Feeding your wanderlust at Costello’s Travel Caffe

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If the idea of yet-another staycation’s got you down, here is one idea for getting away that won’t break the bank: Costello’s Travel Caffe in Northeast Portland. Whereas Portland’s micro-roasters and independent cafes are creating their own Northwest, artisan coffeehouse culture, Costello’s takes its cues from old Europe, invoking the scenes, the sounds, the languages and even the sports of other timezones and places. Although the name and menu are Italian-inspired, Costello’s spans the continent — and sometimes the world, too. Inside, antique lamp and dim lighting and heavy, dark wooden furniture almost give the feeling of a turn-of-the-century Viennese coffeehouse.

Notes on Costello’s Travel Caffe…

Where: Family-run Costello’s is located at 2222 NE Broadway on a happening little block of the busy street. Nestled between neighbors Eyes on Broadway and Chez Jose East, Costello’s brightens the bustling sidewalk with silver-metal patio furniture and umbrellas.

Coffee: True to its Italian roots, Costello’s serves the Italian espresso-style Umbria brand from Seattle. I’ve always considered Umbria to be a fine-restaurant-quality coffee, with a mild and decent flavor, but nothing too out there. Paired with one of Costello’s home-made pastries, it works just fine.

Cool stuff: Daily travelogue videos from cities around the world, but mostly Europe, play in a continuous loop on two, large flat-screen displays, mesmerizing cafe-goers with quaint street scenes and stirring memories of years-ago Eurrail trips across the continent. Three or four cities are featured each day, as noted on a small chalkboard. Another chalkboard (and the cafe’s events page on its website) announces schedules of foreign language conversation groups, evening showings of foreign movies and international sporting events, like the 2010 World Cup soccer championships, where spectators gather to cheer their favorite teams with fellow fans. We’ve always enjoyed Costello’s for a snack of toasted bagel, grilled cheese panini or green salad, but anyone with an aversion to carbs may find the fare a bit on the starchy side.

Not so cool: Being shushed by fellow patrons, as I and my friend Greg were when we met to catch up and found ourselves chatting amidst a group of people who had gathered to watch an old Ingmar Bergman movie.

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Where do all the coffee cups go?

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Flash-back to Father’s Day 2010…my significant other opened his gift to find…a coffee cup. But it wasn’t just any coffee cup. This one looked like a disposable, white paper coffee cup, like the kind you find at pretty much every coffee shop, chain or independent, in Portland. Yet, upon closer look, you’ll see that it’s ceramic with a rubbery lid designed to look like a disposable plastic lid. A few cafes and boutiquey stores sell them these days, including Ristretto Roasters, and most coffee shops will take 10 or more cents off your order if you use your own cup.

Flash-forward to end of 2010, and said hubby and coffee drinker estimates he saved approximately 120 paper cups using his look-alike container. Apparently, that’s 120 saved vs the 23 billion coffee cups that were thrown away in 2010, according to this rather sobering, yet colorful, chalkboard message at the Starbucks on SE Hawthorne (which I snapped over the holidays while running in to cash in a gift card to buy a sandwich for my kid). If you want to know more about what Starbucks is or isn’t doing to solve the diposable cup dilemma, I recommend this excellent, mind-numbing feature from November’s Fast Company.

My favorite reusable cup story actually happened a couple years ago on a business trip to Seattle. On my way back to Portland, I stopped at Caffe Vita, a really nice-tasting coffee out of Seattle, at their downtown Olympia store. The dread-locked guy in front of me handed the barista his glass Mason canning jar and ordered a coffee to go, while the business-woman behind me muttered, “Only in Olympia.” Or Portlandia.

“Portlandia” pokes fun at all things Portland

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“Portlandia,” the six-part mockumentary of our quirky city is yet a mere month away from debuting on cable (Jan. 21, 2011), and the PR is heating up. Portlanders are talking, anxiously awaiting — and already laughing — about the show by Carrie Brownstein, former Sleater-Kinney guitarist (and one-time trainer to my dog at Happy Go Lucky — I’ve got her autograph on my dog’s certificate to prove it), and SNL’s Fred Armisen.

Of course, if you’re making fun of Portland, you can’t let a joke about coffee go by. In the Portlandia trailer/music video on IFC, the cast sing and talk about Portland, where “young people go to retire” and “work at a coffee shop a couple hours a week,” “tattoo ink never runs dry” and “hot girls wear glasses.” OregonLive.com reported in early December that to promote the show, potential reviewers were sent bags of Stumptown Hair Bender as pre-show swag and symbol of this town.

A summary of the six episodes online doesn’t appear to involve any local cafes. But if Brownstein and Armisen continue their Portlandia creative endeavor, here’s hoping a future episode might take place in one of our many great Portlandia-esque cafes, such as Stumptown on Belmont, Fresh Pot on Mississippi or Random Order on Alberta.

Supporting Portland’s artisan economy this holiday season

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I had to run into the local Whole Foods store on NE 15th
and Fremont last week, and while it’s not a locally owned store, I
have to say, it was pretty impressive to see a whole shelf
dedicated almost exclusively to locally roasted coffee. There were
a number of my faves, like Ristretto, TrailheadCellar Door, and Portland
Roasting
. They even had Allan Brothers from down the I-5 corridor, a blast from my college days past.And  there were also some new names I’d love to try — like Lone Pine Coffee out of Bend and Water Avenue Coffee right here in Portland.

If you want to support Portland’s artisan economy, and particularly our burgeoning coffee roasting community, check it out this season. New Seasons has a similar, though not as comprehensive, offering.

In fact, two of our larger independent roasters made it into Charles Heying’s recently released book, “Brew to Bikes: Portland’s Artisan Economy,” which features a number of local artisan businesses, from coffee and chocolate to beer and bikes.

Trailhead Coffee and Warehouse Cafe focus on community

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A few months ago, a friend encouraged us to get involved with Know Thy Food, a local food-buying coop that brings Portlanders together with local farmers and food producers. We did, and soon after that, found out local Portland roaster Trailhead Coffee had joined the program. What better way to feel good about your part in the community than to buy local, and get some killer, locally roasted coffee beans at a great price?

What’s more, the folks at Know Thy Food (and Portland Green Parenting…the group behind Know Thy Food) opened the Warehouse Cafe in the Southeast Portland Brooklyn neighborhood, where locals can gather for food, coffee and community.

Notes on the Warehouse Cafe…

Where: Located at 3434 SE Milwaukie Ave., just a couple blocks up from the Aladdin Theater, the Warehouse Cafe is more than a cafe. They’ve turned an old strip-mall space into a multi-room community center with cafe, classroom and children’s consignment shop, with a warehouse behind it all for the food-buying piece of the operation.

Coffee: There are actually four different coffees available through the various parts of the endeavor. The Warehouse Cafe brews up Stumptown and Trailhead, and the crew at the cafe has been well-trained in the art of barista-ing. Know Thy Food sells Cafe Mam (from Eugene) and Trailhead beans in their weekly bulk-buying business. But, this post is going to focus on Trailhead, since it’s my new coffee crush.

I had heard some buzz about Trailhead on Twitter, where they won the YWCA’s Coffee for a Cause tasting contest in October. And I’d seen their handsome, wooden cargo bike/mobile coffee-stand at the Sunday Parkways car-free biking events. So, when I saw that I could buy a pound of Trailhead espresso every week through Know Thy Food, I jumped at the chance to taste their coffee, and we haven’t been disappointed. Trailhead is tangy with a pleasant-tasting bite, and it brews up nicely in our stovetop espresso maker. The folks at Trailhead describe their small-batch roasting method on their website, as well as the source of their beans — Cafe Feminino, a social program for women coffee producers in rural communities around the world. Love this! Trailhead is in a handful of cafes around town, stores like Whole Foods and New Seasons and delivers by bike through Portland Pedal Power. It doesn’t get more Portland than this.

Cool stuff: Lots of family/kid-friendly events and activities; strong sense of community; connecting local food producers with local foodies.

Not so cool: The cafe is, after all, a warehouse, so bring a jacket in the winter. Milwaukie is a busy street and kind of a pain to navigate for those of us who drive (hats off to all the food-buying friends who come by bike or live in the neighborhood).

Care for some coffee with your veggies?

Ristretto Roasters takes hand-crafted coffee to a new level

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One of the many things I found fascinating about the Stieg Larsson trilogy of books was the amount of coffee the Swedish protagonists drank. Especially in the first book, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. It seemed like every late-night scene or suspenseful turn had Michael Blomkvist or Lisbet Salander brewing up — and drinking (usually by themselves) — a pot of coffee at 11 p.m. in some Swedish-modern apartment or cottage. Which, in a rather off-hand way, leads me to Portland’s Ristretto Roasters in NE Portland.

Before I ever got sucked into the heart-racing Swedish books, a visit to Ristretto’s mini location in Beaumont on a cold, rainy day has always felt like an escape to some Scandinavian-inspired urban coffeehouse. Lucky for Portlanders, Ristretto is our own little Northwest gem, and you don’t have to book a flight to Stockholm to enjoy it.

Notes on Ristretto Roasters…

Locaton: Ristretto has two NE Portland locations, but this post focuses on my neighborhood shop, a bedroom-sized cafe at 3520 NE 42nd. The other location is in the burgeoning bike-commuter district of North Williams at 3808 N. Williams. Ristretto on NE 42nd is open from 6 to 6 M-F with slightly different hours on the weekend.

Coffee: I wish I knew more about the craft of coffee roasting and could wax poetic on Ristretto’s stellar method. I can’t. But if tastebuds count for anything, mine keep telling me Ristretto is the best-tasting, smoothest hand-crafted coffee in Portland. Even my kid begs for sips.We regularly drink the Beaumont Blend and Cowboy Blend, but also enjoy trying some of the more exotically named roasts.

Cool stuff: The incredible coffee, of course. But also, lovely mid-century-modern decor, lighting and wood accents; seriously great people; always-fresh art; very orange outdoor furniture; and recently added Good to the Grain whole-grain baked wares by baker Kim Boyce.

Not so cool: Watch out. These beans can quickly turn you into a coffee snob or monogamist.

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.

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