Archive for September, 2008

I’m Thinking Arby’s And Dagmar Tonight!

Arby’s getting guerrilla in their weekend efforts locally? That seems like big news.

The fact that WGCL advertisers their weather personality with just her first name? Dagmar-tastic.

More photos and MySpace profile of the raven-tressed Canadian, if you’re so inclined.

Coffee Circuit #2: Breukelen Mojo

The sign hanging over the door at Breukelen Mojo in Kirkwood, ATL.

The sign hanging over the door at Breukelen Mojo in Kirkwood, ATL.

In a comment on the first Coffee Circuit post, a reader pointed me at the Kirkwood coffee shop called Breukelen Mojo, which I hadn’t heard of before. This is, in short, why I dig the Metblog. Got a local coffee shop you love? Drop me a line in the comments so I can pay them a visit.

Breukelen Mojo (say it like “Brooklyn”) just turned one-year old this summer—an important milestone for an independent coffeehouse. Opened up by New York transplants eager to evoke the vibe of their cafe scene back home, the place seems focused not just on coffee but on local events. Area musicians and Thursday-night movie showings attract an evening crowd to the shop’s stage. If the main cafe space seems a little big for relatively few tables, I think that’s why: they use the room for event seating. Sunday mornings, I was told, locals enjoy classical guitar and coffee on their private patio.

A specialty mocha with so many syrups isn\'t usually this unimposing.

A specialty mocha with so many syrups isn't usually this unimposing.

I’ll admit, when I saw how small the coffee-drink menu here was, I worried. Simple menus, in my experience, often mean that a place is either a) doing the bare minimum necessary to be a coffeehouse, or b) looking to avoid the Starbucks syndrome of a sprawling overeager menu. That second option can be good or bad. It’s one thing to go for a basic, low-impact approach to the coffeehouse style, but it’s another thing to build a reactionary menu that cuts out the precious drinks that cafe dilettantes (like me) enjoy finding at local joints. Much to my relief, at Breukelen Mojo, they manage to pull off a relaxed, low-impact style without giving up on the fancy coffee drinks altogether.

The ladies I talked to at the shop, who were both super-friendly and smiley, told me they went out to Portland, Oregon, to attend barista classes before they opened up the shop. They wanted to do it right. Watching the barista put together a mixed-syrup concoction she called an Almond Joy, it’s easy to see. A multi-syrup cafe mocha has every reason to turn out heavy and thick, tasty but gut-punching with over-saturated sugary sweetness. Now don’t get me wrong, their Almond Joy isn’t airy—it’s still a mocha—but it was lighter and better composed than I could’ve expected. The barista didn’t dump syrups in a cup; she mixed and stirred and poured with an attention to detail that I look for outside of the morning rush. I appreciate that. Best of all, the thing was delicious from top to bottom, without that punishingly syrupy final quarter that’s the bane of so many mochas.

The nice folks over at Breukelen Mojo also pointed me at a couple of other Atlanta coffee and culture happenings I wasn’t aware of, so thanks for that. Don’t you be shy, either: if you’ve got a coffee shop you want me to check out and write about, drop us a comment on the site. I’m not doing formal reviews, obviously. I’m doing short profiles—I want to know what makes your shop what it is and why you were inspired to open it.

Opening The Grange

The bold, brushed-steel sign of The Grange public house.

The bold, brushed-steel sign of The Grange public house.

It probably isn’t fair to judge a new restaurant on its opening night.[1] I’m sure The Grange doesn’t want me to do that and, honestly, I don’t think I want to do that to them. So let’s call this a first impression, with the understanding that we’ll meet again soon.

I found out The Angel was closing the hard way: I showed up and no one was there. The place was lights-out and empty. Uh-oh, I thought. Good news is, the place didn’t lay fallow for long. Better news is, The Grange kept pretty much everything that was good about The Angel’s space—the dark woods, the brick patio, the tile floor, and the little pub-nooks—and added just a bit of light, just a bit of air, to open it up and make it feel fresh.

On to the bad news. Saturday night, the joint was hopping, but tangled. The space between patio and bar was wandered by folks trying to figure out the seating situation, with no host and no list to help. I like wandering into a self-serve pub space, sure, but that night was just too busy for that. A tall man with keys on the end of a long spoon rushed around, apologizing for late dinners and calming frustrated customers. Beer was being brought in by the six-pack. They were in the weeds.

So let’s go back to some good news. Service was happy, attentive, and up-front. As soon as our waitress knew there was going to be a delay on our food, she let us know. Our appetizer showed up quick and hot.

Which brings us back to some bad news. The food on Saturday night was a bust. In an Irish pub, chips shouldn’t be skinny, limp, soggy things. What comes with them shouldn’t be a plastic Solo cup of blue-cheese dressing. Fish and chips shouldn’t consist of a single ragged piece of fish burned within an inch of edibility and more of those skinny fries. The shepherd’s pie was ordinary.

Word since Saturday, though, is better. The report I got says “Grange impressed” and “Good food.” Also, “Great hangout vibe,” which I sure agree with.

Friendly advice, Grange? Commit to the Irish vibe on your menu, nail those pub-favorite dishes, and add some distinctive dish that gives your place its own voice. In the meantime, I’ll keep my fingers crossed that The Grange stays busy enough to find its flow. The trick is giving a new place time to find its footing without, you know, just not going and accidentally running it out business, I guess.

Not to jinx it, but I’d be surprised if they can’t make it work there.

1. I’ve read that some restaurant critics give a new place three months to get their act together before they review the place. How long do you wait?

Peeking At Paste

Paste Magazine Issue #23

Paste Magazine Issue #23

Last night I got a chance to poke around the Decatur offices of Paste, the independent music-slash-entertainment-slash-culture magazine with the free sampler CDs stuck to its face. Those offices were less what I expected and more what I’d hoped for: rough and reclaimed concrete floors, exposed ceilings, lots of shelving lined with lush CD boxed sets and sample discs from hopeful bands, high-dynamic-range photos of folks like Michael McKean and Jane Lynch in the lobby. Stylish and functional, but meant to be seen. My experience with actual workspaces had me expecting something with shallow carpeting, cubicles, and a drop ceiling. I love being wrong.

Instead of cubicles, I saw wide wooden desks with schmancy chairs, set out facing each other, in a wide workspace, ripe for throwing around ideas and the wads of paper they’re written on. For sure, it felt more NewsRadio than The Office.

Taped to one shelf was a happy card, presumably culled from some happy package, that read something like, Here is Spain music. I hope you enjoy. Ultimately, that’s the thing that made me admire the joint: From the back issues to the CDs, the place seemed designed around the appreciation of people’s work. The picture of Thom Yorke on the wall says they’re proud of their work. The little card from Spain says the same thing. It’s about doing something worthy of other people’s joy.

Or maybe not. To be clear, I’m romanticizing somebody else’s job, as we do, and I know it. But the offices made it easy to do, and I hope it helps the folks at Paste romanticize their own jobs.

Ultimately, though, the big eye-opener for me wasn’t the Paste offices but a revelation I had at the Paste website: Paste‘s digital edition. It’s the whole magazine, hyperlinked and free, online. The idea being, I guess, that the CD alone is worth the price of the mag so we get to have the rest for free. Or maybe it’s just the give-it-away-and-they’ll-pay-if-they-like-it Internet-marketing philosophy in action. Whatever. The magazine’s there for you if you want it.

If you’re like me, you buy it often at the newsstand and, knowing as you do how little newsstand sales actually help a magazine’s bottom line, you should just subscribe to the damn thing. So, actually, you know what? Hang on a second, I’m going to go subscribe right now… there. Done. I feel better.

The Coffee Circuit #1

I’m a migratory creature, a rootless caffeinéaste, a wandering beanophile. I go from coffee shop to coffee shop, sipping the wares and moving along again. I thought I’d found a place to settle down a few times, but every time I’ve been wrong. Before long, I’m off to another exotic island in the archipelago of java joints.

Without pretending that I’m a regular anywhere, that I have any true favorite coffee shop, I’ll pop in here every now and again to spotlight some coffee shops that I visit now and again, and to touch base with you, dear reader, to see what you like and where you’re getting face-time with joe. What are you drinking? And where?

Lately, I’ve been visiting a couple of San Fransisco Coffee joints here in town. The one on Highland, south of Ponce, is the one I usually hit. The new location, out in Candler Park, is staffed with happy baristas, but still has some new-building sealant-like smell that’s throwing me off. They both have talented bar staff and winning pastry cases, though, as you might expect if you’ve ever been in a San Francisco Coffee shop.

It used to be that San Francisco was my place for mochas. They make them with cinnamon over there—what some places call a Mexican mocha. They’re rich, almost too rich, and fantastic. But what’s got me schlepping back out to San Francisco lately is, of all things, the cranberry-oatmeal scone. Say what you will, but since I had one I’ve wanted ten more. I’ll just be minding my own business, sleeping in bed, when my mouth says, “Hey, wake up. Remember that oatmeal scone? Get us one of those for breakfast again.” And what can I do? I can’t talk back — it’s my mouth. I do what I’m told.

Sometime soon, I’m going to check out the new-ish Danneman’s Coffee, on the corner of Boulevard and Edgewood, where Javaology used to be. Been in there already? Do tell.

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