Posts from the ‘on the road’ Category

Birdie’s Bistro

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Birdie’s Bistro

3860 River Road N

Keizer, OR

Traveled down to Salem to experience hordes of tubas, sousaphones, French horns, euphoniums, and other pontificating or grunting—smooth as molasses—brass instruments. Time for a coffee shop afterwards! Because the theater had been so old and regal, built with balconies and staircases, art deco and gold gilding, columns and fancy sconces, we decided an “old-fashioned” coffee house was in order. Hence, Steam Heat was selected. This turned out to be non-existent, sold and renamed without telling Google, and had become Birdie’s Bistro. Not a quaint old place but a new glassy one, despite its original name suggesting clunky radiators. It was Birdie’s Bistro for us anyway, at least here in Keizer (just N of Salem proper).

The shop’s fireplace still radiated heat even though the gas was shut off, and couches for relaxing were adjacent to it, placed nicely upon a hooked rug. Plain tables filled the rest of the room, but the walls were brightened with bird drawings: line and silhouette-style. As in “Put a bird on it”. Talk about Portlandia creep! At least two pretend birdcages, with fake birdies inside, decorated the walls. A large patio outside with  metal tables (easily seen because of all the windows) might have been quite nice had it not been snarly December weather.

Fare: Good, but expensive.  Possibility of day-olds, but not this time. Although they were within minutes of closing before a major holiday, they had no intention of reducing the price of the baked-goods, not even of one delicious-looking, tempting, mouth-watering pecan roll, priced at nearly $4. Not even for Christmas!  Alas, my mission is to review coffee shops, not go broke patronizing them. Hence, I had no pastry. What I sometimes need is some kind of sponsor, or sugar-daddy.  My companion had a tasty hot chocolate for $2, I believe.

Service and clientele:  We were the sole clientele. Two workers were busily shutting down and chatting. Service was average. They needed to get home, and so did we.

Rating:  2.5-3.0 coffee beans (of 5 possible)

2 coffee beans


Volcano Vapor

Volcano Vapor Cafe & Lounge

122  Capitol Way N

Olympia,  WA



Decided to try something new:   a hybrid coffeeshop/electronic cigarette place.  Also sampled  demo cinnamon-flavored, nicotine-free e-smoke–most likely shaving years off my life–although I never did quite figure out just what it was.  Must say,  it was interesting to see [what looked like] smoke coming from my lungs again after some 3 decades. I immediately regretted my lapse of judgement:  purposely subjecting my body to some unknown potential carcinogen.   The locals stared at me, astonished; one guy told me it was for quitters, not beginners.  I quickly moved on to my tried-and-true coffee, chagrined.

The place was dark, with black,  deep red, and chrome used liberally in the color scheme. Tables were few in number, and each had a volcano-ey frosted candle on it.  A few booths, with vinyl covers, offered seating; we chose the counter stools facing the bright street, along the window.  Felt as though we were looking out of a den of iniquity.

Fare:  They offered a  variety of coffee drinks, hot cider,  and teas, which you could see and smell before ordering.  A modest supply of pastries, but no day-olds.

Service and clientele:  Workers were friendly and fair, tolerating me and my naivety.  Customers seemed to be regulars (As if addicted.  Does this mean I’ll be back? I doubt it).  The e-smoke section was by far the more popular section of the place. They do have WIFI, however, and did not blare raucus music, to their credit.

Bathroom:  Single room for either gender, with both a urinal and a booth toilet.

Rating: 1+  coffee bean (out of 5), due to atmosphere.

Los Bagels

Los Bagels

403  2nd Street

Eureka, CA

When you want a tasty (gastronomical or visual) treat in Humboldt County, the best place in Eureka to find it could be Oldtown. Buildings are quite ancient—ornamental and such—and many seem to relish in antique or bizarre décor. I located a bagel shop here for my coffee review, one that dated from the “good old days” of 1984, and one different enough to feature Dia de los Muertos at this time of year. The place has gingerbread on the structure, and old brick walls inside, seasonally decorated with skeleton art. Los Bagels, it is called. Why the South-of-the-border name for a Jewish product such as bagels? Intrigued, I looked up their website, and legend has it that three wandering Jewish friends—well, at least one was Jewish—found themselves marooned in Mexico, heaving bagels at a calaca, a large, armadillo-like critter, in order to placate it one night. The truth? Locals named them Los Bagels because of the story…and it stuck.  Now they serve Mexican bagels (along with many other types) and Mexican hot chocolate (yum!) and, in order to be eligible for one of my esteemed reviews, coffee, in several forms. To emphasize their multiculturality, they fondly refer to the waitstaff as bageleros. After all, Starbucks has its barristos, so the Los Bagels chain—which includes the first shop in Arcata and one at Humboldt State University—has bageleros.

Los Bagels has pleasant round-top windows to balance the heavy brick, and an abundance of colorful art. Tables  are simple round wood tables with metal bases and slatted chairs. High ceilings give it a good feeling of size, and it has  fans and some haunted-house chandeliers. but the place isn’t especially cozy or quaint. My interest was mostly held by the wall pictures, mural, and seasonal decorations (Dia de los Muertos). They have many items for sale and on display, including mugs, canvas bags (Frida designs and others), and a specialty product called Slug Slime (a popular onion-garlic-seed-seasoning mix). Right now, in October, they also sell some delightful handmade Mexican Dia de los Muertos calacas.  Mexican music improved the ambience.

Fare: I passed on the bagels and instead tried a lime corn cookie. Yum! Best thing yet in the pastry case, I’m sure! Unless it’s sticky buns or Pan de Muerto or . . . (I didn’t actually hone in on anything once I spied the lime corn cookies, but learned of the bread and sticky buns from their website. You can also go to that to see all the bagels). They use many local farm products, and locally-roasted coffee. My small drip coffee was average-priced and tasted fine. I feel as though I should return to sample the official bagels, but, no, I am a coffee reviewer.

Service and clientele: Customers ranged from travelers (us)-to an old-timer nursing his cup at a table-to a young mother with a shy little boy-to a single young man chatting happily with the crew. Saw no laptops; I asked about it and they reported that they do not have WIFI.  No problem with that!

Hours: 6:30-5 M-F; 7-5 Sat; 7-4 Sun

Rating: (eats: 5 of 5 sugarplums);  coffee house in general: 3 (of 5 coffee beans)

The Coffee House

The Coffee House

1324 P Street

Lincoln, NE

The Coffee House, despite its presumptive name, is a nice local place in Lincoln, NE, home of U of N. And it existed three years ago, when we wandered the streets like zombies, looking for life at 6 a.m., after an (honorable) ejection from the train at something like 4 a.m. They say those restaurants that survive the first 3 years have it made, cafe-wise, and this one survived. This time it was busy even though the university was between sessions, and I’m sure students are its bread and butter. Maybe this is The coffee house in Lincoln!

The old storefront is roomy and extends back just like a comfy cave. There is a kitchen in the back; that’s where they make their own goodies. Lots of tables, chairs, and softer seating–along with a weirdly-painted table or 2–fill the floorspaces. At a central counter they sell drinks, some munchies, and packages of coffee. Opposite stand some old cabinets which, I’m told, were brought up from Mississippi and are pre-Civil War. Now that’s old! There’s a lot to look at–from stained glass to artifacts–even though there was no “art show” on the walls when we visited (Apparently they normally feature local artists, whoever requests space for an informal showing). Some posters, brochures, and newsletters were laid out for the taking, and the bulletin board area has both pay phones and a pencil sharpener.  If only they’d add a dictionary…

Fare: a generous cup of coffee cost $1.35, and it comes in light, medium, or dark roast. Refills are 50c. The cookies looked scrumptious, but they cost a hefty $1.60, I believe.

Service and clientele: Students, mainly, and young, except for one table of older men. Maybe their profs, soaking up some youth culture? Several did computer work, and one table played some game such as Magic. The servers were chatty enough to tell me about the cabinets and their experiences drinking coffee in Portland. Take that, Seattle! No kids there, and no sign of kids, but I’ll bet one or two precocious ones sip cocoa there and converse with adults from time to time.

Bathrooms: Functional and fine, towards the back. One apiece for each gender.

Rating: A 4-coffee-bean hurrah (of 5) for its zest for life plus good coffee and space.

Coffee Heaven

Coffee Heaven
At the junction of Hwys. 199 & 46
Cave Junction, OR

…and the good angel gathered up all the coffee beans and blessed them, and they were gourmet. And she blessed the sod upon which the shop had arisen, and the place was heavenly. Yes, Coffee Heaven seems to be a pleasant little oasis in the blazing heat and rugged lifestyle in the town of Cave Junction, deep in the heart of mountainous southern Oregon,. A grace, period. Cave Junction is on the map mostly because of tourist cave-visiters, old SF hippies who fled the Haight-Ashbury when it became infested with druggies in the 70’s, some of the original survivalists and white supremicists, J 0ohnny-come-lately gold miners with fancy modern methods, artists, and out-of-work tree-choppers. Plus those born and raised there. Cave-men pad around between Cave Junction and Grant’s Pass, and it is not known whether they tow their women by the hair or club their enemies. There are burls to be bought and varmints to be shot; such is Cave Junction.

The coffee shop has a light, playful feel to it, partly because it is open-air. Polished wooden counters suggest a sense of care and permanency, however, which it has—it’s been around since 1992. There’s a hand-crafted, large wooden table under the shelter, and several shaded picnic tables out back. A wood swing and bench provide more outdoor seating, and their alcove is decorated by a mural and driftwood sculptures. The coffee house itself actually has a life-size angel sculpture on its roof, greeting the customers with a gentle smile. Reminded me a bit of the huge fly on the roof of a small building in the nearby town of O’Brien, except that angels are cleaner than flies. Could it be the cave men who place sculptures up on roofs in these parts?

Fare: The coffee shop bills itself as an “Espresso and Juice Bar”, and offers a large array of products (“gourmet beans” for sale) from house coffee ($1.50 and up, medium or dark) to huge bowls of ice cream ($3) to something called a “bee green” smoothie ($5.50), made of pineapple, mango, spinach, bee pollen, and hemp seeds (facts here are approximate…). Just think, right inside your body you can grow your own hemp and pollinate it, too, if you can stomach a bright green drink. Think I’d go for the ice cream—yum!—but I had already purchased a scone when I noticed it. The scone was OK, but the day was hot!

Service and Clientele: A single friendly woman took care of customers quite efficiently, calling several by name. She was isolated from the customers by being inside a room with a sliding window. Community events ranging from the occult to hoedowns were advertised on the filled-up bulletin boards, and a variety of customers included a long-skirted “hippie” woman counting $100 bills, a sassy hip woman with cowgirl boots and long woolen socks, 2 shaven-headed women apparently from a religious sect, an older man and wife straight out of American Gothic, and 2 guys in tie-dye who might have just crawled out of a cave with their sleeping bags, as unkempt as they were. Plus several less-colorful people, myself included.

Bathroom: Assuming the bathroom, not visible in the front room, would be around on the side or back, I opened up a supply storage room. I had to return to the front and wait inside to ask if they had one at all; I was told that they use the neighboring gas station’s bathroom (by contract with them). I reluctantly went over there (gas station restrooms usually are to be avoided if at all possible, due to sheer grossness at times), and found it well-supplied and clean enough to suit me. A sign would have been helpful.

Rating: 3+ (of 5 coffee beans) since it was really a little “spot of heaven” in the S Oregon mountains.

Java Joe’s

Java Joe’s
“down by the station”
Princeton, IL







Jump off the Zephyr that rolls from Chicago to San Francisco, and you may land in the small town of Princeton Illinois. Need some java? Mosey over to Java Joe’s, half a block from the train depot. If ever there was a startling mix of the old and the new, it is in this coffee shop. Nope, they don’t serve day-old coffee and stale biscuits. But the place! It used to be a rural/small-town hardware store, and if you squint enough to cut out the glare (of contemporary sale items), it still looks like the 1900’s. The original stamped-metal ceiling is intact, the nail storage bins and old boxes still grace the old wooden shelves, and the sliding ladders remain, still used, hanging from their tracks on the ceiling. The door, its layers of paint slathered on over the years, and probably the ceiling schoolhouse lights and fans as well, are original. A lovely stained-glass window lets in a modest amount of light, but new-fangled LED or Christmas lights brighten the roomful of merchandise. Zoom into the merchandise alone, and you’d think you were in Kitchen Kaboodles or Happy Chef or some other big-city specialty store, with lots you want but most of which you already have in older, less colorful or cleverly-presented versions (a scrub brush without the giraffe spots and tall neck with ears on it, for example). The satisfying thing about Java Joe’s—and its host shop Beetz Me—is that they didn’t gut the place when they brought in the new stuff: how nice it is to preserve old beauty! The sheer quantity of stuff for sale, along with the many “bric-a-brac” decorations, makes it seem a bit overdone, but, fortunately, the genuine antique structure holds its own and makes the place worth a visit, even if you’re short on souvenir spending money.

Fare:   My coffee was $1.75, and they served the typical coffee drinks, including lattes and mochas. Also, because it is nearly summer,  iced everything. And some sweets, including candies.

Service and clientele: Two women cared for the entire store, but the coffee section had a separate name. They spent most of the time I was in there chit-chatting with another customer, but I was served promptly. No one else was in the coffee section: to see more locals, maybe I should have come at 6 a.m. when the roosters wake the farmers! I believe the place really wants to attract the Chicago(ite) who has strayed from home, or the tourist traveling I-80 west (hence the mass of stuff for sale), though, not the practical farmer.

Rating: 2 (of 5 coffee beans). Fun for window shopping and history-viewing, but coffee aspect was run-of-the-mill.

Toadally Coffee
















Toadally Coffee

1120 Royvonne Av. SE

Salem, OR

If you can see it and get to it, Toadally Coffee is a fine place for a cup of coffee.  But most travelers would miss it, since it is away from the freeway, on a busy street, and up a steep hill, across from the Quik Mart (I sound like a Berenstain Bear author, don’t I ?). It appears to be an expanded drive-by kiosk, and it still offers car service and outside seating, with both umbrellas and the longest awnings ever—down to about 3’ from the ground! Add the plexiglas shielding, and you feel toadally covered and protected from the elements outside! But the inside seating is pleasant, too.  A big, fat toad greets you, and the small spot seems larger because of high cathedral ceilings. The building is new, mostly glass and metal, and  is painted lime-green, orange, and brown:  toad colors.

The toad theme is well-developed, although, I must say, some of those toads look a lot like frogs. Piles of napkins are held down by small weights on arced wire; these resemble frogs on lilypads. For sale are frog T-shirts, Toadally commuter mugs (Can a frog really hoist one of these while hopping high?), and stuffed toads, frogs, snakes, and other related creature-items. Amphibia pictures complete the look.

Fare: 8 oz. for $1—just right!—with refills at a reduced price. They also have something on the menu called a “froggante”….I declined to try it.

Service and Clientele: Two older men were talking over coffee, and a third came in to get his freebie 32-oz. shake of some sort. Seemed like he had milkshake to spare—get out your tongues, frogs!! The hours certainly are good: 7-6 M-F, but closing an hour earlier on weekends. Even coffee people need some time off…

Bathroom: I expected a chameleon changing table, but got just a clean, simple place adorned with more frog paraphernalia.

Rating: 4 (of 5) coffee beans, because it was true to its toad, and new but pleasant.