Not that many years ago, Broad Street (as we called it then) was largely vacant, except for a bar or two and the venerable Broadway Pizza Company. It had once been the downtown of a separate town called Binghampton, but in 1915, Binghampton voted to give up its separate identity and become part of the city of Memphis. Not long afterwards,a city ordinance changed Broad Street to Broad Avenue, because Memphis had determined that all east-west streets must be avenues and all north-south streets would be streets. (This ordinance also tripped up the legendary “Beale Street”, and getting Beale back to “street” status took almost 30 years). But the remarkable transformation of the Broad Avenue area to Memphis’ second arts district has only taken about two years, and periodically now the district celebrates its new boom with Friday night art walks, similar to the Trolley Nights in the other South Main Arts District. On Friday, November 7, a large crowd was in the Water Tower Pavilion, listening to a great band of students from the School of Rock performing on the stage, with food trucks and clothing vendors nearby. Up on Broad, crowds were making their way to the different galleries and shops, new restaurants like Bounty on Broad, and temporary exhibits highlighting local products like Relevant Coffee Roasters, and some of the best handmade caramel candies I have ever eaten. Broad Avenue is definitely worth a visit as the Christmas season approaches, for unique gifts that cannot be found elsewhere.
After leaving the Jack Brown’s Beer and Burgers Joint in Lakeview, I wanted a breve latte before getting back on the highway to Atlanta, so I was thrilled to see a nearby coffee house on my iPhone’s Yelp app. The coffee house in question proved to be The Red Cat Coffee House, an attractive and spacious coffee bar in the middle of a burgeoning arts district in the shadow of the gigantic abandoned Sloss furnaces. Like any good coffee house, the Red Cat has the usual assortment of espresso-based drinks, and a light food menu of crepes and paninis, but unlike a number of coffee bars, the Red Cat roasts its own coffee in house. At one time, it was also a great place for live acoustic music in Birmingham, but has sadly discontinued its music policy. Nevertheless, it’s a great place for a latte or cappuccino when in the Lakeview area of Birmingham.
The Red Cat Coffee House and Gourmet Coffee Roasters
2901 2nd Av S
Birmingham, AL 35233
Great espresso-based drinks are not always easy to come by in Northeast Mississippi, so I was thrilled when I heard about the new AC’s Coffee in New Albany. The attractive little coffee house is located at the head of the new Tanglefoot Trail, a walking and biking trail from New Albany to Pontotoc that follows the right-of-way of the old Kentucky, Ripley and Ship Island Railroad built by Colonel William Falkner (whose son would add a “u” to his name and become a famous writer). On my brief stop at AC’s, I tried a breve latte, and was quite pleased, and was told that they also have frappes, some baked goods, and occasionally live music as well. AC’s has an address on South Railroad Avenue, but there is actually no such street, although it appears on maps. It fronts onto the Tanglefoot Trail, a block south of Bankhead Street, and can best be accessed by parking on Bankhead or North Railroad, and walking down the Tanglefoot Trail until you see the coffeehouse on your left.
102 S Railroad Av
New Albany, MS 38652
Each year on a Sunday, usually in August, the Satchmo SummerFest sponsors a second-line that runs from the St. Augustine’s Church in the Treme neighborhood to the Old U.S. Mint in the French Quarter, featuring Indian tribes, brass bands, the Baby Dolls and various social aid & pleasure clubs. This year’s second-line was scheduled to start at 12:30, and I thought it would start on time, so I felt I didn’t have time for a leisurely breakfast down in the city, and I grabbed a quick breakfast near my hotel at the Tic Toc Cafe in Metairie. With the parking situation so expensive and limited in and around the French Quarter, I decided to park my car up in Treme, close to the start of the parade route, and, fortunately, I had no problem finding a place to park near the Treme Coffeehouse. It was already extremely hot outside, so I grabbed an ice coffee from the coffeehouse, and then started walking down towards the church where the second-line would be starting. Like many other mornings when I had been in the neighborhood before a parade, the Treme was calm and quiet, but with a sort of eager anticipation in the air as well.
When I left out of Pearlz Oyster Bar, I was thinking of how nice it would be if Columbia had a dessert cafe that was open late at night. Looking across Gervais Street, I saw a small cafe with an outdoor sign that was flashing pictures of different kinds of desserts. It proved to be a place called Nonnah’s, which is actually a full-service restaurant in its own right, but the desserts are made in-house and truly amazing. Although they had coffee, with it being so hot, I chose a cold drink instead, and tried the Key Lime Pie, which was very unusual, but very good. Rather than the yellow-green custard type of pie that one usually sees with key Lime, this one was a light, airy whipped pie made from cool whip, sweetened condensed milk and lime juice in a homemade graham cracker crust. A number of other tempting desserts were visible in the glass case. Nonnah’s is open until 11 PM on weeknights, and until 12:30 AM on weekends.
923 Gervais Street
Columbia, SC 29201
On Friday June 27, I flew into Columbia, South Carolina to be a panelist at the Vocalis Music Industry Conference which was being held over the weekend. With no conference activities scheduled for the the Friday night, I headed downtown to the city’s entertainment district called the Vista. Unlike Memphis’ Beale Street, the Vista District is a large neighborhood, about three blocks wide and perhaps six blocks long along the Broad River, and differs from other entertainment districts in that it has an equal number of restaurants, shops, bars and clubs. While there are certainly plenty of live music venues, and liquor is available, there are also plenty of ordinary, family-friendly restaurants, frozen yogurt and dessert shops and boutiques. The place is also extremely attractive, and has little of the rowdy, drunken behavior that other cities often have in their entertainment districts. I decided to eat dinner at the Liberty Tap House, as I remember enjoying it in Myrtle Beach some years ago, and I have to say that I was quite pleased.
New Orleans is absolutely loaded with coffee houses and breakfast restaurants, and somehow I’ve always ended up missing the Who Dat Coffee Cafe. I had never managed to drive past it, and somehow, when I saw it in lists of restaurants, I suppose I always thought it was just a coffee house with maybe a few sandwiches. This time, I read the Yelp reviews, and came to realize that the Who Dat Coffee Cafe serves full breakfasts, and tremendous full breakfasts at that. And like all of the Crescent City’s better breakfast places, it has the charming interior decor, and the sidewalk seating as well. Of course the coffee is first-rate as well, and there are salads and lunch options too. Be sure to pay Who Dat Coffee Cafe a visit on your next trip to New Orleans.
Who Dat Coffee Cafe
2401 Burgundy St
New Orleans, LA 70117
A love of dark-roasted coffee seems to be one of the things that the Acadian people brought to Louisiana when they migrated from what is now Quebec, and Louisiana is justly famous for its dark-roasted coffee, either with or without chicory, a plant that was added to coffee to stretch it out during the Civil War, when Union blockades made coffee difficult to get. New Orleans has produced several famous dark coffee brands, including French Market, Cafe Du Monde and Community, the last of which has become popular in other states as well. But Lafayette’s Mello Joy Coffee, which bills itself “The Original Cajun Coffee” is not as well known, although it was founded in 1936. While for 40 years it was the favorite coffee of Cajun country, it rapidly disappeared after 1976 when the original owner sold it to a regional competitor. In 2000, Mello Joy Coffee reappeared in Louisiana when the company was reborn under new owners, and its popularity rapidly returned. However, as I had checked stores in Lafayette, I could not find any bags of Mello Joy whole beans, only the ground coffee. So I called the company headquarters and learned that the whole beans are sold only on the website, or at the distribution warehouse, which they allow individuals to visit if they want to purchase beans. As I was heading out of town to go back to Memphis, I stopped by the warehouse to purchase the beans. They come in four-pound bags at $21, nothing short of a steal (contrast the average Starbucks whole beans at $13 for 12-ounces). And it’s really good, I might add. Mello Joy also, incidentally, has got to be the only coffee with their own musical group, the Mello Joy Boys, who are an alter ego for the legendary Lost Bayou Ramblers.
Lafayette is probably second only to New Orleans when it comes to great cuisine, and the city has lots of breakfast choices. But I was especially intrigued by a downtown restaurant called The French Press, which has been called one of the best breakfast restaurants in America. The relatively small cafe occupies a historic building in the downtown area, and has an attractive and inviting atmosphere. Swamp pop music plays from the speakers overhead. The menu is New American and rather trendy, with few traditional breakfast options, opting rather for benedicts, chicken and waffles and grillades. I’m not a huge fan of boudin, but I tried the Cajun breakfast sandwich and it was for the most part really good, although I could have done without the aioli that came on it and that wasn’t mentioned in the menu. As one might expect from a place called The French Press, the coffee was absolutely incredible. Prices are not cheap, but not outrageously expensive either. Altogether it is a trendy and experimental spot for culinary adventurers, but not the place if you just want bacon and eggs or an omelette.
The French Press
214 E Vermilion St
Lafayette, LA 70501
When I finally got to Lafayette, it was too early for dinner, but too late to go to the antique malls that I had planned on visiting. So I headed first to a coffee bar in the River Ranch neighborhood of Lafayette called The Lab, which brags of “handcrafted coffees and comforts.” The handcrafted coffees are french pressed coffees, but The Lab has espresso based drinks as well, and the comforts include gelato and baked goods. I was also impressed by the pounds of different varieties of whole bean coffees. All of them looked great, and I would have been pleased to take any of them home. As I walked outside the coffee bar, I heard a kick drum being tested, and realized that some live music was about to get underway, probably at the little village square nearby, known as DeGaulle Square. On my last visit to this part of Lafayette, there had been no businesses on the square, which seemed relatively new, but now there was a bar and grill called Pour and a restaurant called the Village Cafe, which actually looked worth checking out had I not had my heart set on Ruffino’s on the River. A cajun music band was setting up in the bandbox in the middle of the square, and people were already setting up lawn chairs and picnic blankets. If I hadn’t planned on going to see James Hunter, I would have stayed right there to enjoy the beautiful weather and the great music.
The Lab Handcrafted Coffees & Comforts
1042 Camellia Blvd #6
Lafayette, LA 70608