Sunday, September 14, 2008

REVIEW: Mainstreet Coffee- ***1/2 / $

Not too long ago, East Greenwich's main drag was littered with empty store fronts, a few bars, and that was about it. Now it's littered with over-priced shops, cafes, restaurants, and thirty-something yuppies out to get laid as they cruise the street in their financed BMW's, Aston Martins, and Bentleys.

Depending on your perspective, that could be a downgrade. Regardless, route 1 through EG is now one of the nicer walks to be had in Rhode Island. Not as cramped and busy as Warren, not as subtly disgusting as Westerly, and not as smelly and pretentious as Thayer Street.

But what is one to do if one doesn't want to get busy drinking at 2:30 in the afternoon, while being hit on by old, weird men who never seem to leave? Thankfully, for you, there are a few cafes. For those who prefer a finely tuned mini-bohemia, Starbucks is available, which is acceptable as always, but why would you go and do something weird like that when one of RI's best cafes is right down the street in the form of Main Street Coffee.

On your way in, MainCoff is eminently welcoming. With a string of attractive tables, sidewalk art, and comfortable chairs all before you ever get in the door, you can tell this place was founded, and is run, with a degree of passion. The inside is 100% cafe. Wood, floral art, and lots of browns, reds, and blacks do not break any ground in the cafe aesthetic. This isn't a criticism, but more an observation because the interior is very nice. It's a bit cramped, but they make good use of what they have. The large windows running along the front of the building allow copious amounts of sunlight to wash over the room, and when opened during the summer it opens up the entire cafe. It all conspires to create an atmosphere that feels wide open even while being rather small.

An array of tables and chairs are wedged into the street-view area, near the door. The sitting area in the back, with some cushy couches, chairs, and (non-cushy)skylights, that provide the comfiest seats in the house. Still, especially during mid-summer, it's the street chairs I prefer. If you go through the small arches, you'll pass through to the second part of the cafe, which is a bar called the Toscana Lounge, replete with those aforementioned weird, old men. This area also sports lots of dark tones and projects a similarly upscale tone as the cafe area. Don't bother talking to the bartender. She's too busy deflecting come-ons from the weird, old men.

Their food selection is very good. I like their cakes, cookies, pastries, and muffins. Their selection of cakes borders on suicidal. I found too many of their varieties overly sweet. Good, old, chocolate cake is still good. I liked their muffins, very flavorful, moist, and crumbly. Some of their creamy desserts, like mousse, underwhelmed. They had that spongy texture and firmness that comes from pre-packaged mousses. A lemon pastry also tasted like a cleaning agent. These complaints aren't deal-breaking in the grand scheme of their menu, which is solid and supports their drinks well.

Oh, the drinks, but before we get to the coffee, I'll discuss the smoothies. As with a number of places that shall remain nameless... oh hell, I'll name them, as with places like Coffee Exchange, the smoothies, here, are made with juice, syrups, and ice. They do a decent job blending the ice till it's smooth, but that's not really a smoothie. That's a slushie. A smoothie usually has no ice in it. Just look at the Wikipedia entry for smoothie, FRESH FRUIT. I won't knock off any points for this because so many other places are guilty, but if you fancy yourself a smoothie gourmet, take a trip up the road a bit into Warwick and get a real, good, healthy smoothie from Fresh City.

With only a small amount of support food, MainCof doesn't deviate from the cafe model as does places like Brewed Awakenings or Three Sisters. The purpose of your trip is a drink. This puts a lot of focus on the drink because, if it sucks, there is nothing drawing you back. So often am I let down by the quality of the coffee, but here, thankfully, I am not. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I received the best latte I've ever gotten outside of Providence's cafes, here. The espresso was well-pulled, the milk was perfectly texturized and free-poured like a real barista should.

Then, sometime after that, I received an even better latte. So good, in fact, that it's one of the best I've ever gotten. It was made by the owner and was a milky masterpiece. First off, it's not the best latte I've ever had. That honor still goes to CofEx. The espresso wasn't the best roast, in my opinion. I prefer darker, more powerful roasts because they stand out better in a milky drink like a latte. It was a bit astringent on the tongue and was short on body. Flavor was good, some subtle nutty notes, but was otherwise not well-suited to a latte. I wonder if it was an African blend. For lattes, good, ol' fashioned Colombian is my favorite.

Still, like dust and memories, these criticisms are washed away when the espresso is capped with that clarion badge of a master barista, latte art. Not only is this the only latte art I've ever received in Rhode Island, it's some of the most defined, attractive art I've ever received. It may seem like a weird obsession, as the pour has nothing to do with how the drink tastes, but for me the time and care taken to make latte art is what tells me that I'm dealing with a real master of their craft. It says, in no uncertain terms, that the barista gives a crap. Before this, I would have said that CofEx and Blue State Coffee were RI's best, but CofEx and Main Street Coffee are now in a league all their own.

So why not four stars? On a more general level, I always receive quality drinks. The very worst I have ever received is as good as any Starbucks. Cappuccinos are topped with dense, silky foam. And mochas sport attractive swirls of chocolate syrup on top. Unfortunately, CofEx has every one of their baristi perfectly trained, and MainCof doesn't. Being only as good as Starbucks doesn't compete with a place where the espresso is always better. Granted, this criticism also applies to Pastiche, Blue State, and Caffe Bon Ami, so Main Street Coffee is in some good company.

Sooooo, yes. Excellent atmosphere and decor, combined with a solid menu and very good coffee and espresso, allows Mainstreet Coffee to overcome its few mistakes. And while I was impressed with my earlier latte, the caffeinated masterpiece that followed really pushed them over the top. It's East Greenwich's best cafe, and one of the best cafes in the state. In this writer's humble opinion, if you are in the area and don't stop by for a drink, you're just plain dumb.

Mainstreet Coffee: ***1/2 (The web address is on their business cards, but the link is dead. I'm not sure what's going on, there.

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137 Main Street
East Greenwich, RI. 02818

Monday through Thursday 6:00am to 10:00pm
Friday & Saturday 6:00am to 12:00am
Sunday 7:30am to 10:00pm