were already out and the milk was already poured? Maybe. But maybe if this happens a lot it's just as well to keep the line moving and count on the nice people of Portland to repay their debts.

But if it happens at all, isn't that reason enough to break down and get the debit card machine set-up? It does cost money, I understand. You lose a small percentage of each transaction you take everytime the machine is used (the cost of having the swipe card service and having the funds deposited directly into your company's account). Plus Visa and Mastercard themselves take a chunk out of your sales too, which is why many shops have a minimum purchase to use the debit machine.

But seeing all those tables full of paying customers and a built in customer base streaming in from the Powell's location, I can't see how denying this service is saving them loads of money. It's a hassle, it's an expense, but being a cash only location is something that keeps me out of coffeehouses all the time.

Luckily I was able to reroute my coffeepartner to the cash machine (where we had to pay the service charge to take money out of a bank that was not ours) so that we could get our pastries and settle our debt to The Fresh Pot. Everything worked out ok, the muffin was surprisingly moist and very cake-y and the coffee was, as usual, a very balanced and chocolately-tasting cup of Stumptown.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Little Red Bike Cafe

Last Saturday I made it out to the Little Red Bike Cafe in St. Johns to enjoy what everyone's been raving about. It is an extra-sweet little place with doting service and a friendly atmosphere.

I normally only go for a simple pastry and coffeedrink in the mornings, but I couldn't resist their breakfast sandwiches. I had myself a Zoobomb which had egg, cheese, carmelized onions and this great creamy-spicy aoili that really made the sandwich.

Little Red Bike seem to be churning out lots of different desserts everyday and I wonder if they are going to settle in to a few rotating ice creams and specials or if there will be a constant "what's coming next" feel for the offerings.

I'm all for mixing it up in the kitchen but consistency and reliability keep me coming back to my favorite places time and again.

Drip coffee was all I had this time around and it was pretty good. The food is what makes this place stand out and so I really hesitate to even label the Little Red Bike Cafe a "coffeehouse," it is more of a cafe or restaurant.

Their pastry case contains items from what I consider the only bakery in town to rival Crema's baked goods: Fleur de Lis Bakery. If you have not had a scone from Fleur De Lis, then you have not lived life. They are rich and moist without being oily or heavy. And it doesn't really matter which type of scone you get, you will be a fan of them all. (Extracto also carries their goods.)

I will be back to this coffeehouse/cafe/restaurant, if for no other reason than to try the Courier Coffee Milkshake.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Crema Bakery & Cafe

With friends in from Brooklyn the pressure was on to show off as many good coffeehouses in Portland as possible. Duly impressed by the variations and quality goods that came from many of the houses in the city, Crema was the creme de la creme.

It probably helped that it was mid-morning and we were starving. Walking up to stare at the pastries behind the glass and then turning around to walk back to the end of the line was torturous. Often I find myself making a pastry choice and changing my mind around three times before I finally get to the register.

I love the A.M. buns with their true and direct orange flavor nestled among the crunchy-sugary flakes of swirled pastry. The breads are good, the muffins are a little dry, but good. The only item I haven't had too much of is the bread pudding. They have a rotating selection of flavors and it always looks moist enough to go swimming in. (If swimming in bread pudding is a fantasy of yours.) But I've promised myself to break out of my routine and I'll give the bread pudding a go next time.

I'll reserve any long-winded comments about the actual coffee. They serve Stumptown (yawn), just like most coffeehouses and they don't quite pull it off as well as Albina Press. It's great, but not reach-for-the-stars great.

The bakery in the back of the coffeehouse is almost always abuzz with what seems like dozens of busy bakers coated in flour and bringing pan after pan of warm pastries out to torture the line-waiters.

Possibly the best part of Crema, next to the baked goods, is the art. I think they consistently show high quality work without falling into the trite and faddish forms of coffeehouse art that sometimes kills the mood at other places. The art can be audatious and smug but it is always quality work. And looking at great art helps, as I may have mentioned before, waiting in that line is torture.