Three Friends Coffeehouse, where two out of three ain’t bad

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What are the key ingredients to a good coffeehouse experience? Some might say, the coffee. Others might say, the baristas. Still, others might say, the coffeehouse itself. Maybe it’s all three. Which, if you want to stick with the rule of three’s, makes Three Friends Coffeehouse and Cafe something of an anomaly.

There is a buzz about Three Friends every time I’ve ever stopped by, maybe because it’s one of the few coffee shops in the SE Portland Buckman neighborhood and looks so inviting with its old-store, corner building and outside seating. Three Friends has friendly staff, loyal customers and the coffee is really good. But the mish-mash of extremely worn furniture, scuffed up floors and crazy colors (two different solids on one wall, sponge-paint purple mottled look on the opposite wall) leave me feeling like I’ve stepped into a fraternity house living room from the 1980s or a cluttered second-hand store on Hawthorne. If Three Friends are open to a little friendly advice: give your patrons that coffeehouse trifecta with some fresh paint and de-cluttering.

Notes on Three Friends…

Location: You can’t miss Three Friends (201 SE 12th) if you’re driving up SE 12th (at Ash) in Portland. The building, one of the only things happening on the block, pulls you in.

Coffee: Three Friends is yet another Stumptown shop and brews it up very nicely. Flavorful and never burnt. A long wooden counter, reminiscent of the drugstore soda counter it probably once was, displays large, glass jars of loose-leaf tea from Lindsay’s of San Francisco. Tea is another beverage to enjoy at Three Friends.

Cool stuff: Rumor has it that Gus Van Sant used to hang out here and write; racks of poetry for everyone to share; tall windows that let the sunshine in; interesting artwork that changes monthly on the walls; plenty of loyal customers; regular art and music events (Show and Tell Gallery, Caffeinated Art, Poetry Open Mike, etc.).

Not so cool: Scuzzy furniture. You’re better off sitting on the bar stools looking out the window or going out to the tables on the sidewalk. Last visit found the poetry shelves woefully empty.

Where else but Portland? Yoga for Baristas

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You know Portland’s a coffee town when there’s a class called Yoga for Baristas. I saw the flyer the other day at Ristretto Roasters on N. Williams. Conveniently offered a couple doors down at the Yoga Shala of Portland studio, the class is open to anyone — but especially apropos for “baristas” and “restaurant people” who stand all day and work with their upper bodies and arms/wrists. More information at www.yogashalapdx.com or the side doodles of this blog.

According to the flyer, Lita, the teacher of Yoga for Baristas (and Restaurant People), is offering the class because she likes the people who make food and coffee in Portland.

Random Order’s got attitude (and pie)

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I heart Random Order coffeehouse. I do. And here’s why. This is a coffeehouse with attitude, and it makes me laugh.

From anatomically correct sock monkeys that used to be perched on the shelf to corned bread muffins with jalapenos and bacon to the fact that you can bring a dog into the coffeehouse – as long as its little paws are not touching the floor, which would be some kind of violation. When the NY Times did a feature on how design saved this NE Portland street, it was the photo of Random Order’s brick, cornerside facade that was the poster child of funky Alberta. And, of course, there’s the pie. There are so many things to like about Random Order that coffee is lower down the list than most places we frequent.

Notes on Random Order…

Location: Random Order is at 1800 NE Alberta in the heart of the electic Alberta Arts district. Rain or shine, morning or night, this is the corner where the neighborhood gathers.

Coffee: Stumptown is the coffee served at Random Order, and they serve it strong and on the bitter side. I personally prefer a milder, Italian Roast style, but that doesn’t stop me from swilling the coffee at Random Order. It just goes down better with pie.

Cool stuff: Pie, pie and pie. I didn’t even know I liked pie so much until I had a piece at Random Order. Buttery crust, local organic flour and fruit. It’s become our staple at birthday parties, Thanksgiving and the occasional skipped dinner in favor of pie and coffee. It’s also cool that Random Order is a supporter of the Portland Fruit Tree Project, a great non-profit that harvests and shares urban fruit among the community. Other cool stuff: Random Order is obviously a beloved coffeehouse in the neighborhood. It is always buzzing with people, babies and dogs. In addition to pie, the coffeehouse offers an array of other delicious baked goods, from panini with arugula leaves and dry salami to muffins filled with local berries. And they serve cocktails, too.

Not so cool: The fact that when we discovered Random Order about four years ago, I mistook their signature red ostrich logo as a rooster and called it (mainly to myself) the Red Rooster café. The mistaken identity came out when my husband and I were making plans to meet, and I kept saying let’s meet at the Red Rooster and he was like, where? Embarrassingly random.

Cartola brings old-world decor, new-world coffee to Irvington

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The Irvington neighborhood of NE Portland, known for its leafy-tree-lined streets and historic PDX homes, has a new-ish cafe that fits right in. Cartola, which opened in 2009, is housed in one side of a long, narrow brick building on NE 7th and Knott. With a wider-than-usual sidewalk in front that doubles as a patio with tables and chairs, the little cafe, like its Irvington neighbors, has charming curb appeal. Yet it’s what’s behind the cute little facade that is as unexpected as walking into the estate sale of an old lady from the neighborhood. High ceilings, marble tables, dark wood, red-velvet seats. Patrons add cream and sugar to their coffee on a heavy, marble-plated piece of furniture with a huge mirror.

My Euro hubby said Cartola reminded him a little bit of old-fashioned cafes back home. I paused and remembered parlor-like coffeehouses where old people drank black coffee and ate cake on velvet-covered chairs. But Cartola’s Old World decor mixes it up with funny, and surprising, touches like antique photos of serious-looking people hanging among the antlers, all on thick wallpaper.

Notes on Cartola…

Where: Cartola is nestled into a small retail complex at 2723 NE 7th and open from 7 am to 5 pm during the week and a little longer on weekends.

Coffee: Cartola is a Stumptown shop and does a beautiful job of merchandising Stumptown’s signature bags of beans around a fresh bouquet of flowers. Another blog post published shortly after Cartola opened reported the owners were looking for friendly baristas, and I have to say, they scored in that regard. Cartola baristas are nice and knowledgeable about their craft. My last visit to Cartola found one of my shots of Espresso perfectly hitting an ice cube in such a way that it cascaded out of the cup and onto the counter. The barista quickly pulled another to complete my drink and made a big deal of picking the very best Pearl Bakery cookie out of the tray for my kid. The coffee is strong and good.

Cool stuff: Cartola may be the new kid on the block, but its neighbors are long-established businesses such as a hair salon (in a long, narrow space that mirrors Cartola’s footprint), the Love Tabernacle and Knott Street Grocery. Like the quiet, stately houses of the neighborhood, Cartola has a quiet, stately ambience where coffee drinkers come to read, work on laptops or just drink coffee. The back of the house opens to yet another surprise: an enclosed wooden deck with corrugated metal roofing for outdoor seating and alcohol.

Not so cool: The antiquey feel and quiet nature of Cartola, while soothing to adults looking to dive into a good book with their favorite drink, is not super kid friendly. Even getting the best cookie out of the batch wasn’t enough to coax my little one to hang out and whisper on the velvet couch.