The coffee shop, like the cup of coffee itself, has evolved over the decades into something that at times is an amalgamation of music store, kitchen appliance section from a small department store, internet service provider center, restaurant, bookstore and an office replete with sofa equipped workstations. Yes, gone are the days when a coffee shop served coffee and a few snacks and gone are the days when a cup of coffee was simply, a cup of coffee. With double mocha soy lattes, Americano, au lait, and flavors that range from vanilla and hazelnut to chocolate and mango the rendition of a simple pot of coffee, so often the ubiquitous background feature of many a T.V. cop show, has now been well and truly relegated to the domain of small businesses with frugal CFO’s. In fact, to walk in to a typical national, or international coffee shop, “facility” and look the smiling barista in the eyes and ask for a “cup of coffee” will invariably be met with a facial expression akin to the one that could be expected from a Rabbi at someone’s bar mitzvah after one asks him for a ham sandwich. We simply do not do that anymore, and a simple cup of coffee is now known as a “drip” (of various kinds) and available in sizes that are tall, grande or venti, or variations thereof.
Santa Monica, however, is blessed with a handful of modern day coffee houses that each display their own degree of individualism and, coincidently, serve very good coffee, and this week we will take a look at some of those establishments and at the charms that set them apart from the mainstream corporate enterprises.
18th Street Coffee House (1725 Broadway, Santa Monica, 310.264.0662) is a spacious coffeehouse that offers a good coffee, a limited selection of sandwiches, quesadillas and bakery items all in an attractive setting. The outside patio is very appealing on warmer days and they do offer wi-fi. Go to sit, sip and enjoy the room.
Café Luxe (925 Montana 310.394.2222) boasts that they are experts in the art of espresso and with their ‘Rosetta” signature cup they certainly do excel. The Rosetta is a large, milk foamed espresso that the baristas decorate with a leaf shape on top of the foam, very cute indeed. They bring you exotic premium facial Northern Italian style coffees in a delightful setting with knowledgeable staff to boot.
Unurban Coffee Shop at the corner of Pico and Urban (3301 West Pico, 310.315.0046) is something of a community/entertainment and rustic meetinghouse for many of the residents of the Pico/Ocean Park neighborhoods. This somewhat unique establishment offers a limited menu with some good breakfast options, a very good turkey chili, some baked stuff and a variety of coffees, all served by staff that appear to be artistic new age travelers in residence. Entertainment, which ranges from comedians to poetry to open mike nights, is almost nightly, and when there is no official entertainment there is entertainment, if you get my drift. Go for the espresso that is slow, noisy and oh so good, and they offer wi-fi as well!
To round off this review, The Bergamot Café (2525 Michigan Avenue, 310.828.4001) offers a substantial menu that includes Sassy Garden Avocado (Fresh ripe avocado piled above lettuce, tomato, cucumber, carrot and red onion. Served on organic wheat with roasted red pepper aioli), Pesto Chicken & Provolone (oven-roasted chicken breast served with melted provolone cheese, tomato and pesto aioli on crusty ciabatta bread) plus many others, as well as snacks and light breakfasts. Their coffees include red-eyes, black-eyes and a particularly attractive Mexican Mocha.
So, there we have it. A handful of unique locations that are independent and offer an alternative to the future-worldly, semi-automated corporate chain coffee chains, with semi-automated coffee selections served by semi-automated baristas in canonically replicated environments. Oh, one more thing, Rabbi, where is my ham sandwich?