January 8th, 2010
2009 Bestus Prospectus: Coffee Shops of the Year
I’ve been chastised by our group on several occasions for not having enough coffee shops on our list of places for The Loop Scoop. As it turns out, I’m like Abe Froman, the Coffee Shop King of Houston. There’s no reason to be snooty. Snooty? Snotty. They’re coming soon enough. For now, here are our top coffee shops of 2009. Did we leave your favorite off the list? Too bad.
10] G’s and Z’s Coffee Shop (Paul)
The Romans invented coffee as a traditional sharing of hospitality. Actually, they did nothing of the sort, but I could change it on Wikipedia and it would be the truth. In either case, I am adding G’s and Z’s Coffee Shop to our short list because of the hospitality they showed me one rainy and street-floody day in Houston. On my way home from work one afternoon this summer, the skies opened up as they only do in Houston. The freeways started to choke up, and instead of taking highway 59 home, as usual, I tried my luck on 288, trying to manuever back to my abode. As I doubled back down Almeda trying to make my way to the Museum District I found I had made one very illogical error: If the freeways are flooded, streets are going to be even worse. I tried to take refuge in G’s and Z’s just as they were about to close. The lovely waitress let me in the restaurant, even though she was in the final stages of her clean-up, and allowed me my one request of an espresso doppio. I sat down and began to read, watching the clock as it ticked closer to my time to go, only to have her walk up and tell me to stay as long as I needed. I always meant to make it back, but never made time. I hear the Poetry Jams on Saturday nights are the tits, though.
9] Salento (Paul)
Once upon a time, Crossroads existed. It still holds a dear place in my heart, even though it’s now been replaced by Swirl. But, with the closing of Crossroads, Salento got to hold on to one rather lofty title. It’s the only proper coffee shop in West University. Unless you want to go to one of the two Starbucks within walking distance, I recommend going to this independent shelter. They bring in some live music from time to time and if you ask nicely (or just promise to pay) they’ll pour you a glass of wine or uncap a beer for you. It’s cramped in there, and the tables are small, but traffic in and out is rather quick, so you’ll be seated before you know it. They have food as well, which is terrific if you’re like me and forget to eat and end up with the coffee jitters three hours into reading Hornby.
8] Inversion Coffee House (Paul)
Do you want to get as close to the line of being a cold corporate supporter without actually crossing? That’s what it feels like at Inversion Coffee House. It’s about 10,000 NYSE shares away from being Starbucks. The angular construct stands in the place of one of the great pieces of art this city erected, the Inversion House (which was constructed with the end in mind). Maybe the public (myself included) never really got over having their treasure leveled, my angst stems from never taking the time to go down to the site for my own pictures. The Inversion House remains, if only in the spirit and name of the facility that now stands in it’s place. The coffee is good, the people working the espresso machine are pleasant, and the wireless is free, which are, undeniably, the most crucial things about a good coffee shop. And, it’s not Starbucks, which is refreshing.
7] Byzantio Cafe & Bar (Paul)
I’ve always wondered if the Greek coffee shops in Houston had a feud or an armistice with one another. Too much time was spent day-dreaming of the potential conflict or lack thereof. Specifically, I speak of Cafe Agora and Byzantio, two otherwise harmless establishments in Houston, but what exactly are they hiding by seeming so aloof?! Byzantio was the place where I sought refuge after being red-flagged at Agora due to some unfortunate circumstances. They accepted me with open arms, or at least an indifferent stare. Surely I had crossed over to the dark side (or had I?). Now, Byzantio remains a normal place with a normal crowd and normally has tables open for you to throw open your laptop and pretend to be a discrete writer about Houston. The coffee borderlines on subpar and not very stout, but when you have a full bar and a killer gyro, you’re golden in my book.
6] Antidote (Paul)
Coffee is for closers, or so they say. This Heights spot is the perfect spot for closing the deal. Whether it be a cup of dark brew with a little lady that you want to get to know better or you’re in desperate need of a PHP developer for a little idea in a big pond, Antidote is the right place for you. You think this lead is weak? You’re weak. Antidote is exactly the place that we managed to convince Stephan to join our team. Even though the coffee is located at the end of a strip mall next to Kaboom Books, it has a very homey feel. The tables sit close together, couches abound, and nobody seems to mind the proximity to the next reader/studier/conversationalist. Antidote makes up for a lack of seating on the front sidewalk by annexing the alley way to the side of the strip which now feels like a refuge from all else in the world. If you’re in need of Coffee and find yourself on Studemont north of I-10, stop in and say “hi.” Anything goes. Just leave your ancient Canon AE-1 at home, you might end up having the same awkward conversation about photography during the Vietnam War as I did.
5] Epicure Cafe (Aaron)
Epicure is a wonderful, contemporary example of an Old World Cafe. It isn’t the cafe I studied at in college or the place where local musicians scat, but behind the River Oaks facade, a cafe with an old spirit still thrives. The owner has lived around the world and has brought that sensibility and expertise to both the decor and the cafe’s offerings. The simple coffee is delicious, dark and served in a metal coffee carafe, allowing you to pour at your leisure instead of waiting in line for refills. The seemingly endless presentation of desserts are as varied as the art that adorns the wall and the meals are delicious and heartier than you would expect. While partaking of a cup of coffee and an omelet, you could be witness to anything from a business deal to friends discussing the Landmark River Oaks movie they just watched to two Lexus battle for a prime parking spot. They have wine and hand squeezed lemonade if you are looking for caffeine alternatives for brunch or a post movie/shopping beverage. Finally, if you’re ever in need of a quick treat for a dinner party their desserts to go are an easy way to impress your hosts or guests. http://www.epicure-cafe.com/
4] The Coffee Groundz (Paul)
In my time working at The Loop Scoop, I’ve found a few things to be quite true: Houstonians care very much for their city, Twitter is a beast untameable, and the more you embrace, the better. Coffee Groundz, specifically JR Cohen, represents all these things. In fact, I would venture to say that the idea of Coffee Groundz is ultimately paramount to the physical location. Sure, the spot in Midtown has ample seating inside and out (not to mention, electric outlets out the wazoo outside on the back patio) and the coffee, crepes, and gelato are delicious, but sometimes those are not most important. The fact is, Cohen and The Groundz embody a Houston spirit like few other places in this town. Whether it be the Support Local Grow Together (#SLGT) initiative or Houston Gaymers nights, it all happens there. Add to that the fact that they host any and every Social Media event under the sun and it’s easy to see why Coffee Groundz has some of the most popular digs in town (and an army of Twitter followers to boot).
3] Brasil (Aaron)
The old Brasil is one of the most essential Houston icons for me. After being away from Houston for long periods of time, Cafe Brasil is always the place that I miss first and idealize the most, from the seemingly possessed bathroom to the beautiful exposed brick walls and too loud music. I read most of my undergraduate reading list over a house blend coffee on the heavy wooden wall tables and discussed many a late night mistake over breakfast on the front patio. The new Brasil, was remodeled early in the decade still has the same vibe but has embraced a more contemporary cafe style with a health conscious menu and a more open andairy space than before. Despite the changes, the staff is still hawkish and surly. Frankly, I’ve always been surprised that they retain the number of customers they do with their service. Maybe, they’re like me and the nostalgia mixed with the beautiful space, good food, coffee and beer allows us to forget, until we return andsit too long without ordering something more. Cafe Brasil, I wish I knew how to quit you. I think we need to get together this Saturday to talk about it?
2] Agora (Paul)
From the moment that I walked into the smoke-laden, Agora five years ago, I was in heaven. That wasn’t just because they seemed to promote smoking with an “Agora” lighter on every table, it was the full ambiance of the surroundings. Dark, cramped, cacophonous, it was downright perfect. The smoke may be gone, but everything else remains. Agora truly embodies it’s etymology. It is a quintessential meeting place in Houston. Race, creed, color, none of it matters once you pass Agora’s threshold. Order a regular coffee, indulge yourself with a Nescafe frapp, or pick a bottle of beer from the fridge or a wine that lines the counter from end to end. The world is yours once you walk into the cafe. Bring your world (if your world happens to be your laptop, as is mine) or just pick up any number of windows into the world with the abundant magazines that seem to be scattered everywhere. There is no right or wrong way to experience Cafe Agora, but it will always be an experience to remember.
1] Catalina Coffee (Stephan)
Max Gonzalez has gone the extra mile to bring amazing coffee and espresso to the Washington corridor and more importantly, any Houstonian who stops by. Gonzalez takes coffee seriously, even roasting the beans himself under the Amaya Roasting Company name. The attention to detail and respect for the ingredient is evident in every drink that Catalina Coffee offers. The mocha latte is sweet, but not so much that it overpowers the espresso. It also does not sit heavy in your mouth, instead it is easy to drink, leaving little of an aftertaste. The parking is ample though it may be hard to find room inside due to Catalina recently being featured in the Chronicle. In fact, being a frequent guest, I have noticed the crowds have been quite heavy lately.