There are several local coffee roasters in town. Handlebar is the most recent to join the scene and have become a top pick for locally roasted and lovingly prepared artisan coffee. You know, the new age of cafes with hyper-perfected beverages and latte art.
The roaster and cafe also has a serious cycling vibe. With the name like Handlebar, would you expect anything else? Moustaches, perhaps? There can be both.
I love that the spot shares an outdoor seating area with the sandwich deli next door. Once you start looking, you will see a boundary between the two shops defined by the different tables and chairs, but nobody has ever given me fuss for sitting on the deli side with a cappuccino, or sitting on the cafe side with a sandwich. And what a cappuccino it is!
Is this not a beautiful beverage, worthy of some adoring gazes and happy sighs before sprinkling on a little sugar? My confession is that it’s a decaf cappuccino and the folks at Handlebar didn’t even laugh at me or refuse service because of my request. Yes, I KNOW decaf gets some unapproving looks at many cafes. But whatevs, I’m sensitive to caffeine. My point is that they make beautiful drinks. I was here with some good food friends, we sat outside for an after-lunch coffee, had a proper catch-up, and made plans for the next adventure.
This location has long been a prime spot for the assorted state street café loungers, I certainly was one of them back in my surly goth high school days which was a helluva long time ago. Regardless of the name of the café, or the management, there was always, *always*, an assortment of beatnik folks idly sitting out front, all day, every day. A writer, or independently wealthy, or disenchanted youth? Probably all the above and then there’s the guy sitting next to him.
Again, my long-held bias about all the cafes that resided here in the past held me back from even peering into the pastry case. I’m so glad I finally looked. Exquisite looking lemon tarts ($4 ea), brown butter almond shortbread, perfect little palmiers ($1 ea), stuff I used to buy as small treats in Europe. Most recently I had an apricot puff pastry thingie, and to my delight there was a layer of almond cream filling hidden in there.
Santa Barbara’s coffeehouse scene is definitely improving. There are several other places I happily give business to, and each has its unique perks. Hipster artisanal vibe is at one, locally roasted is at another. Open Cup has a worldly international feel to it to its product while still retaining its rough edges that come with its proximity to de la Guerra plaza and the peanut gallery of gutter punks outside. Turns out, they’re mostly harmless and more concerned about their crossword puzzles than giving me any hassle. You want European coffee and a little pastry that’s so perfect it hurts, and without leaving Santa Barbara? This is the place. And if the owner is around and you want to talk food, he might be down to join the conversation. This is how a good hour of mine disappeared over summer solstice weekend.
We conclude a pleasant afternoon of brunch with friends, a walk through the Museum of Art, running into more friends at the French Press. Amazing what you can do even when it’s pouring rain out, just grab a brolly and a good jacket and you’re good to go. Just warm afterwards.
Our warm up potions were a cafe latte, and a cafe au lait.
The French Press
Offsite with the business ladies today. Our first rendezvous was at the French Press. I arrived first and had a lovely cappuccino.
Best espresso in town.
The French Press
It’s a remote work afternoon, and the other gals and I met up at Muddy Waters Cafe, as it was a good place for 3+ people to work, it had free wifi and Rebecca was really missing the tuna sandwiches from there.
Left: tuna sandwich on wheat bread with a side of tortilla chips.
I got the toast and avocado, I think it was a great deal.
We whiled away some free time in Silverlake. An attempt to visit the spice shop was fail, turns out it’s closed on Tuesdays.
Finding a place with wifi was also a blocker. Most of the places that advertised it, either their wifi was broken or we simply could not get it to work. Oh well. We had gelato and espresso instead.
Pazzo Gelato (Silverlake)
We had it on good authority from one of T’s friends that the best espresso and gelato to be had in Vegas came from the Bellagio Hotel and Casino. Somewhere on the ground floor. Jean-Philippe’s seemed to fit the description, although we were not able to confirm it right at the time. Still, it was on the ground floor, it had espresso and it had gelato. We gave it a try.
The espresso was good. It was not amazing. Maybe it’s the best in Vegas, but I have had better espresso elsewhere. What wasn’t good was their flan. It was an impulse purchase and wholly regretted. It was dry and tasted stale, we threw most of it away.
But the gelato, now that was good! Worth the visit. We had a mixed cup, of chocolate and dulce de leche. Yum!
And do you know what else was amazing? Jean-Phillipe’s is home to the biggest chocolate fountain in the world!
That’s right. The biggest chocolate fountain in the world. It goes over your head. It’s funny, at standing height you initially walk past the display, thinking it’s some static show of platters of gooey chocolate behind glass. Then you realize it’s moving. Then you realize there’s a damn hell a lot of chocolate moving around on these platters and you wonder where it’s all coming from. So you look up. THEN you realize the chocolate is pouring down from the ceiling above you and you’ve been standing underneath this incredible cascading display of dark, milk and white chocolate flowing through runnels and platters and you’re like WHAAAAAAAAT???! It’s rad.
Photos by Ted Mills.
I’d been hearing good things about this cafe, and was finally able to stop in during First Thursday. It was also paired with the kick-off to EpicureSB, a month-long food and wine event spotlighting local restaurant and food businesses.
The French Press offered tastings of organic fair trade chocolate, and coffee tastings. I’ve done chocolate tastings before and enjoy trying the different percentages of cocoa solids in the chocolate, and saw a number of other people tasting chocolate properly for the first time. It was great to see their education and appreciation of chocolate improve right there.
For the coffee tasting, we got to try the same roasted bean, prepared three different ways:
1. Cold filtered, like the Toddy coffee maker.
I am not a coffee extremist so the extent the French Press goes to producing a perfect cup might not be as significant as it could be. BUT, I admire the attention to detail and wholly support local business. And all y’all coffee purists can finally sigh happily.
This is currently my top pick for the best espresso in town.
Note: photo by Ted Mills
The French Press
I apologize for ordering the last of the profiteroles that evening.
The waiter played a joke of me when he went back into the kitchen to see if any were left. He returned with a disappointed look on his face, making me THINK they were all gone that evening. But there was one order left! And I got it.
I heard a table of men trying to order it. They did not succeed.
Two choux pastries split and filled with vanilla ice cream. Then drizzled with chocolate sauce and served in a bowl of whipped cream.
I apologize for getting the last profiteroles. But I am not sorry.
We also ordered a decaf espresso. And the Lemon Squeeze, a sweet crepe with sugar and lemon juice. Mmm.