Sometimes one has to wonder how many more coffee shops the metro area can hold. Then one visits the newest entry, Northern Coffeeworks on Washington Avenue South, and one thinks, “There’s room.”
Northern Coffeeworks (or NC, as it calls itself) is a collaborative venture started by the people behind Angry Catfish. The shop worked with Wisconsin’s Ruby Roasters and Illinois’ Intelligentsia Coffee, which also supply Catfish.
But where Angry Catfish sells bikes along with its coffee, NC sells food. Here again is a bit of collaboration across the local food world: The NC developers reached out to J.D. Fratzke, who in turn connected them to NC’s chef, Cassandra Swanson, who has worked in the kitchen for Fratzke and Lenny Russo, as well as at Wise Acre Eatery, Co-op Creamery Cafe, and Mississippi Market.
The result is a sleek, light and airy coffee shop, somewhat akin to Anelace Coffee, but with food prepared in-house from a menu that’s far beyond a few baked goods. The menu notes that ingredients are sourced locally, including from the perennial favorites Ferndale Market and Peterson Craftsman Meats, with wild rice supplied by the Red Lake Nation and bread and pastries from Patisserie 46.
Those ingredients are put to good and interesting use. We tried the Avocado Toast ($8), which came looking surprisingly sparse or, to put it mildly, deconstructed — several slices of toasted country bread with pickled radishes and avocado slices liberally sprinkled with black sea salt. That was it? Nonplussed, we began assembling our toast. But the dish proved to be a good reminder that with good ingredients, you don’t need to fuss much; the avocado was at just the right state of ripeness, the bread toasted and barely buttered, the pickled radishes tangy without overwhelming the milder avocado.
The Roasted Mushroom Biscuit ($9) was a more serious piece of business. A dense biscuit that still managed to be tender held up well to a generous filling of roasted, earthy mushrooms, peppery arugula, pickled red onions, and sweet basil aioli. It was an ode to the farmers market. The fried egg was runny and soaked into the biscuit.
The drinks menu had the same espresso drinks seen anywhere else, but it also had some intriguing options. The Smoked Sea Salt Mocha ($5.25) was like drinking a not overly sweet dark-chocolate cocoa, a grown-up hot chocolate, if you will. The sea salt was added with a light hand and seemed to enhance the dark chocolate flavor rather than register on its own.
The special drink of the day was the Cabin Vibes ($5.75), an iced espresso with milk, maple syrup, and orange bitters. Everyone at our table had some doubts about this one, until we tried it. As with the sea salt and mocha combination, the maple syrup here was handled judiciously and didn’t oversweeten the drink. The orange bitters seemed to smooth out the bitterness of the espresso, leaving just the slightest orange aftertaste.
NC’s is located next to the parking lot belonging to Open Book, which also has a coffee shop with food (but NC does not have parking privileges there — be prepared for meters). But while Open Book’s coffee shop seems more of a convenience for Open Book staff and participants in Loft and Minnesota Center for Book Arts programs, NC stands on its own as a destination shop. And in a nice tip of the hat to the writing center, NC sells branded notebooks and pencils.
Northern Coffeeworks, 1027 Washington Ave S, Minneapolis, 612.353.4222; Mon-Fri 6:30 a.m.-8 p.m., Sat-Sun 7:30 a.m.-8 p.m.