Alameda’s cafe culture
The last couple of years have been banner ones for Alameda’s coffeeholics, with a whole mess of cafes opening up all over the Island. They’re a diverse group, ranging from the community center and mommy magnet Crosstown Coffeehouse to Julie’s Coffee & Tea Garden, which is likely one of the prettiest little spots on the Island.
These places have got your steaming mug of giddyap, your pastries, salads and sandwiches and a welcoming a space to commune with friends, loved ones and neighbors.
“You need to have contact. That’s what cafes are about,” Dock owner Wendy DeWeerd said.
Here’s the list.
Blue Dot Cafe and Coffee Bar, 1910 Encinal Avenue
James and Megan Hume opened the newest entry to the Island’s cafe scene this past September. The couple, who met while working at San Francisco’s posh Postrio, wanted to move to Alameda to be near James’s parents. And they were looking to open their own place.
The Humes’ mid-Island spot recently got a nice facelift with the aid of the city’s facade grant program, and the bright, art-lined interior ain’t too shabby, either. They get a big breakfast crowd on the weekends (and I noticed on a recent visit that they catch a decent crowd for lunch during the week, too).
Specialty: Scones and “high-quality espresso drinks.”
Perfect for: Hume said they get a mix of people, including a lot of folks from the neighborhood. “We get a lot of people from St. Joseph’s,” he said. And they get a big weekend breakfast crowd.
Crosstown Coffeehouse & Community Center, 1303 High Street
Crosstown got its start nearly three years ago and was the brainchild of Dave Nederhood, pastor of Alameda Christian Reformed church. Nederhood had been hoping to create a safe place for kids to hang out. But Crosstown has since become a hangout for groups of people that include moms (no doubt drawn by the spacious coffeehouse’s play area and musical performances for kids) and folks hosting all manner of meetings, from quilters and knitters to the chief of police.
Manager Faith Ruska pointed out that they feature the work of local artists (they’ve also got jewelry from a local maker for sale), and that they are working to become a hub for local musicians.
“Our main focus is serving the community,” Ruska said. “We have really good coffee, too.”
Specialty: Crosstown has a brew rack that makes individual cups of coffee. “It’s kind of like your customized coffee maker,” Ruska said.
Perfect for: “Moms groups have completely adopted us,” Ruska said. Crosstown is also a draw for clubs and people hosting both business and community meetings.
The Dock, 1606 Webster Street
If you happen to notice that the inside of The Dock looks like someone’s house, you’ve got about half the picture. The Dock’s ultra-friendly owner, Wendy DeWeerd, is the year-old cafe’s real specialty. It’s clear even to a casual observer that DeWeerd has taken the time to get to know each and every one of her customers, offering personal greetings from behind the coffee bar and dispensing conversation at the kitchen table that sits in front of it.
Daniela Wenzlo, who was sitting at that table when I visited, started coming to The Dock 10 months ago and has since become a regular, she said. (Acquacotta owner John Couacaud was in the house as well.) “It’s like a magnet. You have to get your fix,” she said.
DeWeerd said she hadn’t actually planned to create a cafe in the space. It was supposed to be an extension of Tiny’s, her candy shop next door, she said, “but it just kind of evolved into this.”
It took DeWeerd and her husband two years to cobble together the money to finish The Dock. Loaded with old-time candies and eye-catching objects (one wall is festooned with rolls of bright ribbon), it is perhaps the most colorful little coffee shop on the Island.
Specialty: “For me, it’s nothing you can sell,” regular Wenzlo said. “It’s more mind-food, hanging out, having a cup of coffee, interesting conversations.” (I noted a list of interesting-looking specialty drinks like The Monkey, which is a banana latte topped with whipped cream and chocolate sauce.)
Perfect for: Kickin’ it in the West End (and getting your sugar fix).
Java Rama, 1333 Park Street
With 15 years at the corner of Park and Alameda under its belt, Java Rama was already the godfather of local coffee houses when Kevin Chan bought it a year ago. “At the time they opened this, I wanted it,” said Chan, a financial planner who visited daily. “It’s just a place that’s got good vibes.”
Chan said he wanted a big, comfortable place to hang out. Other attractions include kick-butt wireless – and sushi delivery from next door.
Specialty: Handmade chai (not from syrup or powder), organic Thai iced tea and Italian sodas, as well as a selection of cakes. (I’ll put in a pitch for their delicious flavored lattes too.)
Perfect for: Students, commuters – and anyone with a laptop computer.
Jay’s Coffee, Teas & Treats, 1414 Encinal Avenue
Sourn “Sue” Lim bought this Gold Coast mainstay from Daisy’s proprietor Barbara Mooney three years ago, and it has continued as a coffee and lunch stop for the neighbors. Lim had owned a coffee shop in downtown San Francisco but was looking for something a little low key when she saw Mooney had put Jay’s up for sale. She quickly endeared herself to the neighbors who frequent her shop, who stop by to gossip over a cup of coffee or salad (which comes tied in a pretty bow if you’re taking it home).
Specialty: House-made pastries, sandwiches.
Perfect for: Neighborhood ladies who lunch.
Julie’s Coffee & Tea Garden, 1223 Park Street
Julie Baron started Julie’s Coffee & Tea Garden in 2005, after a decade of work in the wholesale coffee and tea business. “I wanted to get back to serving my customers direct,” the former herb farmer said. She looked all over the East Bay for a spot with a garden space before settling on her Park Street location, which has a lovely garden out back.
Baron’s menu reflects her background, offering an array of herbally infused beverages (she’s got an extensive tea menu) plus treats like fresh-baked organic scones with Devonshire cream.
Specialty: Lavender lemonade (I’ve had this, and it’s yummy), and the organic scones and cream.
Perfect for: Intimate conversations with friends (they also rent their patio and upstairs meeting room for private events).
Spritzer’s, 734 Central Avenue
Apparently I was lucky to catch Bert Harris, proprietor of Spritzer’s, in the shop. He said he was there between jobs, which include a brand-new, hip and arty little coffee spot in San Francisco. Harris opened Spritzer’s nine years ago (the name references “a sedative of Pellegrino and white wine”) and the signless shop, with its white walls and split-tree furniture, has that same hip vibe (the day I was there, a pair of folks were discussing travels to Singapore and beyond).
Harris sees his place as a hiding spot for folks who just like coffee (his menu has fewer than 10 items, though he does have cheese and sausage plates and, inexplicably, Red Hots). “It’s very laid back,” he said.
Specialty: “It’s our staff. They’re a unique group,” Harris said, detailing the (positive!) qualities of Loretta, Andre, Chris and Erin.
Perfect for: Harris bills his spot as a hideout for “everyday people, people who know about the simple beverage of coffee.”