by Frank Turrisi
(Cont'd from Part I)
So, you're back for the final four (not the Final Four) as this semester continues to deliver the promise of a little March madness (not March Madness) of its own. You won't even have to wait for April as this final four will exhaust the eight best options to get all of you creatives caffeinated in the greater PCC community. If you missed the first four of this exhaustive eight (not Elite Eight), click here.
5. The Coffee Gallery, 2025 Lake Ave, Altadena, CA 91001
If you don’t know how cool Altadena is, then all you need to do is stop by the Coffee Gallery. You will love its diversity of character and "characters" combined with the small town pace and feel. However, unlike most small towns, you won’t feel the sacrifice of leaving all that's good in the big city behind. This place has the feeling of an enormous downtown loft, fully equipped with soaring ceilings, smooth-finished concrete floors, and an eclectic furniture selection where farmhouse chic meets industrial. See what I mean? Altadena is cool! There is a small room with a community table and the dopest wallpaper (that I need) all the way to the back - so your group efforts are welcomed here. When you order the filthy dirty chai (organic chocolate, chai, espresso), the barista engages you with this sly wit that you wish you had, but need a helluva lot more time to work on. He is operating the coolest looking espresso machine on this list, a canary yellow La Marzucco with the personality of a vintage Ferrari. You have to have personality just to be worthy of the operation of that sexy machine! As you settle in, you notice this place attracts a crowd of all ages, but the elderly here seem to know all the words to contemporary songs, while the "youngins" sing along on classics that are seamlessly intertwined between Soul and Punk Rock, and work to keep you grooving while you're settling on your small bites. Along with the good musical taste of the operators, the fact that live music is featured here on certain nights probably keeps the tunes aficionados of the community coming back. This gallery's food menu also rivals Habitat, but is more inclined towards comfort, with a great selection of rotating soups, hash brown casserole, and mac & cheese. Belgian waffles, floats, milkshakes, and sundaes are made better with Fossilman’s Ice Cream, and if that’s not enough for a sugar boost, take a look at the selection of homemade pies and Duverger macarons. The tea steamers are a house specialty, but that can be argued with an array of offerings as tempting as the ones this menu presents. Also, there seems to be an element in this establishment that reflects a community keen on hanging onto the best parts of the past, while they lead their progressive lives. Sit down here all day and enjoy, this is the place to let your ideas come as they may….and they will wind up being your best ones! Oh, and make sure to peruse the art on consignment, it’s as cool, well curated, and reasonably priced as everything else is in this place.
6. Kaldi Coffee and Tea (no website), 1019 El Centro, South Pasadena, CA 91030
This warm, historic, former bank space captures all the charm of South Pasadena within its intimate brick walls. Sit inside at the well-worn hardwood tables and peer through oversized, Roman-style arched windows onto some of the most quaint, picturesque streets in L.A. County. Sip a Sparkling Americano made with Frontier Coffee, and choose from a menu of solid (not standout) sandwiches (also pressed panini style), pastries, or salads. Enjoy the free-flowing, intelligent conversations between seniors, pig-tailed teens, and any kind of eclectic, brainy type that you can think of before you pleasantly notice that these are the very people changing our world for the better. Or perhaps, admire the wall decor for sale - a collection of super cool, reasonably priced, hand-carved wood printing blocks with a variety of silhouette patterns bound to appeal to your artistic sensibilities. You can also do what I do….take your beverage right across the street, sit down on the benches of the Oxley Library grounds, and enjoy streets so well shaded by rows of noble Oaktrees that you could easily mistake the rare, lush green public plot for some other charming locale, in say....New England. That is, until you soak up more of the scenery and begin to admire the collection of Craftsman bungalows along the surrounding block, so storybook precious that the self-satisfied ghost of Gustav Stickley himself may haunt the grounds to marvel in the tastefully manicured maintenance of this architectural style that no place pimps better than South Pasadena. You really could find the deepest meaning of existence by sitting in this place and digesting a slice of life that seems simpler and so removed from the rest of Los Angeles (but not). You might even daydream of moving here for the rest of your days. Then, you get really carried away and look at comps on Zillow.com, only to find out that cute little house across the street is worth $1.5 million, and you're not cracking this 'hood for less than that! You might, more easily, instead wish to saunter into the South Pasadena Public Library, check out an inspiring book for free, and then get back to work. Yeah, you’d better do that. It’ll take more than one best-selling novel to make this dreamy world your own realty reality. But hey, if you can’t dream, you definitely can’t be creative…and if you can’t conjure a caffeinated dream within the proximity of Kaldi and the nearby community, then....check your pulse!
7. Kindness & Mischief Coffee, 5537 N. Figueroa St., Los Angeles, CA 90042
Highland Park dominates this list with yet another location, and from the moment you step up to the counter and the energetic Mo calls you (a stranger) “friend”, you will be served up some hospitality strapped with progressiveness and an array of craft coffee that would make any hipster proud. With beans from Brandywine, Take Flight, and Rose Park, and teas from L.A. local Art of Tea on tap, it seems like there are architectural plans behind the enjoyment of your beverage. Namesake beverages like “The Kindness” (sweetened coconut condensed milk, cinnamon, espresso, steamed milk) and “The Mischief” (house-made chocolate ganache, cayenne, espresso, steamed milk) have enough creativity behind them to get your ingenious juices flowing too. The menu is pastry heavy (by Creme Caramel L.A.), but with choices like a Calamansi Mascarpone Hand Pie, an Ube Coconut Biscuit, and a Salted Caramel Polenta Coffee Cake, you will be able to indulge in delicacies so unique they may be destined to inspire your own best ideas. There are several vegan options to boot. And speaking of inclusion, ownership makes a point to label the sole restroom "non-gender", to extend that extra wink to the LGBTQ set, and though certainly no place on this list would discriminate based on gender or sexuality, it's nice to have that extra touch of warmth to make these “friends” feel more at home here. Come early, as there is easily room to fit more tables in the space, but since their “kindness” also comes in the form of oversized tabletops designed for your comfort (and mischief), the workspace dries up quick. The shop also closes up at 5p.m., so you’ll want to maximize your daytime here. Get down to business in the industrial fun interior, with huge support girders painted in a shade of mod-blue, and exposed brick walls that add a splash of warmth to a space already flush with Figueroa St. sunlight. Absorb the sound waves of mellow (but hip) tunes wired down from the lofted ceilings. Or, take a book or leave one in their community bookshare, browse Joy Lim’s pointillist stroked paintings reminiscent of Van Gogh (the current affordable art collection on display with 50% of proceeds going toward suicide prevention). Also, their chic, branded espresso sets are my favorite drinking apparatus on this list, but the longer I sit in this place, I notice many more details which bespeak a certain personal touch. This is the touch of an ownership bent on embracing the community with such positivity, you can actually feel a desire to spread it far beyond just the reaches of a Highland Park coffee shop. Regardless of the current state of the planet, you'll leave this cafe with a deeper impression of hope for what the world at large could become, and ownership seems to have done their part by creating their "own world" of positive movement from within these walls!
8. Jameson Brown Coffee Roasters, 260 Allen Ave, Pasadena, CA 91106
This couldn’t be a PCC blogpost without the inclusion of at least one establishment within walking distance to campus. I know everyone in this town drives, but you absolutely can and should allocate your break times more wisely to walk your butts over to this neighborhood (and PCC) staple…rather than subjecting yourselves to the below average joe (sorry hardworking PCC employees) and hordes of your maniacal peers on campus. Every place on this list has top notch coffee from craft roasters, sourced with palpable precision a la "The Princess and the Pea", and a passion for achieving imbibing perfection, BUT....Jameson Brown cuts out the middle man. That's right...they are selling you their freshly roasted beans, from within their very walls, on the spot! They’ve also been around longer than all of the shops on this list, and are downright pioneers in the craft roasting craze that has burgeoned since then. Established in 2006 the year of our Lord, they’ve been at this for 12 years already (truly the forefront of the smallroasters trend), and are ancient in this field compared to many other brands. That being said, I’m willing to forego my taste in furniture (really, plaid sofas?) in exchange for the industrial experience of sipping utter deliciousness from beans that were freshly roasted, ground, and brewed in the same room. In this room, where there are barrels and stacks of burlap bags of house-roasted beans abound that come in more varieties than practically all of the other shop options on this list combined, you can even grab a scooper and your own sac, weigh your favorite roast of the day (or ten), and take it home to grind yourself. Or, have the well-trained staff grind it for you in house, then navigate the raw, concrete floors, take a seat in front of the cozy, brick hearth, and listen to the rattling roaster chutes fire away like silos. This is the experience where warehouse/factory meets den/cafe. The Jameson & Brown clientele is by far the most academic crowd of all the locales on the list, and this spans a student demographic from teeny-bopping-wannabe-transfers to hobby-seeking-retirees still exploring their intellectual capacity, right on down to PCC faculty too...so you're sure to be comfortable amongst your peers here. And if you want to talk creativity, then talk to owners David and Ryan about how their passion for coffee brought this place to life. The Breve (a creamier latte) is the name of the game on this menu, and the lavender flavored variety started all the rage. Ask about the seasonal offerings, as this crew is always doing something different to suit the menu to the mood, but by no means do you even have to stick to the menu….as these baristas are ready to make almost anything your heart desires (with on-hand ingredients, of course). There’s not much in way of bites here, but there are pastry options to accompany your beverage of choice. All in all, just think of this coffee concept as the place where business and creativity meet (ehrrr-hem, entrepreneurial-minded students), and take the opportunity to let this location inspire you as you engineer your own future small business plans.
Geez! Now that we have exhausted the best cafe options to boost your creativity...I'm exhausted! I might have to navigate a caffeine excursion of my own right now, and with the workload of the semester bearing down now, you should get to exploring these locales too. Your creative inspiration awaits you! And there are certainly many more fine establishments across our quality and creativity consumed town, but I challenge you to find better ones for creatives within the greater PCC community. Let this be an exercise for you, educational trial and error if you will, but I hope this list becomes as useful to you as it is Bible to me.
Well, I have to draw boundaries and stop somewhere, and since I’m a 70’s baby and an old TV buff, I’ll say if “eight is enough to fill our lives with love,” it can definitely be enough to fill it with coffee and creativity too. If you don’t get the reference, and you probably didn’t (almost certainly didn’t unless you're old like me...who is Dick Van Patten anyway?), just hit up this group of eight cafes, if you're creative, these are the ones tailor made for you!
I'd love to hear your caffeine contributions and comments for this list below or for your other favorite cafes in a blog post of your own (Guest Bloggers are invited to submit blog posts of up to 1000 words to firstname.lastname@example.org). Since I'm always up for (from?) coffee, I will take the most persuasive recommendation and publish it on the blog as a follow up to this! Hope to hear from you soon!
by Frank Turrisi
With the momentum of the new semester building, I'm sure we're all scrambling to perk up our creativity. Well, you might want to consider those creative juices pouring over, cold-brewing, or hitting you in double and triple shots with this exhaustive list of craft-centric and best coffee shops for creatives within our greater PCC community. Spanning a radius extending from the PCC campus, I have surveyed Glendale to the Northwest and Arcadia to the Northeast, Alhambra to the Southeast and Frogtown to the Southwest, with all of these stimulating shops chosen not only by their convenience for, but also for their likelihood of, serving our PCC student body. With many great cafes across the city worthy of this list, but falling outside of this radius (just think Echo Park, Silver Lake and Downtown L.A./Arts District areas), I say in my best Marie Antoinette, let them have LACC (or GCC or ELACC). Also, since this is a literary blog, if you don’t see your favorite local NELA/Pasadena cafe here, I’m talking about you Copa Vida (too corporate) and Urth Cafe (lack of personal touch), Lavender & Honey (too cramped), and Found Coffee (not enough character), remember this list suits creatives best, so your vibe can’t even hint cookie cutter, and you just can't get caught trying too hard. To make this list, not only must all of the menu offerings be most on-point, but your art curation, music selection, design game, right on down to the architectural character of the space and regular clientele must exude that "je ne sais quoi" which pours more authentically from the heart and soul to generate a vibe that the artist longs for. If you don't get what I’m talking about for qualifying these special neighborhood hangs, don't change your major to accounting yet...that's why I made this list! Instead, pop in for a visit and see this eclectic collection for yourself. Then, I guarantee you will understand why it’s this eight that keeps the creatives coming back:
1. Civil Coffee, 5629 N. Figueroa St., Los Angeles, CA 90042
The energy of this place is like a slice of life a la Brooklyn/Manhattan amalgamation - welcome to the new Figueroa St. corridor of Highland Park. By simply stepping across Civil's Barcelona Tile floors and up to the Acacia topped, brass-framed, mirrored bar to order a perfectly made macchiato (I sweeten it with their turbinado sugar simple syrup), a very Northeast L.A. phenomena may occur.…you’ll either become cooler immediately, or feel like you’re not cool enough! Start by eavesdropping on production meetings of commercials, music videos, and Indie-Films (Art Dept., of course!), and soon you’ll understand that you’re sipping stimulation right on the pulse of one of the most artistic communities worldwide. It's like Williamsburg west, and the fly digs would fit right in the boroughs! The interior walls are wainscoted with repurposed estate doors and adorned with the most tasteful (if not pricy) selection of local artwork on this entire list (all available for purchase on consignment). The food menu is as tightly curated as the art, and runs the gamut from Fried Chicken atop vanilla, Belgian yeasted waffles to Mushroom Ricotta Flatbread. You can also build your own Toast (gluten-free option available) with choice of eggs, smoked salmon, avocado, or market fruit speed jam. If you’re anti-gentrification you have to be creative just to not let this place offend you, but do consider the owner is Latino himself, and so in addition to the Spelt Tostada, a delicious, more O.G. creation called the Morales Breakfast is also offered by his family namesake and will satisfy those of the most authentic Mexican roots hankering for chilaquiles. For your sweet tooth, there’s mouthwatering butterscotch, salted caramel pudding and chocolate chip cookies courtesy of SugarBloom LA. After you've received your refreshments, if it’s peace and quiet you crave, step away from the faux Carrera marble backsplash and out from under the towering ceilings to the, dare I say more, civil, outdoor seating to gather your thoughts. Their beans from Onyx Coffee Lab grind down to the most unique flavored Joe around, and if you're vegan or just don't do the dairy, you can skip it with cashew-nut and oat-hemp milk options. Everything about the service speaks to devotion to craft, so why not bring your laptop and hone your own here. Yet, if you won’t take my recommendation based on any of the above, check out their website and admire their attempt at putting out their own literary blog with essays, poems, art, and more called “Civilian”. Oh yeah...I think they’re catering to the creative set (insert emoji wink here)!
#'s 2 & 3. Cafe De Leche, 2477 N. Lake Ave., Altadena 91001, CA, & , 5000 York Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90042
Since both of Anya and Matt Schodorf’s cafes cracked this list, I’ll list their impressive locations of the same name (but of very different vibe) together, and with a single shout-out to the cafe couple for beckoning our creativity:
Altadena - This baby blue bungalow doesn’t have much room to offer seating inside besides a couple tables and a mid-century lounge set with a plaid sofa and vintage teak coffee table. If you are lucky enough to find a seat inside, you will find both titillation and relaxation from the full aqua color spectrum of geometric tile design decorating the walls from floor to ceiling, which feels more like a hip Venice beach house than a San Gabriel Mountain foothill gem. Yet, no problem if they’re out of seats inside. The charm of this space ascends to an entirely new level when you step outside under the pergola and into an outdoor seating area slick and modern enough to be in your sexiest boutique hotels instead of a coffee shop. However, this is not your average coffee shop! It is super peaceful during the afternoon, and when you’re sitting sun-splashed under accordion-like canary yellow awnings with views of the mountain tops so close it feels as if you can toss a piece of their well-chosen garden stone and hit the popular nearby hiking spot Inspiration Point atop Echo Mountain. Then, you realize all the inspiration you need may be right inside this cafe’s ideal setting. If procreation is your primary creativity, bring the children. They are certain to enjoy the offering of board games, coloring books, Hula Hoops, and the regulation-sized court for the bean bag toss in back. Perhaps they are so kid-friendly because the 10 and under set here is as well-behaved as it gets. The bites are limited, but the pastries, doughnuts, bagels, and parfaits are of the best quality around, and the place is wired with great sound, playing moody tunes (during my visit) to offset the caffeine jitters.
Highland Park - This is the “O.G.” location at the epicenter of the Highland Park renaissance, with its 2008 opening being at the forefront of the movement. As such, before every cafe in town had the option to serve a different brand of craft beverage, both of the Cafe de Leche locations have loyally served Portland’s Stumptown Coffee from the giddy up, and by the looks of much of their clientele, seem to have dragged the hipsters along with it as well. The coffee here is still my favorite on this list (though not by much), and the most magnificently motley peoplewatching from the York Blvd. sidewalk tables is the best on this list (by a lot) if you wish to sit outside beside the succulent-filled planters. In addition, you can grab some reading material from their bookshare or from POP-HOP Books & Print next door, then see if you can find some seating inside at one of the thick plywood tables that look DIY until you train your eyes to understand that beveled edge tabletop requires some badass woodworking. The eclectic and colorful mod chair designs are much more artsy than fartsy, while the lime green mid-century sofa is the perfect place to take a break and admire a mural of the Highland Park Hills silhouette that runs almost the entire length of the joint, and in hues that range from avocado to pink earth tones. Who even knew those colors went together? Clearly someone not only more creative than me, but also someone behind sewing the pioneering fabric of what burgeoned into this creative community. There is always a crowd here, and they’re more the working than socializing kind, despite their appearances. And since this place has been around before gentrification got too crazy, it is equally appreciated by the “real” Highland Park clientele as well as your transplant artists, Oxy crowd, or whomever is waving the new money in the hood. Also, when the service is as friendly as it is, how can’t you just love them?!? Try the horchata latte or horchata con espresso and you’ll be quickly reminded of the "sabor" this neighborhood staple has fully embraced, while getting to enjoy one of the tastiest coffee concoctions you’ll find anywhere. And, if you really want to know what’s going on around the barrio, there is no better place to hit up for flyers of happenings and grab business cards alike.
4. Habitat Coffee Shop and Cafe, 3708 Eagle Rock Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90065
This Glassell Park jewel ranks as the best eats on this list. Breakfast is served from 7a.m.-12p.m weekdays and 7a.m.-2p.m. Sat. & Sun. The Croissant Egg Sandwich with avocado, cherry tomato, bacon, and Swiss is one of the best you’ll find anyplace in town, and even a carnivore like myself would delight in the Vegan Tostada with scrambled tofu, vegan cheese, soyrizo, avocado, pico de gallo & black beans. You can also partake of grains made to order during breakfast hours, with a choice of muesli, quinoa, or granola with seasonal fresh fruit accoutrements. Don’t worry if you’re not an early riser, plenty of food is served all day, including four kinds of quiche, two full menu pages of "classic" and specialty salads that will satisfy the most discerning Eastside foodie types (that frequent here for sure). If that's not enough, there are another two pages delicious sandwiches offered. All served on various artisan breads, the sensational Seitan Banh Mi, Curried Tofu Sandwich, and Cauliflower Melt will satisfy the vegans and non-vegans alike. Yet, if you love meat, the Muffalata is the way to go, but I wouldn’t say no to the braised short rib grilled cheese or the roasted pork sandwich either in this standout section of the menu. The pastries and desserts provided by Susina Bakery and Cafe are many and fabulous, but don’t discriminate against even the most restricted diets. I could go on all day about the food options, but let’s leave it at, if you’re gluten free or vegan, you have new options here for days, and if you’re an omnivore….weeks! Organic Tea presses that come in a wide variety are the stars of the beverage menu, but it’s almost not fair to say when there's a white chocolate mocha made with authentic Taza Mexican Chocolate staring right at you. This cafe draws a slightly more mature, professional crowd than the others in the hipster Golden Triangle, and you'll probably be nestled amongst business meetings abound, but don’t be surprised if you see a tattoo or sleeve poking through the casual business attire. Some of the artsy vibe is lost with this place being a favorite to the nearby law firm, and if I had to guess, many of your creatives here look like the architects and designers of the modern homes you can see peering down at you from the nearby Glassell Park and Mt. Washington Hills. The generously sized industrial furniture will give you a sense of permanence while you brainstorm, but it is the bevy of menu selections here that will make you feel what any creative needs to feel most…unrestricted.
There should be enough stops here to get you brewing. Tune in next week for the the other four, and zippy sippy to you and your creativity all the while!
Blog Posts reflect the opinions of the writer and not the opinions of Pasadena City College or Inscape Magazine Editorial Staff Members.