Coffee Shops with Benefits

Light- or dark-roast? Far more intriguing choices--like booze!--await at a new generation of coffeehouses.

 

 

MARYSBURG
The thing about writers is, from the outside, we appear to be doing nothing, at all times. Yet inside, inside we are breaking rocks in the hot sun. So we require constant soothing, petting, and the application of chilled beverages. Nobody understands this more than Teri Peppe, founder of the misleadingly named Marysburg Books, and author of The Marysburg Chronicles. Now, Marysburg Books is, as anyone who has read The Marysburg Chronicles would know, the name of a fictional coffee bar in Mankato. Hence this coffee shop and wine bar's name. Get it? No? Well forget it then, it's a Marysburg thing, you wouldn't understand.

Suffice it to say that Marysburg is a coffee shop on the edge of downtown that serves wine, beer, homemade chocolate-dipped pretzels, and a very pleasant Marysburg platter, on which, for $8.95, you will receive a small dish of warmed goat cheese topped with pesto and pine nuts, a wedge of Brie, slices of spicy salami, a bowl of toasted almonds, a pile of fruit (giant strawberries, on my visit) and a massive pile of slices of warm garlic bread. There are lots of big cozy chairs, a piano, tables inlaid with checkerboards, free wi-fi, and semi-private writer's stations. (They have to be semi-private or otherwise civilians could see what it is we're up to. Which is nothing. But pure, unadulterated suffering. And reading the Post's Page Six. And seeing what sorts of espadrilles you can buy in shoe stores in Madrid. And finding out whether certain New Mexican sparkling wines can be shipped to Minnesota. I mentioned the suffering, right?)

Anyhoo, Peppe has all kinds of new special events planned to raise the profile of her emporium, like a lox and bagel brunch, and two-for-one happy-hour pricing on wine and beer from 4:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. weekdays, and such. She's hoping to attract book clubs, poetry readings, quilting circles, you name it: If you would like a large, clean, cozy, inexpensive venue in which to hold an event, contact the Marysburg crew at once; they are just hiding and waiting for you, in plain sight. MARYSBURG BOOKS COFFEE EMPORIUM & WINE BAR; 304 Washington Ave. N., Minneapolis, 612.340.0078, www.marysburgbooks.com

 

 

ZENO
Zeno is flat-out the most convenient place that has ever been imagined. As gold is to gold, Zeno is to convenience. The one in Uptown is big and roomy (there's one downtown, too), and it's got every beverage that you could ever imagine thinking of wanting: Trappist Ale; Irish whisky; Zinfandel Port; tart and wonderful fresh-squeezed lemonade; just-roasted Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee; New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc; French Champagne; Gundlach Bundschu Cabernet; crazy-mad coffee drinks, like the one with Hennessy cognac, Frangelico liqueur, caramel, Ghirardelli chocolate; and more more more. Martinis of every stripe. More. More. More.

In fact, if you want to think of a beverage that Zeno doesn't have, you're going to have to reach into serious cocktail arcana and come up with one of those drinks made with hot mead and bouillon cubes. The architecture and design of these homegrown über-convenience stops is utterly pleasant: blond wood and blue-gray steel, big windows and small modern lights. To me, Zeno feels very Danish-airport, in a good way. I have avoided writing about Zeno since it opened, though, because I find the food uniformly over-sweet, or underwhelming.

I dropped by recently to see if I was just being a pill: The apricot chicken salad ($7.95) was beautiful, lofting six inches off the plate, but as always, to me, the dominant flavor was a tooth-aching sweetness, imparted, I'm guessing, by the apricot-ginger dressing. The spinach salad is equally beautiful, but made dessert-like with handfuls of candied walnuts and dried cranberries, and a sweet balsamic vinaigrette. The shrimp flatbread ($8.95) is a cracker-crust swamped with gooey, bland cheese, mushy shrimp, fresh avocado, black beans, corn, and a heavy brown snowfall of cumin. The panini have never seemed right to me; they use a thick, resilient bread that seems not to toast in the panini press, but instead just to get very hard.

Worst of all, I don't like Zeno's signature desserts, they always seem like sugar explosions to me. On my last visit I tried the tiramisu, or "Zeno Misu" ($7.95), hoping for something light with cream. What came was a glistening dark brick of a super-sweet chocolate cake seated in a martini glass, topped with even sweeter treats. And so it goes. Looking at their menu now, I see that even Zeno's New York cheesecake comes with "your choice of decadent syrups and candy crumbles: Snickers, Reese's Peanut Butter Cup, or Heath." This is obviously a difference in palate.

That said, even though I don't like the food, I really do like Zeno fine: People like to meet there, and I like to meet them there. I have had a number of productive meetings at Zeno, and a number of highly pleasant drinks with people who all had wildly different beverage preferences, but all of who found something perfect just for them. The hours are beyond any concept of convenience, and the beverage program is phenomenal.

Is that not convenient enough for you? Well, get this: For $9.99 at Zeno you can pick up a dozen actual, air-freighted H&H bagels from New York's most renowned bagelry. The only possible way I can see them becoming more convenient would be if they'd get their coffee shop on a magical flying platform so that it could swoop around the cities, picking up people at their homes and showing them a lovely aerial view at the same time. Hey, it's Zeno. If anyone could be that convenient, it would be them. ZENO CAFÉ, DESSERT & WINE BAR; 2919 Hennepin Ave. S., Minneapolis, 612.746.4170, 800 Lasalle Ave. S., Minneapolis, 612.746.1045, www.zenocoffee.com

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