Friday, February 8, 2008

REVIEW: Jitters Cafe- *** / $$

I realized that cafes do not fit well into my pricing scheme for restaurants... because they are not restaurants. I will implement the same scheme of one to five dollar signs, but instead the prices will represent drinks for two in two-dollar increments.

Jitters Cafe has been a fixture on North Kingstown coffee landscape for over a decade. Jitters location is sort of genius, actually, situated three minutes from the local, large, high school. And if there's a market that wants caffeine, it's teenagers. This becomes painfully... painfully obvious at right about 7am and 2pm, when seemingly the whole of North Kingstown's 16 to 18-year-old population stops in for a hit. I do not think I can stress enough to not go at those times.

Regardless of the teenage infestation (I've heard they've laid down traps) Jitters satisfies. It's nothing terribly special, but the only other local choices are 9,422 Dunkin' Donutses (Donuts, Donodes, Donuts'?), Gatherings Cafe, and Updike's Newtowne. And depending on your direction, the other two cafes may not be an option. And as far as your morning needs, Jitters will not disappoint.

The inside is very small, with a few tables pressed against the walls as a seemingly token effort to be more than pure take-out. The location does nothing to help them. A large, barren parking lot with no real structure, parking lines, or landscaping, all situated next to a large, industrial... something. The building is nice enough and the inside is decorated in a suitably large number of local gewgaws to remind you how quaint they are.

Most of your vision is taken up with a variety of goods, including a large selection of bagels and muffins, all of which are very good. If you hate bagels and muffins, you communist, they also have a selection of tasties like brownies, fudge, and cookies, and a selection of sandwiches. Pretty much all of this is good, and as far as the competition goes, no one matches Jitters in selection and quality. Their multi-berry muffin, with cran, rasp, and blue-type berries, is a personal favorite.

Now, it seems like this place is shaping up to be a four-star cafe, and if the food was all they served, it may very well be, but we run into some trouble with the coffee. To be short, their drip coffee is sometimes downright crappy, not in a Ohh, this Ethiopian roast is so much lighter than that plebeian Columbian, but in a this-coffee-is-burnt kind of way. And their espresso coffee can vary in quality from excellent, to sub-standard. I've had milk foam that looked like it had been steamed with a hair dryer, and if you value your teeth, be leery of asking for your latte or cappuccino to be sweetened.

It seems to depend on who makes your drink and who's brewing the coffee. Really, I don't find this surprising. Jitters is staffed almost exclusively by teenage girls from the community. I can only imagine what Jitters morning rush is like, so many of them probably hate you, and how well can a 17-year-old girl be trained in the fine art of espresso? It is an art. I've met people who have been making it for years and still say that they could do better. Crafting espresso drinks are not something to be handed over to the poorly trained. Foaming milk is difficult!

Starbucks may hire just about anyone, but much of the difficult stuff is handled automatically by $15,000 machines. A place like this can't afford the hiring practices of Starbucks. They need to be more discerning. I suspect that they aren't this way in light of the varying quality of the drinks I've had. That isn't to say that they don't have some skilled baristas, because I had an excellent latte one day, only to get one that was weak, cloying, and nuclear hot, the next.

If I had wanted sweetened milk, I would have asked for it, and the ideal espresso temperature is 150 degrees, give or take a few. I know the machine monitors the temperature of the shot, so the difference was in the milk, which means it was horribly over-steamed. It wasn't scalded, yet, but they were dancing dangerously close.

Now that I'm done ripping them a new one, I'll go back to say that Jitters is NOT bad. In fact, Jitters is a fine cafe with a few caveats that may be explained by either employees or even the clientèle. For example, the super-sweet latte I received may be associated with the teenage customers who bombard Jitters twice a day. The temperature may be for those who grab their coffee and run, having little time to drink it until later, thus providing good cool-down time. The burnt coffee... ok, well, that's bad no matter how you look at it.

Jitters is a winner with its large selection of bagels, muffins, and goodies. And if you take some precautions, you're going to get good coffee and espresso, too. Ask when the coffee was brewed, if they don't know, get an espresso. If you get an espresso, ask to add the sweetener yourself. And after getting it, test it with your finger so you don't require a tongue transplant. Jitters is not the finely tuned gourmet experience in coffee that you can get at Coffee Exchange, or the nearby Updike's Newtowne, but it's an excellent place for a morning routine.

Jitters Cafe: ***
Price range for two: $5-$10

View Larger Map
(The Google map is woefully inaccurate. The location is north of the arrow.

530 Tower Hill Rd
North Kingstown, RI 02852

Monday through Friday 6:00am to 5:00pm
Saturday 8:00am to 3:00pm

No comments: