With its late hours (open until 3 AM on weekends), Halcyon is the quintessential coffee bar in downtown Austin, popular at any time, and stuffed to overflowing during South By Southwest. Its location near many of the music venues is part of the attraction, as is its menu, featuring everything from smores and other desserts to breakfast sandwiches and paninis. They play great music too, if you can hear it, but Halcyon is almost always crowded and always noisy, even at 2 AM. But that’s a lot of the fun, as you begin to realize that everybody had the same idea you did…to hit up Halcyon after the last showcases were over.
TOMS began life as a shoe company, making a modified kind of Argentinian shoe for the North American market, and giving a pair of shoes to needy kids abroad for every pair purchased. This “one for one” business model proved popular, and in 2011, the company expanded to eyewear, making eye care and glasses available to the needy. Now, they have expanded again into coffee, with beans imported from Rwanda, Guatemala, Peru and Malawi, making clean, pure water available in developing countries for every pound of beans purchased. The TOMS Roasting Company shop on South Congress Avenue had been closed on Wednesday, but fortunately, on Thursday it was open, and although the line was long, it moved rapidly. Not all the menu items were available, but I was able to try a latte, which was delicious. As it was South By Southwest, a live band was playing on the back patio.
TOMS Store and Cafe
1401 South Congress Ave
Austin, TX 78704
(512) 350-2115 http://www.toms.com
As I do every year, I spent the late afternoon and early evening strolling around the downtown area, Sixth Street and East Austin. The crowds are usually somewhat slimmer during the Interactive part of the festival, but there were still a lot of people on 6th. A & E Network had erected a complete replica of the Bates Motel near the Convention Center, and next door Samsung had erected a huge venue which unfortunately had already closed for the day. I finally made my way over to East Austin to enjoy a dinner at Via 313 Detroit-Style Pizza, which is just about the best pizza in Austin. Down on 5th, I came to the former Progress Coffee location, which has become Wright Brothers Brew & Brew, featuring both gourmet coffee and craft beers. While I was enjoying a breve there, I noticed that there was something called the Downtown NOLA Party at a venue called Lucky’s on West 5th. It was a bit of a walk, but I decided to head over there, as anything New Orleans always grabs my attention.
After my dinner at Acme Oyster Bar in Metairie, I headed across the street to something called the New Orleans Coffee & Beignet Company, which was just about to close but hadn’t closed yet. Having tried Morning Call and Cafe du Monde many times, I was eager to see what was different about this newer place, and I soon found it, in the form of a sign on the wall: “Home of the original Chocolate beignet.” Well, perhaps the only thing I like better than beignets is chocolate, so I had to try it. How was it? Decent. What was it? Basically some beignet dough to which had been added Hershey’s cocoa powder. Nothing all that fancy, but good nonetheless. So all in all I was pleased. The beignets are good, the cafe au lait was good, the parking is free. What didn’t I like? They close at 10 PM. If only they were open 24 hours a day!
New Orleans Coffee and Beignet Company
3005 Veterans Memorial Boulevard
Metairie, LA 70005
Since the sad demise of Mississippi’s venerable Be-Bop Records chain several years ago, the sole survivor as far as vinyl and indie rock has been Morning Bell Records, a vinyl-oriented store with a strong local selection that has operated in Fondren’s Duling Hall for the last couple of years. That space, while cool, was exceptionally small, and Morning Bell, like many of today’s better record stores, is a venue for live performance as well as retail music, so toward the end of 2013, it moved to new quarters on I-55 north just north of Northside Drive, not far from the old iconic Bebop Record Shop location. The new, roomier space has allowed for the addition of a cafe, which will feature coffee drinks, baked goods and panini sandwiches, and the larger room should be an asset when live concerts occur there. Other than the move, the bigger room and the addition of espresso drinks, nothing much has changed. Morning Bell is still as hip as ever, and demonstrated the point admirably by playing bluesman Leo Welch’s new album Sabougla Voices as I was walking in.
Morning Bell Records
4760 I-55 N Frontage Rd
Jackson, MS 39211
Atlanta’s Apache Cafe is well-known as a place for hip-hop, spoken word, art and avant-garde jazz, but what many people may not know is that it is also a place for exquisite homemade desserts and french-pressed coffees, and has a delicious food menu as well. I was especially impressed by the oreo cheesecake, which comes in two cupcake-shaped pieces stacked on top of each other and topped with freshly-whipped cream. Tuesday nights are open-mic, and tend toward hip-hop, but with the added attraction of live musicians backing up the performers.
Finding espresso and cappuccino has never been easy in the Mississippi Delta, but it is getting easier thanks to the opening of new coffee bars like Crave Bistro in Cleveland, Mississippi. As the name suggests, Crave is not only a coffee bar, but also a full restaurant open for breakfasts and lunches, and it also features a selection of sweets and desserts, including cupcakes. I tried a chocolate one, and found it irresistibly delicious, if a little messy (eating them in your car is NOT advised). Crave closes at 5 PM, so get there early!
I had neither heard of Hilda’s nor the Irwin Street Market before I read about them on Yelp, but I decided to go there for breakfast last Saturday, and I’m glad I did. Hilda’s is a little breakfast cafe inside the Irwin Street Market in Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward/Inman Park area, and it features a small menu of breakfast items which includes omelettes. Prices are reasonable, and the food and coffee are good. Besides Hilda’s, the market also includes a Mexican restaurant and Jake’s Ice Cream, which I didn’t try but which looked truly delectable.
On my walk from the sadly silent corner of Canal and Bourbon (where the city has silenced the brass bands) to Faubourg Marigny, I stopped off at the new Spitfire Coffee on Saint Peter Street, a place which is only a few months old. I was thrilled to see a “cortado” on the menu, which was, as I expected, the equivalent of a Cuban cortadito in Miami. Although Spitfire closes fairly early in the evening, it is exceptionally good coffee in the French Quarter.