vegansaurus!

12/16/2008

Review: Ritual Coffee Roasters!  »

Ritual makes all right coffee. They charge 50 cents extra for soy milk, and I’ve never seen soy milk on the bar for drip coffee, though I imagine they’d give you some out of an open Tetra Pak (TM).

They are really, really proud of their coffee, the espresso especially, but the reason I go there is because they sell People’s Donuts, which have become more and more delicious the longer they’ve been in business, and this vegan sherry cake that no one seems to know the provenance of but most everyone agrees is excellent. It comes in standard (yellow) and chocolate flavors, and you can’t go wrong either way. With People’s Donuts it is always a fun surprise to see what flavors are available, and which of those flavors looks the best, and a lot of the time the Ritual employee will have as much knowledge as you on the donuts—i.e., you’re both eyeballing them—so don’t be afraid to say that you want the on the left in the back, or wherever, because they stack them on a plate all willy-nilly and if you want the only chocolate one, that helpful employee might have to move some other donuts around for you.

We will give People’s Donuts its own review later on; they definitely deserve one! For now, know that they are good and tasty and available at Ritual for $2.50 a donut, the average price citywide.

As for the coffee, OK, I don’t know. The drip coffee is fine; better to take it to go and use your soy creamer at home, I think, if you are partial to cream in your coffee; I am, particularly with Ritual’s, which gives my delicate tum a terrible ache when I drink it without whitening it down. If you take it black, then why not stay? Here’s why not: no atmosphere. It’s often very hot, and loud, not just because of the machines but the music (80 percent of the time good!) and the yap yap yap of the patrons, some of those jerks will NOT shut up. Granted, it is not a library, but when everyone around you is silent, maybe you don’t have to talk at volume level 25, you know? Ugh, loud people, it is so hard for them to realize the difference between THE LEVEL OF THEIR VOICES and the level of a normal person’s voice. It is all right when you want to talk at loud bars/shows/&c. but Ritual is none of those places. Shut it, jerks.

Ritual espresso is very bitter, and quite often tastes burnt. Why is this? They go on and on about how they were a runaway success, roasting their own coffee and training their baristas to be AWESOME and ORIGINAL and MAKE FANCY DESIGNS IN THE FOAM, but I swear every single flat white I had in New Zealand—essentially a latte—was tastier and creamier and better foamed than anything I’ve had at Ritual, and there were no delightful seitan cheesesteak sandwich shops or fancy gourmet non-dairy-ice-cream-selling groceries across the street from the place where this work of art came from. Just a big glacier. Yet, everywhere, even at highway rest stop cafes where there was not one vegan food item, there was vegan soy milk and someone with the skills to really foam it. Having never had a espresso drink made with dairy milk at Ritual, I cannot speak to the baristas’ ability to foam cow’s milk, but if they are good at that and just aren’t trying with the soy…? I don’t know what the damn hell ass problem is, but I’m tired of paying extra for soy milk and getting inferior foaming. Either bring your A-game, or stop charging the extra money, or WHY NOT BOTH, because COME ON, JERKS, how much money are you losing on those Tetra Paks that unopened stay good FOREVER that you have to gouge the vegans and the lactose intolerant for our conscientiousness and/or dietary needs.

The sherry cake is really good though! Ideally, get sherry cake at Ritual to go and make coffee at home, allowing you to have delicious coffee exactly the way you want it AND sherry cake at the same time in quiet and comfort. Besides, Ritual has free wifi, but no outlets, so it’s not like you’re encouraged to stay there to work unless you’re talking over everyone and everything else anyway, and we already established how obnoxious that is. Hide yourself away, watch television shows on the computer in your pajamas, dip sherry cake in your coffee, maybe gluttonously eat two pieces and feel all warm and good and full. There’s no place like home when you’ve got quality baked goods. And are an agorphobe, but focus on the sherry cake, Ritual’s the only place in the city that sells it.

[people’s donuts photo via the studied casual; flat white photo by the author]

12/15/2008

Road Trip: Dozen Bakeshop in Pittsburgh!  »

This Vegansaur visited a new city recently: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, ancestral home of accredited Vegansaurus photographer Joel. While we were there, it snowed several times, and we saw a few enormously fat squirrels scale crabapple trees so spindly they should’ve fallen over with the winter bulk of its furry assailants, and yet it stood strong. We also spent time with a small and talkative (babble-ative?) baby, were fed many wonderful multicourse vegan suppers cooked by Joel’s mother, including the best pie crust I have ever eaten (seriously! And it is work, too, to get it so delicate)—but my primary goal was, obviously, to take an eating tour of vegan Pittsburgh. Who doesn’t love an eating tour?

We stumbled on Dozen Bakeshop because one of its two locations happened to be along our Thanksgiving walk route. It was closed at the time—for the best!—but promised to be open the next day, so cupcakes for breakfast it would be.


Dozen currently features three cruelty-free cupcakes: vanilla on Tuesdays, peppermint on Fridays, and “Mostess” on Saturdays. Mondays are “mystery” days, so they might offer a vegan cupcake then too, I can’t say. We went on a Friday, so we got peppermint cupcakes. They also had a ginger molasses cookie, and that was the extent of their vegan goods that morning. If we’d gone on a weekend morning we might’ve tried their vegan cinnamon roll, but our weekend mornings were already spoken for, so it wasn’t to be.

The cookie was fine, if a little too sweet; the ginger pieces were good, the molasses flavor was present without being too strong. The cupcake on the other hand was tragic. The cake was a rock; not a flavorless rock, but chewy and hard and totally unfortunate. The frosting divided us. Joel thought it was too sweet, while I thought it was one of the best frostings I’d ever eaten. It was incredibly thick and rich, buttery underneath the peppermint, and because the cake was so bad I wound up eating it bite by tiny bite with a spoon. Delicious. Still, not a reason to buy an entire cupcake, seeing as how the cake part went wasted.

The bakery is very nice inside—we went to the Lawrenceville location—and the staff were friendly and helpful, and they have free refills on house coffee, which is a huge step ahead in customer appreciation in comparison to every bakery/coffee house/cafe I have ever patronized EVER at home here in San Francisco, where you have to pay over 50 percent of the price of your first cup of coffee for every refill, despite most coming from the same push-lid carafe that keeps the stupid coffee hot-to-room-temperature for four-to-five hours before staff refreshes it. Point to Dozen Bakeshop for recognizing that despite serving savory baked goods and having free wifi, no one is going to hang around a bakery all day, so there’s very little risk of losing money on moochers staying for the coffee refills. Not that, you know, a business is in dire risk of losing hundreds of dollars a day in revenue giving out under a dollar in filtered hot water.

OK, the summary: For a vegan cookie and coffee (note: ask for milk substitute, they don’t put anything out there for you), Dozen is a nice place to go. For vegan cupcakes, it is a waste of time; I can make better cupcakes at home and if you can’t, come to me. The end.

[photo by Joel]

11/03/2008

Review: Atlas Café!  »

Atlas Café is a wonderful quiet little neighborhood coffee shop of the best sort. It’s big enough that there is always an available table (except during real rush periods), yet still feels cozy and welcoming. The baristas are super-friendly and casual (except for ONE dude! What’s his problem?) and will remember who you are and stuff, if that’s important to you.

Atlas does not quite have a full kitchen, but they do have a large menu with a bevy of vegan options. There are two vegan sandwiches available—the baked tofu (with nori!—probably the best choice), and the baked beet; and two sandwiches which can be made vegan without the cheese—the portobello mushroom and the roasted yam. At least one of their two daily soups is always vegan (go for split pea or lentil if they have it, avoid the mushroom: tastes like gravy!) They have a delicious no-cheese pizza made with tofu, yams, beets, and mushrooms (it sounds sort of weird, but the flavors just work together somehow). For breakfast you can get a bagel with hummus, and opt for tomato, onion and sprouts if you wish. (Would that they had Tofutti, alas.) There is also a wonderfully spicy ginger lemonade which is amazing on a hot day (all five of them).

Atlas consistently gets high marks in “best of” lists for being dog-friendly. You can sit with your dog in the enclosed patio area, as well as in the table area on the street out front. The downside is that smoking is also allowed in these areas.

Beware showing up on Thursday evenings, however, as they usually have a LOUD bluegrass band playing. If you’re not there to get down Kentucky-style, then it’s impossible to do anything else, like have a conversation or read a book. There’s approximately seven to 15 dudes with beards strumming various instruments or washboards as the case may be, and it’s just not what I come to a coffee shop for. I actually happen to like bluegrass, and I can’t stand being there when the band is playing. I turn right around and go back out. San Francisco is also home to an annual bluegrass festival; Atlas seems to host about half of it. So again, avoid.

[top photo via yelp]

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