Coffee Shop Quest


Historically, many authors were cafe habituates. Think Paris. Think Sartre, Fitzgerald, de Beauvoir, Baldwin. Today, writers and coffee shops are similarly symbiotic. The same can be said for many readers. While most book aficionados are not writers, I defy you to find a serious writer who is not a serious reader. (For my recent favs, see below.) Go to any coffee shop and observe latte sipping writers hunched over laptops or notebooks, readers lost in a book, be it hardcover, paperback, or ebook, seated amongst duos sharing stories of breakups or exotic travel destinations.

Unless you are reading aloud to someone, or tandem writing in person, writing and reading are solitary endeavors. For those of you who are far along on the introvert scale, days spent alone toiling away on the evolving masterpiece or latest great novel must sound like unmitigated bliss. For those (including me) who swing more to the extrovert side, spending day after day in one’s own company is a recipe for derangement. The LONG commitment of writing a book with no assurance of publication is scary enough, without the additional stress of too much alone time.

Solution? Find a harmonious coffee shop.

I have three favorites, all in NE Minneapolis. They are: 1) Mojo Coffee Gallery, 2) Diamonds Coffee Shoppe, and 3) Anelace Coffee. Both Diamonds and Mojo have yummy baked goods. Mojo has good brunch/lunch food and the consistently best coffee of the three. Anelace is aesthetically pleasant, with coffee of varying quality, and non-appealing treats (to me). But Anelace offers free sparkling water. Both Mojo and Diamonds rank high on the retro-artsy scale, with Mojo displaying engaging artworks and pottery. Diamonds is just plain old funky fun. Anelace has the best restroom.

Coffee shop people–where do you hang out? Why? What are you reading?

My recently read and highly recommended fiction: Virgil Wander by Leif Enger, The Idiot by Elif Batumen, Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead, Olga Tovarczuk

Until next time, be of good courage.

The cover of my journal.

Hill Valley Cafe, 3301 Central Avenue NE

The modestly signed exterior.

(NOTE: Hill Valley Cafe is no more)

Last week’s Eating and Writing up Central guest was my two year old granddaughter. This week’s companion will soon celebrate her 92nd birthday. My paternal aunt Lydia, who has a great sense of humor, works out with a trainer 3X/week, and went sky-diving on her last birthday, joins me for lunch at Hill Valley Cafe.

Note counter constructed of doors.

Friends have recommended Hill Valley as a worthwhile breakfast/lunch spot. Our experience is mixed, due in part to there being a solo person doing the cooking and serving. There is only one other customer, the service is less than great, but hey, we are in no particular rush. Lydia opts for the B.F.C., a sandwich with turkey, ham, bacon, cheddar, lemon mayo, tomato, and greens, easily justified, as she worked out this morning. I choose the Veg Burrito, which comes filled with potato, eggs, veg sausage, spinach, tomatoes, and cheese.

The B.F.C. I get that B=bacon, and C=cheddar, but what’s with the F?

The coffee is topnotch; the food is pretty food; the place is charming. Lydia’s sandwich is sizable. Half returns home with her for a future nosh.

I ask the server, a youngish guy, about the history of the building, which occupies a corner right across from the Columbia Golf Course. He reports that as far as he knows, it was once a law office, prior to that a private residence, and at one time a candy store. As it appears quite old, it likely has had many other incarnations. Online research reveals that it was built in 1924. On a real estate site it is described as a multiple family dwelling of 3046 square feet, with no mention of a business. Have we stumbled into the ultimate zoning mystery?

The door leads to Z-Amore, a vintage shop that will be the subject of a future posting.

The decor is a mish-mosh journey through time, which I love. Lydia appreciates the old cookstove which serves a counter for beverages. As noted above, an interior door leads one step down to a mid-century modern vintage shop. We take a browse through, not buying but appreciating the quality, variety, and whimsicality of the merchandise.

Friends, this marks the end of our lunching adventures. It is today, and at this moment, I have arrived back at Diamonds Coffee Shoppe, where I sit in a tubular chrome chair sipping from a bottomless cup of brew, having devoured a piece of zucchini-pineapple bread.

Happy place.

Diamonds Coffee Shoppe noir. Note bare foot in upper right. It is that kind of place.

Next week we will begin anew, slowly working our way back up Central NE, visiting non-restaurant businesses: Mecca Linen, Anelace Coffee, Divinas Boutique, Fair State Brewing, and Valeria’s Carniceria (that will be a real thrill for a yours truly, a diehard carnophobe!), and many, many more.

See ya soon.

Diamonds Coffee Shoppe, 1618 Central


Picture a warren of high-ceilinged rooms with mismatched thrift shop furnishings. This hipster/artist coffee shop haven is the stylistic and vibrational opposite of your average Starbucks. The coffee is well above average and available in a bottomless cup. Mine was served in a friendly mustard-colored ceramic mug. The menu offers soups, salads, sandwiches, wraps, and pastries. I went for the black bean burger. It was served with a generous helping of kettle-type chips and a dill pickle wedge. The burger was a bit mushy, and the bun was not structurally up to its task. But I ate it with relish (actually with pepper jack cheese, lettuce, ketchup, and mayo). The guy who took the order and delivered the food fits the vibe of the clientele—youngish, with tats, introspective, efficient, not chatty, at least not with me. And that’s OK.

I chose the room just to the right of the entrance, made cozy with a couch and chairs, a small table, several plants that appear to be barely hanging onto life, and a 25-cent vending machine filled with multi-colored Smarties, proceeds going to the American Red Cross, although the sign is suspiciously faded.

The overriding theme of the place is motorcycles—motorcycle magazines, motorcycle art, etc.—which I am trying to connect with the name “Diamonds.” And I also wonder how the motorcycle theme connects with the neighborhood, which has evolved as a home to artists and their studios. The coffee shop building itself contains a large number of studios, as evidenced by a directory near the door, and a steady in and out flow of artistic-looking folks. Across the street, a stained glass studio is housed in a lovely old limestone block building with red brick arches above long windows.

Writing time. After cracking opening my laptop I went up to the order counter to check if WiFi was available. Yes, the password was posted on a highly visible bright pink sign above the cash register. The woman who politely pointed this out was either the owner or the manager or a thief, as she subsequently removed a wad of cash from the till.

Today I am working on a fun scene. Claire, the main character, is taking a Greyhound bus from Chicago to “Border Falls,” the setting for much of the novel. I love the idea of Claire taking the Greyhound. It connects her with life outside of her previously relatively affluent sphere, and it enables her to encounter some pretty quirky people very up close and personal.

The writing goes well. Diamonds is just noisy enough. The bottomless coffee carries me through after-lunch drowsy time, and gives me an excuse to periodically stretch my legs.

Diamonds is worth a return visit for the comfy atmosphere and good coffee.

Footnote—I bought a freshly made Rice Krispie bar for my daughter, who is quite the aficionado. She gave it an 8.8 out of 10, commenting on the good crunch and prominent cereal flavor, the reasonable amounts of marshmallow goo, and the buttery flavor. Her only critique was that it could have benefited from a bit more of the marshmallow.

Until next week.