Queen City Caffeine Crawl [@CharlotteNC]

I’ve done it before and I’m doing it again – this time on the opposite side of the Atlantic, and this time with a Queen City caffeine theme.

Charlotte, North Carolina has been home for over 2 years now. Since the day I arrived, I’ve been pretty bent on finding the best coffee this place has to offer. Come to think of it, that’s one of my top missions anywhere I go. It’s a close jostle with bookstores. But before going any further with this, let’s get something out of the way. Writer, you ask, is Charlotte known for its coffee? Reader, I say, no it is not! This search has been a difficult one but are they a-changing or what, these times?

I’ve been noticing a slow but sure growth of new places to stop for a cup of coffee in the Queen City. I love the idea of a ridiculous crawl and now felt like as good a time as any to launch the next installment. Café Cake Crawl wasn’t going to work here, so I had to scrap visions of a part two. Of the many coffee places I started to peg as potential stops while researching, none too many featured café cake options. If anything, planning for this yielded a clear North Carolinian distinction between coffee shops and bakeries. Down here those two just don’t mix (are you having that??) and Café Gluten-Free Zucchini Bread Crawl didn’t have the same ring to it.

Let’s get going with this quest for the best caffeination station. The rules: No chains (but local multi-locationers accepted). No additives to the coffee (I drink it black anyways and yes, my teeth do hate me). No to-go cups because I’m not that busy of a woman – substitute in some worry over a personal problem where if it’s served in a mug I will try to drink it before it’s cooled enough and therefore will ruin my t-buds and thus and thenceforth this crawl. Smallest size only, for fear of cardiac arrest (remember this one for later). And last but not least, must sit down to absorb the vibes (as the kids say) for at least 30 minutes in each individual location.

Understood? All aboard? Great. Now, prepare your heads for this second-hand rush.


Trade and Lore

I purposefully chose to kick off with Trade and Lore because the name and photos from Google Maps were extremely intimidating to me. It seemed like the type of place that looks at you like you have 14 heads and they’re so bored of seeing people with 14 heads so kindly stop breathing their air and go sit in the corner uncomfortably until your coffee is ready, but not announced, so it’s actually been sitting at the counter for a few minutes and was mistakenly picked up then put back down by two other customers before you apprehensively stood up and went to go get it. You know what I’m talking about? Good, because Trade and Lore is nothing like that type of place.

Trade and Lore is upstairs above a NoDa Brewery, Salud, and the space feels exactly like that. It actually went so far as to remind me of some of my favorite spots in New York City. Except instead of astral ambient electro synth, they were playing some tracks in the stride of ‘All Because of You’ by Rise Against. My new preferred way to kick off 8am. The entrance was a little tricky to find so I ended up walking around the block (a fault entirely of my own, I can confirm that there was in fact signage) before climbing to the top of some cool looking stairs that led into a cool looking second floor which I guess I’d describe as a really, really cool looking den? When I thought the thought that I was glad it felt hidden and protected and wasn’t a more obvious in-your-face glass storefront, I realized that I was becoming too annoying for my own good.

I give this coffee a rage against that espresso machine out of 10.

Basal Coffee

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I’m obsessed with the floors here. Also pretty much everything else about here. Confession: never knew this place existed. Never knew it was even about to exist, but allow me to introduce you to yet another fault entirely and all the way of my own. Basal Coffee opened back in March of this year, further emphasizing my point that the Queen City coffee scene is positively blooming (that… are you having that??). The biggest difference I noticed was that where other spots have waited until 100% to open their doors to the community, Basal opened with the minimalist necessities and so many exciting growth plans to share with their customers. I know this because the owner happened to be behind the counter while I was there and gave me a very passionate summary of what’s to come (Block parties! Coffee block parties! Do you hear the people sing?). It’s really cool that our community is going to get to go through this journey alongside the employees and owners of Basal. Who knows, maybe I’ll learn something about opening a place like this of my own some day (Hopes? Dreams? Is that you? How are the children?).

My Colombia pour over (pourover? pour-over? Pour Over? poor over!) was a presentation and a half. Coffee is taken seriously here. Not pretentious seriously, but you can tell that they love it like one of the family. People were coming in all morning describing the tastes and styles that they were looking for and the guys behind the bar weren’t disappointing. I must find out exactly what type of Colombian coffee this was because it was delicious.

I give this coffee a best pour over I’ve ever had in my quarter century of a life no seriously I’m equal parts floored and amazed and also stunned but mostly thankful out of 10.

Not Just Coffee

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Quite a few of my young millennial friends have social-media’d about this place and a new Charlotte city limits location seems to appear every other month so I figured it was time for me to jump on in. The Not Just Coffee spot in Atherton Mill was fine. It wasn’t exactly my scene, if I’m being entirely honest. It is literally situated in the middle open space corridor of a modernized mill. My personal feeling is that a little more greenery could have enhanced the space to feel less pop-up industrial but I think that might actually be what they’re going for here?

Unfortunately my no to-go cups rule was broken at NJC but it didn’t seem like they had any of the capabilities to deal with dishes so I get it. It also didn’t seem like anyone was coming here for that? Of the short time I spent sitting and watching, most of the people cycling through were intentionally picking up something to leave with or they were bringing in their lunches and getting a cup of coffee to go with it, then back out and on with their lives. Given its growth, Not Just Coffee is clearly great for the citizens of Charlotte, but it’s just not the coffee for Cass.

I give this coffee a paper cups for paper people out of 10.

Queen City Grounds

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Absolutely without a doubt couldn’t leave Queen City Grounds off the crawl, could I? Again, I judged by Google Maps images. I searched coffee, this place popped up, and I audibly groaned because I wanted to stay out of Uptown and, to be honest, it didn’t look super inviting from the photos. Let me say, completely different impression when I walked through the doors. Energy levels were great for an early afternoon. People were sitting and chatting or working away on laptops. Hanging plants! Off of an open loft area! Now we’re talking, this was a vibe.

On the way here I had to make a stop for french fries as a last-ditch effort to build up a liner because at this point the caffeine on the empty stomach was really starting to buzz directly to the tips of all ten fingers. I know, I’m dumb, I know. We’ll speak about that later. I went for a Guatemalan drip brew by the name of Finca Los Chorros. No idea what that means but it was really good. At this point I was really devolving into preserving the integrity of the crawl and not so much focusing on enjoying what I was drinking. When I ordered, the barista behind the counter was super energetic and friendly which made a lot of sense for someone working in a roastery surrounded by coffee shakes, rattles, and rolls all day. A few short minutes into sipping on this, the foot tapping had begun.

I give this coffee an I imagine this is what lightly smoldered firewood tastes like and I’m super into it apparently? out of 10.

Central Coffee Company

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My neighborhood favorite. Had to add Central Coffee Company even though it’s not a new find like the others on this crawl, mostly because I wanted it as a control group. Really didn’t need it, but wanted it. By the time I got here, it began to feel as if all of the coffee in my system had made itself a body-sized reservoir in between the epidermis and hypodermis layers of my skin. A jitter that hadn’t quite taken over my body yet but was definitely enough to make me feel extremely… weird. Ever feel like that? No? Huh.

I love coming to Central in South End first thing in the morning because it’s extremely well-positioned for natural sunlight in the early AM. I bring my tree encyclopedia to veg out for a bit with a to-here, then pick up a to-go for the trek (read: barely half-mile stroll) home to start the rest of my day. Central also has the best weekend hours of any coffee place in Charlotte. Fact. On this trip I tried a Papua New Guinea Kange brew, but there is one particular light roast that I’ve had here a handful of times and it’s the best light roast I’ve ever experienced and it kills me that I don’t know what it is. The flavor profile (if that is its real name) reminds me of crispy birch bark with a hint of toasted marshmallows (don’t ask). I’ll never be able to make it at home though because, fun fact alert, I am terribly horrible at making coffee myself. Seriously. Can’t work out the “mathematics” of it. And people have tried to help. Save yourselves.

I give this coffee a central to my mental and emotional comfort company out of 10.

Undercurrent Coffee

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When I was living in the Plaza Midwood area, I used to drive by this place and anxiously await the day when the “Coming Soon!” signs would be replaced by “Now Open!” signs. Undercurrent Coffee reminds me of exactly what it is: a house that was converted into a coffee shop. It’s refreshing to be in a place that offers multiple brew styles to their customers sans pretension and judgement. I don’t know where it is that hurt me to expect that type of vibe from every coffee place I go into now, but I’m delighted that the Queen City has wrecking-balled that into a very friendly and welcoming dust of nothing.

The ladies and man behind the counter here are phenomenal. They honestly make the place. They make it feel like Undercurrent actually wants you to learn how to appreciate coffee. It doesn’t expect you to walk in the door as a master roaster with a world class palate. They’ll help you figure out what you want (they quite literally offer classes) and “I think I like things that are light and woodsy and kind of taste like caramel” was sufficient for them to make a recommendation and for all of us to move on with our day. Related to vibes, the man and woman sitting next to me were practicing tarot while I worked on writing this – making me feel right at witchy home. The playlist was set to a roll of the “rock and” persuasion but at one point the Kate Bush classic “Wuthering Heights” came on… I just about internally strangled myself to prevent a cry laughing scene. Do yourself all the favors and watch that music video.

I give this coffee a HEATHCLIFF out of 10.


As with the cake crawl… I did not feel great at the end of this! Shocking!

In fact, I sincerely discourage anyone from trying this if you’re not extremely in touch with your caffeine intake limits. Seriously, for health and safety and well-being purposes do not do this. On a normal day I usually drink anywhere from 2 to 4 disturbingly large coffees so I figured I could handle 6 small ones but I was duped, my friends! Firstly because hardly anyone served me in sizes that I would describe as anything other than full. Out went the “small only” rule.

Secondly because it was a lot of caffeine in not a lot of time. This whole crawl took me around seven hours to complete. When I reached the last few stops, I was able to recognize the signs that enough was enough. In fact, I even went so far as to fear caffeine overdose because I’m the Queen of Internet Diagnoses. In all seriousness, the mild chest pain and twitchy shoulders insisted that I not finish the last few sips of some cups. I love coffee, I do, but I love it because I enjoy it. At the end of the day, this started becoming very not enjoyable.

I’m an idiot, I know, but as Eddie Vedder once said, I’m still alive.

Voyages: New York City [@NYNY]

Remember when my Voyages used to feature little-to-no words? Yeah, me neither.

Work commitments recently packed me up and sent me off to the Big Apple for a week. New York City isn’t my favorite place on earth, but I knew that I’d have some time to kill so I wanted to make the best of it. First and foremost, that meant visiting some old haunts from when I lived there in college for a few months. Beyond that, I did some research (mostly by asking others to do some for me) and gleaned a few new spots to try.

Even though the song itself alludes to San Francisco, visiting New York City always makes me think of Belle and Sebastian’s ‘Piazza, New York Catcher.’ While there, I did in fact drink myself awake but did not get eloped… though I can’t safely say that I would have turned down the offer if it were presented in a coffee house awarded certificates. Okay… I’ll stop.

What I’m trying to say is that the theme of this here adventure is pretty much brews, books, and… well, other brews. Presented in the hybrid form of a Voyage and a Travel, these are my excursions. Enjoy.


SUNDAY

The Whitney

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It was very difficult for me to forego the American Museum of Natural History on this trip, but alas, it would not be a true Voyage without something new (feeling old and blue). The Whitney has been on my mind for a few months now for no other reason than the Edward Hopper collection. I’ll save the lengthy anecdote and fast-forward to the part where I copied (“interpreted”) his work for every single high school art class artist study project. I’ve only ever seen images of the art, so I was shocked to find that the originals are actually HUGE. Totally changed my perspective.

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Tears were shed over the fact that I could get this close to Edward’s ACTUAL HANDWRITING. (Anyone else think that’s extremely cool???) Even though I came for the Hoppers, I stayed for the Calder: Hypermobility exhibit. Legend has it that Calder created the mobile. In the 1930s. Allow me to pause and check if anyone else is as shocked by that fact as I was (and still am)? I had always assumed mobiles were like fire… created long, long ago by an unknown sapien and now just a basic foundational staple of humanity. Turns out, no. Fairly recent invention.

Quick aside, this Calder exhibit had scheduled ‘activations’ of the art, which in short consisted of a man in a lab coat poking things with a very large stick. But only certain things, which is why my strategy was to linger towards the last piece he was going to poke so I could avoid the large crowd gathered around the first one and get a good look when the last one’s turn came around. As I stood waiting, unsuspecting of yet another mindblowing experience, a man and his daughter approached to view some of the other pieces beside the one I was standing near. Subconsciously, I began to tune into them. “Yeah, we all had these when we were kids.” The man was flippant as he drew in a deep breath. My subconscious couldn’t help itself and gave way to full conscious. My gaze flickered over just in time to watch as the man leaned forward and started huffing at the art, which sure enough slowly started to move. This unauthorized activation occurred in the span of less than minute, whereas most other people in the room had been waiting for upwards of twenty. And while I don’t encourage this sort of rule breaking I suppose I can’t help but condone it. I should have known that an art museum is where I’d find the people who don’t play by the rules. My curiosity at what an ‘activation’ looked like was satiated. I didn’t even bother to stick around for the guy with one after seeing that.

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Strand

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Shockingly enough, this was my first time visiting Strand. I’m sure none of you underestimate my bibliove because of that, but I’ll admit that it felt like a rite of passage to visit this coveted NYC bookstore. It was just as overwhelming as I had anticipated. Spent the majority of my time in the rare books room, laughed at some witty magnets, purchased some new reads, and carried on with my life, bitter that I don’t get to be an employee here.

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The Dead Poet

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One of the first times I ever came to this bar, my best friend and I ended up getting into some kind of heated discussion which spanned multiple actual hours and myriad actual beers. I will be the first to admit that I do not recall any detail of said discussion, other than that I talked a lot, walked out of the bar arm-in-arm with best friend at the end of the night, and wore Budweiser stickers under each of my eyes a la eye black.

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In my humble and inexperienced opinion, The Dead Poet is the best bar in New York City. It’s my comfort zone, the place I feel I’ve never left no matter how long I’ve been away. I didn’t make friends easily when I lived in the city, but boy did that never matter less than when I walked into this place. Suffice it to say, the remainder of my Sunday evening was passed here, curled up with a book and many a pint of the black stuff.

Monday

Citizen’s of Chelsea

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Previously the home of Pushcart Coffee (which I believe they still technically serve here? but it’s technically Unity coffee? either way it’s delicious?), this used to be my Sunday morning city spot. I’d pick up a copy of the NYT, tuck myself into the corner of the bar with a cold brew and a peach pistachio muffin, and see how many ridiculous yet fitting (in all senses) answers I could come up with for the Sunday crossword. The biggest redesign in the new space is the plant-lined bar and kitchen area. Extremely rad. Kicking off those Monday vibes, I pushed myself to try the raspberry chia bowl… then immediately regretted not opting for the waffle instead.

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Also, apparently they serve hot apple cider here. ALL. YEAR. !!!.

The Headless Horseman

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This place confirmed that part of my aesthetic is in fact late-18th century in nature. Dark, dungeony, and filled with people much cooler than myself. My intention was to come by for a drink, so I pulled out my book to accompany my bourbon, got teased for reading by candlelight, and met some very interesting people representing Games for Change.

Lillie’s Victorian Establishment

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Another part of my aesthetic? Victorian. Lillie’s was a little too hip for my comfort, but there was an old man named Brian sitting next to me (or rather, that I was sitting next to given everyone knew him by name… clearly he’s a staple) and I like to imagine that he’s the owner, or the son of the owner, or somehow personally connected to this place via the good old days of yore. My fondest memory of Lillie’s is that at one point I swear I overheard the bartender say to a server “herein lies the ruckus” before going to town with a cocktail shaker full of liquids and ice. I swear. Then again, maybe I was just projecting.

Tuesday

Tompkins Square Bagels

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Let me just level set here… I don’t really care about bagels. I’m personally pretty indifferent to flavors (which is probably why I always opt for the plain variety), I don’t even really like cream cheese, and I’ll fare just fine if the toaster is broken. This particular East Village bagel spot came recommended as “pretty good” and I can confirm, pretty good it was. The bagel, for all intents and purposes, was fine but the playlist was on fire. Tears for Fears, Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, Phil Collins… my people. That’s the way you want to start a Tuesday.

The Supply House

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Never spent much time on the Upper East side of Manhattan before, so on Tuesday evening I decided to stop in and try this place. The beer menu was great (drained a Montauk Driftwood Ale in mach speed thanks to the irregular city heat), the food menu was great, and the overall vibe was great. The hostess sat me beside the massive open window, so I carried on reading my book and living my life for a while. Have I mentioned said book yet? No? Well, this here Lady in New York was accompanied by “A Gentleman in Moscow” throughout her adventures. Highly recommend, Towles is a splendor.

After grabbing a quick bite, I set my sights on a stroll across Central Park from Upper East to Upper West for a nightcap at… you guessed it, The Dead Poet. This also allowed for the triumphant return of the NYC phone calls I used to bestow upon my best friend where I talked absolute nonsense for at least an hour. This time around: I declared I was going to apply for a grant to become a squirrel translator in the park.

Cafe Lalo

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A sweet tooth is meant to be indomitable and there is no such thing as too late for coffee. With these philosophies in mind, I ventured over to Cafe Lalo after finishing my last drink at The Dead Poet. I should have gotten a key pal first so that I could have been stood up, and therefore continued on my quest to live life like 1990s Meg Ryan would, but alas. Hindsight.

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While “You’ve Got Mail” is truly iconic, Cafe Lalo isn’t all that great. That doesn’t mean that I don’t have every intention of returning with a rose tucked into my “Pride and Prejudice,” anxious eyes on the door… Told you I would have eloped.

Wednesday

Third Rail Coffee

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Wednesday left me a little more pressed for morning exploration time, so I needed something I could grab and go with. That something was the age old classic: coffee and a doughnut. Stopped into Third Rail right at opening for a coffee so hot and fresh that I think my fingerprints have permanently been burned off (even now, weeks later, as I edit this, they feel remiss). Couldn’t resist adding a vanilla bean doughnut (apparently from Doughnut Plant, which is apparently notable). Let me tell you, this combo really carried me through that 8am call. Very rad vibe here (can you tell I’m in a “rad” phase?). 10 out of 10 would return.

(Also, stopped by a spot in the Times Square area called Cafe Grumpy with my team after said 8am call – tried the Ombre and would suggest not ordering it when you have to go back to work because you’ll end up spending a solid hour and a half wishing you were enjoying it outside.)

(Also, also, not pictured – Wednesday evening was spent with coworkers at Houston Hall and then a little underground bar called The Folly… let’s just say Thursday morning wasn’t much made for adventuring after that.)


And there we have it folks. A summary of… well, basically just brews and brews, with a dash of activities thrown in on a Sunday afternoon for good measure. Highly recommend trying a spot of two of these next time you find yourself in New York, New York. Don’t bother letting me know if you happen to be in vicious disagreement with anything I thought about them.

Voyages: The Emerald City [@SeattleWA]

Baby’s first trip out West! That’s right. Until this year, the furthest west I had ever been in my life was probably Pennsylvania. But my best friend (the one who went to New Orleans with me) recently moved out to Seattle to start her real life grown-up… life. And naturally I had to get out there to visit.

Most of my trip was in the spirit of spending time with her, so we got out and saw quite a bit of the city but this is in no way meant to be a “Weekender’s Guide to Seattle.” It’s just the things we’ve been talking about wanting to see and some pictures of what came from seeing them together.

For those of you interested in going soon, I will say that we experienced some delicious eats in the Capitol Hill area. Notably a fall-themed lunch at Americana, a tex-mex brunch at Rooster’s, and the fineries of Italian wine and 1,000 degree-cooked pizza at Via Tribunali. So, go crazy. And bring me back some Mexi-migas. There, you’ve got your “guide” element – are you happy???

Scroll on to see a Seattle Saturday at its finest.


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First stop, the new Starbucks Reserve Roastery & Tasting Room. I had my sights set on visiting this place since its opening was announced almost 2 whole years ago. The Reserve features rare, small-batch roasted coffees which you can find in most stores but this particular spot is really the mothership of the whole operation.

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So chic, so sophisticated, so absolutely packed on a Saturday morning. The roastery featured a few different places to try out the elite coffee offerings but we went for the main stage, if you will, right smack in the middle. The whole aesthetic of the place is everything that I aspire to be.

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THE MOMENT I HAD ESPECIALLY BEEN WAITING FOR. Starbucks recently announced the launch of their Nitro Cold Brew and allow me to tell you the story of when I first heard about it. I was sitting on my couch, reading through Twitter, and happened upon the aforementioned announcement. “Nitro?” I thought to myself. “As in Nitrogen? As in brewed with Nitrogen? As in BREWED LIKE GUINNESS???” Yes, Cassie from the past. Yes, exactly like that. When I discovered it was being released in select cities, not including the one I just moved to, my heart was aching and breaking all over the place. But we made it, folks. We made it and we loved every single ice cold delicious sip of it.

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A stroll down Pike Street brought us to our next stop: the iconic Pike Place Market.

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Also crazily busy, as to be expected. A sensory overload happened between the flowers and the food and the people and the lights and and and. It broke me a little bit, it truly did.

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Never have I seen such delicious looking fruits and veggies. Also, we got to sample some dark chocolate spaghetti which is a very interesting concept. The locals must have this place down to a science, cause I can tell you that if I lived there it would definitely be a frequent shopping center.

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Am I forthcoming enough with my personal interests? After the Reserve experience, we still weren’t done with our Starbucks fix. We went to visit the one and only original location at 1912 Pike Place. Kind of, sort of, the original location… the first “store” was actually at 2000 Western Avenue but that was back in the early 1970s when they functioned as more of a roastery than a brewery so you could only really buy whole coffee beans and maybe get a sample or two to drink.

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I love a good Siren! We waited in line for a bit but it was worth it to pick up some commemorative mugs with the original branding and the best frappuccino I’ve ever had.

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After Pike Place, we hopped on the monorail out to see the Space Needle! Iconic! We admired from the ground as we knew we’d need quite a bit of time inside of our next stop: the EMP Museum.

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The entire EMP building is super cool and futuristic and architecturally amazing. There are a ton of amazing pop-culture exhibits that currently include pieces from genres like Fantasy, Horror, and SciFi and Seattle music icons like Nirvana and Jimi Hendrix.

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The Lure of Horror Film exhibit had a whole wall of archetypes (I would call them that but not sure if that’s the legitimate name for it). Each little board featured explanations and examples. Take a wild guess what my favorite one was…

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And our final stop. The one that we spent the majority of our time going through. The one that brought us here in the first place. The piece de resistance. The Cassie Tears-a-palooza. The Star Trek: Exploring New Worlds exhibit.

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The exhibit featured props and costumes and set designs from all facets of the Star Trek lifecycle. My favorite piece was this concept art for the USS Enterprise. The OG ship design. I’m getting chills just looking at this again.

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Words cannot describe the impact that Leonard Nimoy and his portrayal of Spock has made on me and my life. I thought pretty much everything was going to make me cry in this exhibit, but it was the Vulcans that hit me the hardest. It was the perfect ending to a beautiful day spent seeing this magical city.


I hope you enjoyed this little snippet of my first ever West Coasterly voyage! I’ve got a little something else coming up next week, but until then join me in daydreaming about the next time I’ll get to go back over to play in The Emerald City. There was so much left unseen but I’m confident it won’t stay that way for long.

Live long and prosper.

Voyages: Hickory & Blowing Rock [@NorthCarolina]

Last weekend I had a hankering to get away from the city. My usual preference would be to go to the ocean but that trip is more of a commitment down here so the second best choice was to get up into the mountains.

Are you ready for the tale of another hysterical attempt at my navigating myself sans GPS? Good, because I’ve shown up to tell it. Like the journey up to Kancamagus, I wanted to try my hand at navigating this one with only a general idea of where I was going – a reliance on road signs, if you will. The excitement of that only lasted about an hour until I decided to take a quick peak at my Google Maps location to make sure I was on the right track. Yeah, sure, the road looked right, but the direction looked oh so wrong. For a second I had myself a bit of a panic over the idea of spending the day in South Carolina instead of the Appalachians, but much like my destination, that blew over once I figured out my phone was showing me the map flipped upside-down.

Deep breath, hearty laugh, and away I went.


Hickory, NC

First stop. The town was absolutely Saturday morning silent when I arrived. It took a few drives around the block to orient myself, but once I found a parking space I hopped out of the car on a mission for good coffee. Don’t ask me how the “city” of Hickory made it onto my list of North Carolina locals in the first place, it just did. And the only real research I did on it was for coffee shops so here we are.

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Taste Full Beans is clearly the spot in Hickory. A hugely expansive menu greeted me from the back wall and the baked goods arranged along the counter drew me closer, but I had my eyes on the prize: the two wonderfully friendly young women who I knew were my gateway to the good stuff. They laughed as I confided that the menu overwhelmed me and all I wanted was the largest cup of coffee they were legally allowed to give me. A small selection of options lined the counter to the right and I went with a blend called “Dark Bliss.” If you know me at all, I shouldn’t have to explain why.

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As I settled in to a comfy chair-coffee table-couch setup, my tunnel vision now dissolved thanks to the achievement of my coffee getting goal, I took a look around. The best part of local cafes is the local culture support. Art available for purchase lined every wall, fliers were at the counter or on the tables with information about more goings-on, and one man was even chatting with the women behind the counter about some local theater productions. This is my favorite part of small towns! I desperately wished I could have become a more habitual customer, but I’ll settle for making Taste Full my passing through Hickory haunt.

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As I continued to drain my super large cup of coffee in record time, I noticed the magazines stacked on the coffee table in front of me. A dozen issues of Rolling Stone and a Wall Street Journal magazine with Meryl Streep on the cover. My visit was starting to feel eerily fated.

Another note on the general vibe of this place. The setup to my note is that playlists are huge to me, and that goes for pretty much any place I go. A restaurant, a cafe, a clothing store, anywhere. A good playlist gives me validation that I’m actually supposed to be there, that I made a good choice. So my note about Taste Full’s music comes in two parts: an excellent Fields of Gold cover and the O Brother, Where Art Thou soundtrack. Game over.

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Caffeinated and satiated, I trekked back around the corner to my car to continue on my voyage North-Westerly. Right across the street from my parking spot was this attractively aesthetic Carolina Theater which I didn’t even notice upon arrival! Thankful I did before departure because look how freaking pretty!

Blowing Rock, NC

Next stop was Blowing Rock and again, do not ask me how I got it in my head to visit this place. I just did, okay?

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Since Blowing Rock is more situated on the edge of the mountains, the scenic route happens pretty quickly. The highway starts to wind you upwards and suddenly the roads are narrowing (partly from construction, partly from actual nature). Then all of a sudden you round a corner and a huge sign pops up pointing you in the direction of the town-namesake: THE Blowing Rock.

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The legend of this location is 80% of what drew me to it in the first place. I’m a sucker for romantic history, especially when it includes a little bit of fantastic occurrences. The other 20%? The temperature cool down. It was mid-70s when I arrived at high noon. A wonderfully pleasant experience compared to the high-90s I left behind.

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The Blowing Rock itself was quite literally just a big slab of rock jutting out from the side of the mountain. I climbed up to the top pretty confidently but the wind made me immediately sit right the heck down for fear of getting pushed over the edge.

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It was indescribably cool to look out and imagine a young woman probably younger than myself sitting in the exact same place before the mountains and valleys below, spotting the love of her life wandering the wilderness. Too sappy? Okay, I’ll rugged it up a little bit. Imagine how good of a shot she must have been to make her arrow navigate the wind and get close enough to attract the attention of that guy.

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In all honesty, I could have sat up there in the breeze of the mountains all day. The fresh air felt so good and the scene before me so relaxing. Unfortunately it was time to get back on the road, but I made a vow to come back and visit the mountains again soon.

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Believe me when I say that I’ve got a list a mile long of places to go and things to do in North Carolina, but please do let me know any recommendations of yours! I’m gonna have to get to know this state at some point or another and I might as well start with the good stuff.

Café Cake Crawl – Skibbereen Edition [@WestCorkIRL]

We all know how a bar/pub crawl works. It’s a feat of stamina, of endurance, and in the end mostly of regret. You might be wondering how I came up with the idea to do a Café Cake Crawl and the story is simple: I was sitting in a café, eating a piece of cake, and I wanted another. Skibbereen has so many incredible little cafés renowned for their baked goods and I thought to myself that this might be the best way to try them all out. Plus, look at that alliteration! How was I supposed to turn that down?

After excitedly planning out the route one afternoon, I opted to push the day of goodness off for another week so as to get a proper start at it. Well, friends… that week was last. And that cake was crawled. In a lot of ways, I felt just as wrecked as if I were drinking beer instead of eating cake. My stomach turned on me like a veritable Edward Cullen, just having to endure it as my blood sugar levels peaked to dangerous heights. But I ask you, what kind of crawl would it be without suffering and perseverance?

Please kindly leave your judgment at the homepage, and proceed to read about the 6 slices of cake I consumed with the aid of 3 pots of tea, 2 Americanos, and 1 mystery coffee. It was not one of the easiest things I’ve ever done, but it was definitely one of the unhealthiest.

As I reached the halfway point I wasn’t sure I could go on, but my best friend sent some encouragement from across the pond: “I believe in you. Mind over batter.” And with that, I found the strength to fight the good fight. I give you my very first Café Cake Crawl! Secondhand enjoy the experience.


Benedict’s Café

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Lemon Drizzle Cake with whipped cream & a pot of black tea

This was the first café I ever visited in Skibbereen so I found it a fitting beginning for my crawl. Benedict’s has an incredible family feel, which I’m pretty sure is due to it being run by an actual family (there is no website to confirm or deny that assumption so you’ll just have to trust me). Most people seemed to be there for the heartier meals, but I had my eyes on a very specific prize. Let me tell you – this was an ACE combo. The tang of the lemon in the icing was a perfect match for my ever so sweetened tea. I can this classic being ordered by the box for bridge night refreshments or book club. I also developed a quick obsession with the style of the tea ware. It’s a habit of mine to absentmindedly hold on to my mug for a while before setting it back on the saucer and that can get uncomfortable with a rounded handle. This set featured a perfect fit for the two fingers it actually takes to support the glass and I will definitely be trying to furnish any future homes with similarly designed goods.

I give this cake a go-to when someone orders “a wee cuppa and cake, please love” out of 10.

An Chistin Beag

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Lemon Sponge & a pot of black tea (guest appearance by some orange juice)

It was an almost unfortunate miss with this café because I literally didn’t know it was there. The difficult thing about Skibbereen is that the eatery attractions are not so easily googleable (is it even possible for me to go through a single post without mentioning Google?) so my research is done mostly via asking the locals. An Chistin Beag, literally “The Small Kitchen,” came highly recommended when I spoke of what I was doing (and let me tell you, trying to explain a solo Cake Crawl puts you in a very funny situation). I can confirm that even though I still have no idea how to pronounce its name correctly, this café’s cake did not disappoint.

They say in heaven cake comes first, and these ladies certainly made heaven a place on earth – otherwise known as the frosting on their Lemon Sponge. The whole café has a comfortable, welcoming look about it with exposed brick, wooden floors, and those word art wooden deco boards but it doesn’t stop there. The comfortable, welcoming attentiveness of my waitress left me thinking “she was just so nice, how can get that nice?” hours later. Basically, all good things to say about my experience here.

I give this cake a sweet dreams are made of these out of 10.

Apple Betty’s Café

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Coconut Jam Slice & an Americano

The number one thing I learned from Apple Betty’s Café is don’t judge a café by its cover. From the outside the place looked to be rather small, similar to an old American deli with a counter and maybe one or two metal tables inside, so I had avoided it on prior trips. Upon entering it for my crawl I found it to be huge! And extremely cozy! The Coconut Jam Slice jumped out as the most interesting choice and I’ll admit I went into it with absolutely 0 idea of what to expect because I don’t think I’d ever seen those things put together before. As Apply Betty’s is known for it’s coffee (there was a sign reading “As long as there is coffee in the world, how bad could things be?”) I had to go for an Americano, though I think tea would have been the better suited companion. Regardless, this was yet another void-of-disappointment stop along my crawl and the raspberry jam gets massive props for that. Also the woman/man (Betty?) who decided to put all the elements together to craft this; she/he rightfully deserves my many thanks.

I give this cake a pleasantest surprise out of 10.

Kalbos Café

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Brown Sugar and Espresso Pavlova with mixed berries & an Americano

Arriving at Kalbos, I was feeling pretty good as I scanned the multitude of options behind and on top of the glass casings. Several more obvious “cakes” jumped out at me for taste testing but look at that thing – I had to try the Pavlova. The outside is similar to a French macaron and the inside is of a softer, chewier consistency with amber sugary drizzles dispersed throughout then topped with cream and fruit. Definitely the most interesting dish of the day and I could not have imagined a more perfect pairing than the rich Americano I ordered to wash it down with.

Kalbos Café has one location next to the Uillinn, or West Cork Art Centre, and (as I’ve described before) it’s very aesthetically pleasing. I had a supremely difficult time choosing which treat to indulge in as my eyes were barraged with an overload of apple and pear and elderflower and chocolate and berries everywhere I looked. The cakes are renowned by the locals as legitimately award-winning (Best Café in Cork – 2016 Irish Restaurant Awards) and it’s been the most recommended Skibbereen eatery to me since my arrival. With a staff as friendly and courteous as they are, I 100% agree that Kalbos is a most fantastic establishment.

I give this cake a finished it in one go out of 10.

The Church Restaurant

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Church Apple Tart with fresh cream and apricot sauce & a pot of black tea

Again, you’ve seen the inner design of this place in my aforementioned Voyages post and this visit around it was in full lunch swing by the time I arrived. Mind you, at this point in the day my stomach was decidedly full with more sugar than anyone needed and I was truly unsure of what treat could possibly beckon my appetite when in such a state. The savoury smells flooding the premises helped to neutralize my stomach ache and as the waitress listed off the options, I jumped at the mention of Apple Tart. I’m not sure why I ever doubted The Church Restaurant, but I sat hoping with fingers crossed that it would be presented warmed up and I was not disappointed. This little slice of homey goodness was exactly what I needed to make it ever closer to the finish line. Not entirely sure, but I’m 87% positive that the sauce drizzled along the side was of an apricot nature and MAN, did I want to take gallons and gallons back home with me.

I give this cake a heartwarmingly delicious out of 10.

Field’s Café

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Double Chocolate Cake & a coffee

An adjoining-a-supermarket café, but I wanted to give it a chance. Field’s Supervalu keeps it simple. It is always the busiest place I visit because it’s peppered with many a weary shopper or gaggle of young children tugged out for a day of errands. I couldn’t see an actual name for this cake so I christened it the Double Chocolate. This beverage is listed as “coffee” on the menu but I’m not sure if that’s coffee in the American right or if it’s really an Americano? I kind of got a filtery taste out of it so if you told me this was good old fashioned drip coffee I’d probably believe you but let me tell you, I’m hard French-pressed to find that anywhere when I travel in Western Europe.

I give this cake a not waking up in the middle of the night for it out of 10. But Little Cassie would give it a *foot stomp* MOM PUH-LEASE out of 10.


At the end of the day I couldn’t imagine taking another bite. In fact, as I sit here writing this a few hours later I couldn’t imagine taking another bite. Further in fact, as I sit here editing one week later I still couldn’t imagine it.

Next time, I’d very much appreciate a friend to share in the sugary fare so let me know if you’ve got any noteworthy cake cities in mind and we’ll plan a trip – first cup of coffee on me!

Learn Stuff: Luke’s (Chicory Nutmeg) Coffee

Lorelai: Mmm. Luke, that is an exceptionally good batch of coffee.

Luke: Yeah?

Lorelai: Hello!

Luke: I added a little nutmeg.

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There aren’t many things held most dear to this here heart of mine, but a hot cup of coffee sure is one of them. My love of brewed magic has been a slow development over the years. I try to know more than I do, and avoid the people who actually succeed in that (no one needs your hipster elitism – just help me understand why this air needs pressing!), but until the time comes when I take an actual class in brewing I’m just going to have to content myself with at-home experimentation.

Another ardent holding? Gilmore Girls. It’s my all time favorite TV show and ever since I first saw it I’ve been dying to try a cup of Luke’s coffee. I feel pretty confident that I’m not the only fan who yearns for that. Have you ever had one of those mornings where you wake up with what feels like an insatiable thirst for some piping hot caffeine? For me, that craving is always what I associate with what Luke’s coffee must taste like. Unfortunately, Amy Sherman-Palladino never really takes you through the recipe and it’s not like Luke has his own real brand for direct purchase (someone please create that Kickstarter) so it’s all left to the imagination. Luckily I’ve got one of those and so I hereby deliver to you a dice-ily researched recipe for Stars Hollow’s very own Luke’s Diner Coffee.


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The Coffee Base

A few fans out there on the internet did a little sleuthing via paying attention to the small details and determined that at one point in the show Luke is using Hills Bros, a San Francisco brand of coffee. Do I wonder the motivation behind that? Of course. Will I question it and look for/use another brand? Of course not. East Coasters (or maybe just Rhode Islanders) might have difficulty like I did in securing the apparently very well recognized brand so know that it’s Amazonable.

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The Additives

Now, as my graciously provided quote from the series (Season 1 Episode 12) has demonstrated – Luke was into experimentation with his brewing recipe. Nutmeg was added and pleased Lorelai’s taste buds so who do I think I am to remove it? That’s right, no one. The nutmeg stays.

Want to talk a little bit about preconceived notions, though? Here’s mine: Luke’s coffee is actually made with a bit of chicory too. Now, I know he’s lived all his life in Connecticut but he seems like an olden days, classically gruff kinda man and to me that equates to the famously-New Orleans roasted root. After many days spent researching what this mysterious substance is and how to find it, I went ahead and made the commitment to add chicory to this recipe of mine. Roasting and grinding it from scratch seemed to take a lot of work (definitely not a Lorelai move) so I took the easy root and ordered 16 ounces of organic roasted chicory granules from Frontier Co-op.

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Let me stop right here and warn you that chicory ain’t no joke. That stuff packs a lot of taste for such a tiny granulated substance and I’m just looking out for the both of us when I say use it sparingly. It’s best known for being a type of coffee additive/flavoring down in New Orleans or as a healthier coffee substitute when steeped (although, it has no caffeine so take “substitute” for what you will). I wanted to integrate it to give the coffee a bit more of a woodsy taste because well… Connecticut has trees and Luke likes the outdoors so logic. It took me too many tries to figure out that a little goes a very long and astringent way.

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The Recipe(s)

I’ll save you my experimentation narrative (which happens to be many days long) and direct you straight to the good stuff: my winning combination.

The method of choice was good ol’ drip brewing since that’s how they did it in the Diner. While the stubborn fan in me insisted that this brew had to be tried Lorelai style, that is to say – black, the chicory’s pretty powerful taste creates a none too pleasant bitterness and I found that adding a tiny bit of milk helped smooth it out. But also, coffee preferences are one of the most personal things an individual can have so feel free to add whatever you need for this to taste like what you imagine Luke’s would.

1/2 cup of Hills Bros, Original Blend ground coffee to every 2 mugs of water

Had to break out the math conversions for this one but with canister-provided instructions of 1 tbsp to every 6 oz of water, increased to every 4 oz because I like my coffee strong, with my Luke’s mug serving as approximately 14 oz of water… ouch, Charlie. Just get a moderately sized mug like mine and you’ll be fine. This gives a little over a single serving so increase accordingly.

3/4 teaspoon of Roasted Chicory Root Granules

A liberal pinch of nutmeg

Bonus: the recipe can easily be converted out of the woodsy chicory taste by… get ready for it… removing the chicory. All else remains and you’ve still got Luke’s coffee.


While I’m sure any coffee tastes better in my Luke’s mug, this recipe feels particularly at home. I’m also very excited to work chicory into my daily rotation. Now all I need is to enjoy a cup on the front porch of 37 Maple Street, watching the first snow of the year with my Girls named Gilmore.