I’m a sucker for a good coffee shop. I like nothing better on a Saturday afternoon than claiming a table, nursing an iced double espresso and a pastry, and reading a book or doing some writing. In Philly, we’re blessed with a great coffee shop scene. We’re one of the few cities yet to be overrun by Starbucks; instead, we have a generous scattering of locally owned java joints. Vital stats on some of my favorites:
Frankford and Norris, Fishtown
The Rocket Cat is around the corner from us. Joe and I stopped in the day we came to check out the house, and it was a factor in our decision to move here. Having a good coffee shop down the street is a major selling point for me! The Rocket Cat is airy and large, with lots of old, worn-out furniture and funky art. It shares the building with artists’ studios (a sign of further gentrification in Fishtown, no doubt) so there are rotating art exhibits on the walls. There’s a toybox for kids and board games for adults. The back garden can be nice when it’s cleaned out, though it’s often filled with junk. They serve Old City coffee and handle it expertly; the drink menu is well thought out and well executed. I particularly like the Thai iced coffee they serve in the summer. The pastries are good, if nothing to write home about, and there’s a growing selection of breakfast foods and sandwiches that are always fresh and locally sourced. The baristas are young female hipsters, always friendly, if somewhat slow to actually serve you. There’s music but it’s never loud or intrusive. Wi-Fi is available.
The Coffee House
Girard Ave. between Front and 2nd St., Fishtown
The Coffee House is a brand-new addition to the Girard Avenue corridor. I stumbled across it unexpectedly one day during its soft opening, while buying couscous next door at Jerusalem Market. They’re actually holding a Grand Opening event today. It’s a small, newly renovated spot with just a few tables. The real attraction is the back garden, which has a pebble garden, lots of plants and a lovely tent with cushioned bench seating, beaded curtains and a funky little chandelier. The coffee is also locally roasted, from La Colombe. The owners are new to the coffee business– when I stopped in, the friendly owner told me that he’s new to food service altogether, and his partner is experienced in food service but not coffee. They seem to still be working the kinks out– the drinks are inexpertly prepared, but tasty. High-quality desserts are imported from Italy, which is great, but they’re treated unevenly. We were served an imported cannoli that was beautifully presented with chocolate sauce, powdered sugar, and a ripe strawberry, but on tasting it we realized that the cannoli shell tasted a bit like refrigerator, and the sauce was Hershey’s. If they are willing to go all the way and treat their high-quality ingredients with high-quality preparations, the Coffee House will evolve into a wonderful spot. Also, I’m told there’s free Wi-Fi, though I haven’t tried it out myself.
North 3rd St. and Spring Garden, Northern Liberties
Higher Grounds is tucked away in a quiet, expensive corner of hipster paradise Northern Liberties. It’s long and narrow but airy, with eclectic furnishings and a laid-back, quiet atmosphere. It’s easy to read and relax here, and Joe seems to fall asleep with his headphones on every time we chill here. Coffee and desserts are good– there’s a big muffin selection– but the real attraction here is a wide selection of teas and tea-based drinks, including rotating drinks with medicinal properties (tea blends for allergies, energy, whatever). I haven’t tried the food menu, but there’s a rotating selection of soups and sandwiches.
630 North 2nd St. (near Fairmount), Northern Liberties
This crowded but pleasant coffee shop on the main Northern Liberties drag specializes in vegetarian-friendly foods. There are vegan options for just about everything, and lots of tasty little morsels sold inexpensively (if you don’t feel like spending five bucks just for a little nosh with your coffee). There’s an Asian bent to the menu– you can munch on a bowl of edamame for three dollars, or order a full meal. Seaweed cucumber salad, spicy tuna wraps or a variety of creative sandwiches are available, and just about everything is relatively healthy. This is a great option for gluten-free food. It tends to get packed on the weekends, but you can usually snag a table in the pleasant backyard or sit at the bar and watch Northern Liberties go by. Smoothies are fantastic; coffee drinks tend to the creative (i.e. espresso milkshakes) and are very high in quality. Free Wi-Fi.
944 N. Second St., Northern Liberties
This is a relatively new coffee shop with a Greek flavor. We stopped in for the first time today and were the only customers. It’s large and spacious, with ultra-modern glass tables and leather couches and a long bar. The music is loud, poppy and Greek. The coffee menu doesn’t deviate much from the norm; there’s Egyptian mint tea and a wide range of smoothies. We were too full to try any food, but the house specialty is its selection of crèpes, both sweet and savory.
This isn’t an exhaustive list by any means, but it’s a start; if I’m missing anyplace particularly good, I hope you’ll let me know!