With all the frantic activity of the season, it can be a real treat to meet up with a friend for a cup of coffee. Just a leisurely cup of coffee, maybe a sweet treat to accompany it, and conversation. Doesn’t that sound nice? I’m not talking about a soulless cup of coffee at Starbucks, but a rich, extravagant cup of coffee at one of the many coffee houses that have sprung up all over Houston.
I realize that personal tastes vary, but for me, I don’t just want a great cup of coffee. I want a pleasant environment as well. A while back my husband took me to a place that he and his cycling friends like. Although the coffee was very good (as was the gigantic chocolate scone we shared), the place was run down, and the furniture looked like beat up dorm furniture that had seen a fair amount of sexual activity. The predominant style of dress was only a notch above pajamas. So happy with his coffee, my husband exclaimed, “Isn’t this great?” To which I replied, “No, it is not. This is my worst nightmare — to be sitting around unemployed in the middle of the day in a t-shirt and gym shorts, on crappy furniture, surfing the internet for a job and having people snarl at me.” Here is a picture of the place (which shall remain nameless): I’m not trying to be a scrooge, it’s just that I’m looking for something different at this stage of my life. So here, in no particular order, are 4 coffee houses that I really enjoy, with great coffee, a nice variety of sweet and savory items, and slick surroundings. If you’re feeling stressed by the holidays, take a coffee break and refresh at one of these places.
Blacksmith is located at 1018 Westheimer, in an industrial-looking brick building.
The coffee is HOT and STRONG here — not for the faint of heart. There’s an interesting variety of small plates developed by James Beard winner Chris Shepherd of Underbelly, including a giant biscuit with jam and crème fraiche, and a Vietnamese steak and eggs dish. Of course, there’s biscotti and other sweets too.
Fellini, located at 5211 Kelvin Drive in the Rice Village, is “a taste of Italy in the heart of Houston,” inspired by the sidewalk cafes in Italy. It is not unusual to see elegantly dressed gentlemen, a sweater tied oh-so-carefully around their shoulders, sipping espresso at one of the outdoor tables. It’s also not unusual to see a Ferrari or two parked in front.
The coffee is smooth and robust, brewed from Lavazza coffee beans, and there are a number of specialty coffee beverages, including Crema di Caffé and Crema di Mascarpone drowned in espresso.
There’s an assortment of Italian-style sweets to choose from, including cannoli in several flavors, chocolate-dipped tuiles, and chewy pistachio cookies:
If you’re in the mood for something more substantial, the café offers a few sandwiches:
Siphon is located at 701 W. Alabama, anchoring a small retail center.
The interior is dark and comfortable, with a variety of seating options, including a small outdoor area:
Siphon takes its name from the siphon coffee it offers, a brewing method that involves mixing coffee with boiling water “ascended from the flask with siphonage to the extraction and filtering of the coffee.” It takes about 10 minutes to brew a siphon, and at $11 for a siphon for two, is more expensive than more traditional brewing methods. I had not previously seen siphon coffee before, and I was fascinated by the process:
If, after trying a siphon, you can’t live without one of your own, they offer one for sale:
The menu was developed by Amanda McGraw, formerly of Brasserie 19, and has a variety of sweet and savory options, including empanadas, scones, paninis, and meat and cheese plates. There’s also a selection of craft beers and wine.
The Honeymoon Café & Bar is located downtown at 300 Main Street, just a stone’s throw from the courthouses.
Inside, the café is bright and comfortable.
The menu changes from time to time. We’ve enjoyed a delicious Salad Lyonnaise (frisee, bacon, poached egg, herbed croutons, caramelized shallot and dijon vinaigrette), a generous serving of Greek yogurt with house-made coconut pecan granola and fresh fruit, and smoked salmon and poached eggs on top of potato latkes, smothered with tarragon aioli. The coffee is roasted by Heights favorite Boomtown Coffee, and is smooth and robust. There’s also a full bar, and a spicy Bloody Mary went especially well with brunch.
We’ve also enjoyed the Pastrami on Rye sandwich with caraway cheddar, sauerkraut, and dijon aioli with a cup of tomato soup, and the Oyster BLT on challah with fried oysters, caper remoulade, bacon, tomato, and butter lettuce with a side order of macque choux:
Each of these coffee houses has its own personality, and if I had to pick a favorite, I couldn’t. Deciding which one to go to is most often determined by which one is closest.
Do you have a favorite coffee house in Houston?