Never, Ever Enough Coffee Shops

From Pinellas County south, across the mighty Manatee River comes the wagon train of Kahwa Coffee. Sarasota is territory ripe for a higher level of caffeination, so it’s no wonder new settlers are making their way here. This might not be the Oregon Trail but the Skyway Trail will go down in history as one of our lifelines to quality coffee, for which we denizens of this dozy district should be grateful.

The freshest outpost of the Kahwa empire continues their theme of roasting and serving fine to excellent coffee and tasty treats to match. The pared-down semi-industrial space fits nicely with their neighbor across 2nd Street: the Whole Paycheck loading dock. Fear not, it’s actually a neat spot with outdoor seating and a calm interior.

Can we ever have too many top-shelf coffee joints? Yeah, that’s a rhetorical question.

Beany

The competitive advantage of the Local Bean is that word “local”. It appears that actual residents take coffee here, as opposed to other SK joints catering to sun-seeking interlopers. That gives this place a less stressed feel because the customers aren’t in a rush; there’s always tomorrow, which is not the case for time-limited tourists.

Important to note is the (sorta) self-service model. That changes the dynamic and the prices, which apparently suits the regulars. You won’t see lines out the door, and you will not see a check in the tens of dollars. All that is good.

The food is fine. The service is as you would expect from an owner operator who seems to know everyone. For my taste, the coffee is too weak, a shortcoming remedied by adding some number of extra espresso shots to spruce up the flavor.

Otherwise, the LB is all you’d want in a local caff…hence the name, I imagine. Three stars for now because I keep being burned by Siesta’s coffee establishments. Blame those easy-money dilettantes from up north crowding us out – we’ll take our revenge someday.

Coffee with Sarcasm

Snobbery derives from the instinct to exclude. Those who fetishize wine, for example, don’t want you in their club. You will be either too poor, too gauche, too mainstream or too eager. You will be rejected because you don’t know the rules. Snobs live to deny your membership application.

Coffee snobbery comes in a few different flavors. We must tolerate our *bucks snobs, the “green” snobs and the plain old “I just wanna prove how much more I know than you” snobs. Ach. It’s a bore, but what are we to do?

One idea is to go to the new Buddy Brew, grab yourself a coffee and contemplate life and snobs. In what used to be an appallingly run joint in what should be a lively nook of downtown, Buddy Brew is waking up the place. Ashleigh (our Sunday baristrix) was wonderfully interesting as host, talking about the coffee biz and how BB fits. Non-condescension plus knowledge is a powerful brew.

The coffee’s good too, as if you’d know.

/kidding

Bums

Despite their reliably good coffee I gave up on Pastry Art a few years ago for two reasons. The first reason was the unreasonably surly service provided by (non-proprietor) staff. Absent the owner, the alternatively coiffed and decorated attendants varied from grudging to outright combative.

The second reason concerned Sarasota’s merry band of stinking, aggressive street bums. Taking one’s coffee outdoors meant preparing for a visual, nasal and/or verbal assault should one of these gruesome creatures sit close. And sit close they did, attempting to cadge money by intimidation.

On the insistence of a colleague, I recently returned. Happily, the service is acceptable, and the panhandler problem appears to have evaporated. Whether that has any connection with the rent-a-cop lurking about that part of Main is open to conjecture, but in three visits I have yet to be harassed.

The coffee remains excellent.

Into the Real World

Tony Brown, Rob Husk and I decided to meet for coffee over the Christmas Holidays. It was…lemme see here…January of 2014. Rob worked with us at SlaveWorld, but happily saw the light and departed for a better life.

St Pete was mid-way for the three of us, and I’d seen good reviews of Kahwa Coffee on Yelp! It was a gorgeous cold Saturday morning. How not to be happy with coffee and a few laughs?

My morning at the 2nd Avenue Kahwa Cafe felt like a blood transfusion…a voluntary transfusion of coffee instead of blood. You get my drift.

Living in Sarasota one becomes accustomed to an energy suitable for Q-Tipped citizens. It’s dozy, comfortable and even smells a bit like old people. Downtown St Pete – and the Kahwa specifically – affirmed my belief that folks aged less than fifty live somewhere in Florida. I always knew they were there; I needed only to cross the Skyway to find them.

Coffee shops/cafes have been around since before Francis Drake kept England safe from invaders under the prior Elizabeth, so the formula isn’t a secret. Great coffee (check), lots of passing people (check), swift, courteous service (check), room to sit and marinate (check) mean the Kahwa folks have it right.

Dear St Pete residents, please accept my congratulations on your vibrant city and its tasty coffee places. I might have to apply for citizenship here.

Perq Up

Somehow, because of a crease in the time-space field, Sarasota found itself with one of the best coffee shops in the galaxy. Miracle.

 

A long time coming, Perq is a glittering addition to the Sarasota coffee scene. Unfortunately, that’s less of a compliment than it should be, given the mediocre coffee culture hereabouts. The good news is that we now have a truly first-class place that showcases quality coffee.

Hitting you like a stack of Architectural Digests is the gorgeous fit-out. Keith and Erin have clearly thought long and hard about how the perfect coffee shop should look and feel. Not insignificant is that we’re in the sub-tropics, so the climate is a consideration. With that in mind, the high-ceilinged wood-themed open-furnished fit-out is ideal for both seasons – Snowbird and Local. They’ve taken the warehouse look and made it comfortable.

Now for the coffee. Frankly, it’s peerless. As the owners’ blurb explains, the coffee is the star here, with beans from specialist growers and roasters. But beans can only be as good as the treatment they’re given, and that too is first-rate. The Slayer espresso machine is the heart of the operation for my taste, but you will find other techniques employed: Think cutting edge meets simplicity.

For those of us who take our coffee as seriously as a heart attack, this place is like the paddles of life. In a way, it’s almost too good for this town that thrives on thrifty seniors and horrid chains. But I’m hoping Perq is a giant success. I’ll be returning as long as those immaculate flat whites keep coming.

Siesta Java

Back in 2013, Tim Smith and I were on the hunt (still/again) for the perfect Sunday coffee joint. I saw LeLu on Yelp! and figured it was worth a shot.

LeLu and I have fallen out of love a couple of times, but I keep going back. As a sign of my love, as of today I have 71 check-ins. Wow.

 

At risk of sounding like a hack sociology professor, context is important. Fine dining needs cultural and economic support, so big cities are the places for such a thing. Fine coffee shops, on the other hand should work anywhere, but the way a casual cafe goes about its business can resonate with what’s around it, or not. Success lies in such nuance.

Quite enough with the “resonate” and “nuance” there, prof.

All that’s a long way around of saying that Lelu, Siesta Key Village’s premiere coffee (and more) joint is perfectly adapted to its’ surrounds.

In mid-March, the spring break and snowbird crowds are here in force, determinedly wandering beach and (Ocean) Boulevard. Sun, sand and stuff to boast about when they get home is what they’re after, and if they find an appetite for coffee and a snack, Lelu is waiting.

The context of Lelu is epitomized by the fact that it’s across the breezeway from Gilligan’s, the loud late-night tiki bar with a learner drinker and party animal clientele. Lelu is the sober, morning side of Gilligans, perhaps slightly hungover, but still obviously good-looking. There are surfboards on the ceiling, despite the fact that this is Siesta Key where there is no surf, but it’s the thought that counts.

Funky, fun, enthusiastic service, excellent coffee, good food, and an atmosphere totally in keeping with the Key sums up Lelu.

St Armand’s Circle

From two and a half years ago, here is my first Yelp! review.
Madison Avenue was owned by a guy called Brian at the time, whom Tim Smith knew. So who knows what it’s like, but if anything started my criticism of stuff, this might be it.

__&^&__

You would imagine that Sunday mornings in Sarasota would be chock full of active retirees spending their golden years sipping coffee and boasting about grandchildren. Or picking each other up, given that our town was voted the best place to be over 70 and single. But neither seems to be true, because finding a decent outdoor cafe that’s even open turns out to be a stretch.

I know this because my buddy Tim and I instituted a Sunday morning coffee routine back in the summer. Using Yelp, we tried all four (4) places that were open at 8:30 am that weren’t called Starbucks. We were shocked that:

a) Those supposedly active retired persons are apparently still in bed, and

b) The choice of coffee places that serve actual coffee is tiny.

Which is why we were so happy to find The Madison Ave. Brian, the owner, runs this clean, cute place on St Armand’s Key, floating in the Gulf of Mexico just west of Sarasota. The outside seating is the place to watch people arrive on bikes, foot and Harley after tooling up and down Longboat Key, but the inside is cool too.

Coffee here is hand-pressed shots from the espresso machine, or a selection of drips from the vacuum container. Food is either Brian’s own fresh pastry selection, made each morning, or regular deli sandwiches and delights. The former are high quality, and I have yet to try the latter. It is, after all, early on Sunday morning, so it’s all about the coffee.

Which brings us back to the fact that in Tim’s opinion and mine, if you’re looking for good coffee and an entertaining outdoor place in which to sip it, The Madison Avenue is about the only place.