Saturday, March 14, 2009

A Quickview Triple Play

Oot and aboot in Providence, my soul needed some chicken soup of the caffeinated kind. I've been dying to try Tazza cafe on Westminster for a long time, and I threw in a couple of others into the adventure.

Brooklyn Coffee & Tea House

Situated on one of the loveliest stretches of Douglas Avenue in Providence, BC&T would be a good place to hide from that mugger. The exterior is a an absolutely (I'm being serious on this one) gorgeous turn-'o-the-century building. It was built in 1873 to serve as a grocery store for the local Irish population. I know this because it has a plaque on the side of the building explaining as such.

The aging wooden and brick front, red door, and aged yellow wood trim around the windows is old-world charm embodied. It's a really beautiful building because it's that kind of charm that architects, today, so desperately try to capture and only end up appearing either modern and retro-chic or just plain kitschy. The area around the back is equally gorgeous, with old trees, overgrown plants, and a loose-stone walkway.

Sadly, the cafe is not a standard cafe that you can visit at any time. It's become, as the owner describes it, a destination cafe. They have movie and music nights and show local productions and bands. If you are interested, stop by or call and ask for information. It's something I'll be making a trip to. I can't officially give this place a rating since I didn't get a chance to try any food.

Brooklyn Coffee & Tea House- N/A

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209 Douglas Ave
Providence, RI 02908

Tazza Cafe

On the Tazza website, they have a picture of latte art. I was both hopeful and cautious because they have a photo of latte art on the wall at Blue State Coffee which no one at the actual cafe can do. I was disappointed.

Not specifically with the gestalt of the cafe, but just the latte. I got no latte art and the milk was only adequately foamed. The espresso was of good quality. It was very dark, on par with Starbucks in the darkness department, which was initially a disappointment. As I proceeded through the drink, though, some complexity came out. A faint nuttiness combined with a bit of an acidic snap. So, in the end, the drink became acceptable. Nothing special, though. I think I was especially disappointed because my barista oozed style. He looked like a porn star from the 1970's. That's a compliment.

The interior of the cafe is very chic. The exterior is beautifully lit, and the inside is dominated by the large windows that make up the street-side walls. A large stage dominates one corner and the overall layout seems like it would make a pleasant place to listen to a band. The menu is extensive with a wide selection of dinner items, which are competitively priced, desserts are good-sounding if standard fare, and the breakfast/brunch selection sounds tasty.

I like the surroundings, the walkability of the neighboring shops, and Westminster in general. But therein lies one of the biggest problems. If you don't live nearby or take the bus, you're at the mercy of street parking or the expensive lots. Parking makes Tazza a restauranta non grata, for me. If the coffee was better or the food was more inventive, it might overcome what I see as a significant knock, but it's not, so it doesn't.

I'm giving it two marks, even though it probably deserves something in-between two and three. I think it's a worthy destination if and only if you have easy transport to and from, or you treat it as a night-time bar/club and go for dinner, drinks and music (for which Tazza is very good). Otherwise, there are many more easily accessible locations with similar food and coffee that are better options.

Tazza: ++

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250 Westminster St
Providence, RI 02903

Johannson's Cafe

As a cafe that exists more for the convenience of shoppers at the Cardi's/Rhode Island Design Center than for its own sake, I wasn't expecting much from Johannson's. They more than lived up to none of my expectations.

First off, it's very nice inside. The cafe counter is situated right as you enter the building, bathed in natural light from the large windows, with a giant fountain trickling away next to the attractive wrought-iron tables and chairs. They certainly give a good first impression. Once you get to the counter, it's not bad, either. They have a wide variety of cookies and baked goods, and a decent selection of drinks. It's when you order that things get dicey.

They don't have whole milk. Only skim. They use a fully automatic machine that burps up a bubbly stream of espresso and milk into a cup. They do use a local roaster, which is nice. Specifically, they use Ocean Coffee Roasters, based in Newport. Sadly, though, that does nothing to help the coffee. The latte I got is in the running for the worst steamed milk I've gotten. Again, it looked like someone steamed it by blowing through a straw. Definitely on par with the disaster that was Felicia's Coffee. I took a sip and was pleasantly surprised. It didn't seem half-bad. It was very dark, but had some complexity to it. At least the brewing mechanism is alright, I thought.

Sadly, though, that impression didn't last. As the drink cooled down, the burnt, overly-dark aspects of the coffee came out. It became watery, bitter, with burnt notes denoting a grinder that's worn. I dumped the rest out in the parking lot. The baked goods were a similar story. The brownie tasted like it was made at Stop & Shop, which I suspect it was. The cannoli was adequate, and the puff pastry was filled with what tasted like Cool Whip. If you're feening for espresso in the area, trust me, make the 10-minute trip to the Emerald Square and go to Starbucks or Border's Books. You can also get a good bottomless cup of coffee down a bit into Pawtucket at Lumana's Cafe & Gourmet. Just do anything to avoid Johannson's.

Johannson's Cafe: +

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999 Newport Ave
South Attleboro, MA. 02703


Alex Payson said...

Dear Aaron,
Slightly offtopic, but you mentioned the shop I work for in this post:
I wanted to thank you for your review of Blue State Coffee last summer. We love people taking the time to think about what we are trying to do, and give some thoughtful feedback. I would like to encourage you in to Blue State again and have a latte with me. We are working very hard to produce some damn fine lattes, both in taste (obviously most important) and appearance. We certainly do not have everyone on our staff pouring a perfect rosetta, but we are developing a good core of folks who can pour a mean latte and I think we can satisfy your caffeine cravings.
We are also planning on hosting a Providence Barista Jam in early May, hopefully you can attend and join the latte art throwdown if you wish! Feel free to contact me at alex at

Aaron MC said...


A barista jam? I'm there!

Thank you for the comment and I'm glad you appreciated my review. I meant to add a link to my BS review and have since rectified that.

I will definitely follow your advice to visit. Rosetta, apple, or spiral smiley faces aside, if I get another drink like I did my first times there, I'll still be blown away.