26 February 2011

The urban corner bistro is kinda weird, right?

I have never understood the corner bistro phenomenon.  It’s basically a cafeteria with nice lighting and OK food, right?  And even though the food looks pretty good, it’s always a little more dried out, or a little less flavorful, than you expect it to be from the view through the glass case.  So you schlep up to the counter--sometimes with an ACTUAL TRAY!-- and point to things that have been sitting under glass since they opened at 6am.  One person in a snappy little Land’s End-ish outfit takes your food and puts it in the microwave back in the “kitchen”/ staging area, and another one in matching snappy outfit takes your money.  When you get your food it’s not quite warm enough, not quite interesting enough, and thanks to the high rent they’re paying on that sweet corner space on a busy street, it’s definitely overpriced.

I’ll tell you why we go--it looks like the clean, bright, bustling city in our minds.  It’s the city scene from the movies, an optimistic, happy version of Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nighthawks   It’s like Starbucks on crack--scenic placement, beautiful furniture, languid pop music that would be vanilla if it had a flavor, and they serve actual meals.  Well, sandwiches, anyway.  It’s nice in there--no homeless people pushing carts around, no dirt and grime building up underneath your fingernails as you sit, and you feel like a sophisticated person framed by a picture window for all the passersby to see.  But the food kind of sucks.  I mean, it’s not terrible, but it’s not fun to eat.

The corner bistro does serve a useful purpose (besides playing Queen Yuppie in the movie in your mind).  Their coffee tends to be quite good.  Sometimes the baked goods are also fine, but be careful of the dryness factor.  They sit around on display all day, so choose carefully.  But a cereal bowlful of latte with a cute little pattern drawn into your foam--while looking smart, while listening to the moody, of-the-moment tunes, while sitting under the most adorable Murano glass pendant lamps you’ve ever seen--can be a nice respite in a day otherwise filled with avoiding the loogies the dude in front of you keeps spitting on the sidewalk on a gray February morning.

A few that are OK:

The Corner Bakery in Chicago
Yes, it’s a chain, but they’re OK.  I like the one at 224 South Michigan Avenue across from Millennium Park. (Really, my favorite place to get coffee AND great grub  is Yolk)

The Deli in the Alley in Columbus, OH, 72 East Lynn Street
Don’t pretend you’re not planning a trip to Columbus, Ohio soon--everyone is!

Mangiamo Pronto!  You look sexier in here.
Mangiamo Pronto! in Denver, 1601 17th Street
The coffee is great, and the pizzas are not bad.  The sandwiches are (bad, that is).

Gourmet LA Bakery in Los Angeles, 548 South Broadway Avenue
I love loving this place--family-owned; beautiful, handmade traditional Mexican pastries; and good strong coffee.
Aaw, isn't the cuuuuute?

Lyrik in Portland, 2039 SE 39th Ave
Bonus: they are sufficiently grungy to fulfill all of your Portland dreams without being bitchy if you took a shower before showing up.  Happy hour with booze, too.

Espresso Vivace in Seattle, 227 Yale Avenue North
They kinda love themselves, but the coffee sure is good.  Really good.

Join in, people! What are your favorite haunts?