REVIEW: Bayou Bakery

Bayou Bakery is one of those lovely places that serves both hearty eats and good coffee – with a southern twist. In fact, they call themselves a Louisiana-style “coffee bar & eatery”, thought they’re located in the Courthouse neighborhood (/metro stop) of Arlington, VA. I’d been reading about this place since I first moved to the area, and, with a lazy Sunday ahead of me, decided to finally check it out.

The only downside to places that serve both good food and good coffee is that they automatically qualify as “brunch” places. If you’ve been in DC on a weekend, you know the sometimes-nightmare I’m referring to. Brunch dominates DC from about 10am to 2pm (no really – Uber even goes into rush pricing), and if you think you’re going to just “pop in and out” of a place that serves coffee and food, you should rethink your scheduling.

Bayou Bakery was packed, yes (which is a sign that people enjoy their wares, right?), but I was impressed by how quickly the winding line was served – and the speed with which I received my food. Don’t let “brunch hour” dissuade you from visiting this place.

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I ordered a macchiato (my drink of choice), some beignets, and a bbq-pork-topped biscuit. I shared some grits with my partner, who had biscuits and gravy (Can you tell that they really do serve southern food?).

So…

The food was good. I liked my bbq pork biscuit a lot – it was sweet with just the right amount of zing… but my partner likes a decidedly different type of bbq than I do and wasn’t a big fan. I also tried my first beignets, and my sweet tooth adored the mountain of powdered sugar they’re topped with. The grits were perfectly flavored by the Crystal hot sauce on the table.

The espresso was brewed from Counter Culture’s Forty-Six beans, which the company recommends for espresso. I’ve had Counter Culture before, at Emissary. Back when I had it last, I wondered if the acidity I was tasting up front was due to the citrus-heavy lunch I’d had, or the brew itself. After tasting Counter Culture beans again at Bayou, I realized it’s decidedly the beans that give off that slight acidity at first sip. In fact, this brew seemed slightly more acidic than the last one I’d tried, and a bit less silky. It was still a good macchiato, but Emissary might have my return business.

Overall, if you’re in Courthouse and need a tasty bite to go with your coffee, Bayou Bakery is the perfect fit to comfort your southern hankerings. You can find it at 1515 N. Courthouse Rd, Arlington, VA 22201.

 

 

REVIEW: Emissary

Located right off DuPont Circle, Emissary is a very chill, partly-underground coffeeshop that brews delicious Counter Culture Coffee beans. 

Emissary’s calming baby-blue-and-white color scheme is attractive from the exterior of the building (where there’s plentiful outdoor seating). Once you enter the underground oasis, exposed brick walls and a mix of dark wood and steel furniture make the space at once cozy and sleek. 

I ordered a macchiato and was pleasantly surprised by how quickly my order came out – and with a design atop the drink! 

Over at the sugar station (I’m sure there’s a more elite-accepted word for this, but you know what I mean, right?), I discovered both raw sugar packets and raw sugar simple syrup (yes!) resting under a beautiful basement window scene of tiny succulents and a “Standing with Muslims against Islamophobia and Racism” sign. What a cool place! It’s got its heart in the right place, too. 


Okay, okay, I need to stop gushing about the environment and tell you about the espresso: 

Simply put, it. Was. Amazing. 

I had just finished a citrus-heavy lunch, and so didn’t fully appreciate the drink I’d ordered until I was about halfway through with it. But when I got there – !!!

I don’t think I’ve ever had an espresso taste so silky before. The mouthfeel of the drink was that impeccable. And tasty, to boot. The drink seemed to have very low acidity, which added to the overall smoothness of the drink. Especially when I drink espresso after lunch like this, I don’t usually drink the whole brew unless I’m willing to stay up extra late. But this espresso? I couldn’t help myself. I didn’t even make a conscious decision to finish it all, it just happened

All in all, I’d definitely recommend Emissary as a lovely oasis from DC’s busy day-to-day, and I’d also press you to try their perk! I know I’m looking forward to having Counter Culture Coffee at Emissary again soon!

REVIEW: Cuppa Giddy Up

Cuppa Giddy Up is located in Middleburg, Virginia, which is a popular day-trip destination for DCers. Middleburg is known for its shops – and apparently a rich history of fox hunting – in the middle of equine and wine country.

Cuppa Giddy Up reminds me of the close-to-my-heart shop that I frequented in high school – both have a cozy, below-ground scene that offers a sort of intimacy shared between the people in the shop and its customers. Cuppa serves Lexington Coffee Roasters beans in their tiny underground oasis. (It also has a clever name – it’s in horse country, remember?) The two baristas were personable, and, when I asked about what beans they brewed, I was offered a sniff from a newly-opened bag, told where it was roasted, and – get this! – was told where I could find the same beans in DC (Baked & Wired in Georgetown, FYI). Talk about awesome people! They also took interest in what I’d been up to in town so far, and where I was visiting from. And… my espresso was only $1.60 (!!!). Try finding that kind of price in DC!

If I’m ever back in Middleburg, Cuppa Giddy Up will have my caffeine-based business.

 

 

REVIEW: Head House Books

I love a good quirky, local bookstore, and Head House Books is such a great shop, it deserves to be my first bookstore post.

Here’s the thing about bookstores: You can go to your basic Barnes & Noble or Amazon anytime. As an independent bookstore, you need to do something that sets you apart and offers more than just the usual New York Times Bestsellers browse. Head House Books has done just that.

When you walk through the doors, you see two giant wooden bookcases filled with books – but not in a way you’d expect. Instead of spines out or covers only, these books are layered like the petals of a tulip, separate enough to show their beauty and grab your attention, yet subtly shadowed by the next book, then the next.

This is an awesome book display, and something I’ve never before seen.

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Walking through the store, I noticed dozens of titles on display that I had never noticed either on Amazon lists or in Barnes. To me, this is another sign of an independent bookstore making its mark – a refreshing curated collection.

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Walking toward the back of the store, wooden floors creaking and the warm glow of fairy lights brightening the way, you reach the children’s section.

What a joy!

Not only did Head House feature adult literature I’ve never seen, but it holds the record for the most picture books I’ve seen in an independent bookstore, as well as a fresh collection of Middle Grades lit.

And, of course, I was in love with their display featuring books about strong women. And just my luck, two chairs dotted this back section, where I perused and previewed to my heart’s content.

My best find? I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark by Debbie Levy (required reading for every American!)

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BOOK REVIEW: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

I just finished Station Eleven by Canadian writer Emily St. John Mandel, and after reading it, I think I need a reading break.

This is not to say that the book was so bad that I need to stop reading, nor was it so good that everything else would pale in comparison. Station Eleven is an intricate book, one that needs to be read slowly in order to fully appreciate all of the connections in the plot and poetics of the writing. I just need some time to decompress.

The storylines in Station Eleven follow a Hollywood actor’s rise and demise in the present time, and a group of Shakespeare-and-symphony performing survivors in a post-pandemic futuristic world. Strange combination? I know. If I had read that last sentence before reading the book, I wouldn’t be convinced. But the way these storylines meld together – how the pop culture of the past has an impact on the post-pandemic future, the connections between the characters with a 20-year gap between the timelines – it just works. Who knew Hollywood could be a perfectly sad and beautiful foil for a dystopia?!

But it’s perfection. Station Eleven is surprisingly beautiful and haunting, and really poignant. It brings to your attention the incomprehensible intricacies of our modern way of life, and what we do and should treasure. If you’ve been a consumer of dystopian fiction in YA, this is the perfect first step into the more complex possibilities of well-written adult literature… following intriguing characters in a world you’ll love.

So, if I claim to have loved and highly recommend the book so much, why do I claim that I need a break?

I finished the second half of this book in one day – the connections were growing and just getting too good to put down-! – but… because I focused all of my energy on chasing plot, I was missing the beauty of the book. The poetry of the writing. The real-world implications I wanted to linger upon. See, with books like these, I have to constantly remind myself to slow down. Savor it. And I’m not sure I did enough of it. In fact, I’m feeling pretty melancholy about having finished it so fast.

So… perhaps what I need isn’t a reading break. I could easily go back and start reading Station Eleven again from the beginning. By choice. In fact, I may be doing just that before I move onto another book.

 

BREW REVIEW: Creator/Destroyer Espresso Nut Brown Ale

Creator/Destroyer is a 6% beer brewed by Oliver Brewing Company out of Baltimore. But, most importantly, it is a deliriously delicious fusion of espresso and beer. Which is why I’m stepping out of my strict perk/paperback boundaries to tell you about it.

Technically speaking, I’m still reviewing espresso here – Oliver uses Ceremony Coffee Roasters “Destroyer” espresso in their brew. Maybe you’re like me and have sought out coffee beers before. If so, you know that stouts seem to be the only beers that coffee flavors are paired with. So, when I met a friend for dinner at Farmers & Distillers and saw a nut brown ale infused with espresso, I was so, so down to try it. (Although, it did cost me $10. Yes, $10 (!!!). Welcome to drinking in DC. Next time, I’ll just pick up a 12.99 6-pack instead of acting like I do something other than teach for my paycheck. Anyway, back to the brew….)

It totally was worth the ten bucks. I was immediately in love with the taste – Unlike the stouts of the coffee-beer world, this beer was on the light side, and I could have easily had three (or more) without feeling overwhelmed by the flavor or thickness of the beer. The fact that it’s a nut brown ale also created more of a caramel taste than the coffee stouts I’ve tried, which made for a delicious, addictive brew. And, perhaps the perfect caveat to drinking espresso-infused beer is the added bonus of a bit of caffeine sticking around to add to your buzz.

All in all, Creator/Destroyer is beautiful fusion of two of the things I love most – dark beer and espresso. If only it was also named after a book….

REVIEW: Old City Coffee

Found in Philadelphia’s Reading Terminal Market, Old City Coffee is a cornerstone of good coffee made right. And, in the chaos of Reading Terminal, it’s a safe-haven of good smells and service.

The cozy corner location is a three-sided affair: One side is for ordering drinks, another side offers tantalizing views and aromas of all of their bean varieties, as they’re stored in see-through flour-bins – this second side is for ordering bulk coffee – and a third side for enjoying your brew at a countertop. (You can also see their roaster from this side!) The decor, blackboards with menu and specials, white-painted wood with blue-gray accents, ranks Old City as one of the most inviting, comforting coffee stops I’ve visited since moving East.

If the atmosphere weren’t enough… Old City also roast their beans on the premises, in small batches. The aroma is to die for, and the espresso is amazing. On my most recent visit I had an iced caramel latte, and the fact that I could still taste the quality of the espresso as the backbone of the drink really says a lot about Old City’s perk game.

Their brewed coffee is also excellent. In fact, my partner’s mom requires us to send her a bag of beans (her pick is the Sumatra-Viennese Roast) each time we travel to Philly.

Old City Coffee has more locations, including its original on Church Street, but I’ve only been to the lovely Reading Terminal outlet. Here are some photos, including a bag of Sumatra and the weekly special Horticultural Blend which I took home.