Pittsburgh East End Coffee Shop Review
As a freelance Web Designer, I like to work out of various coffee shops – free WiFi, no rental overhead for office space, and someone else always makes sure the coffee pot’s been refilled. After having done this for a couple of years now, I thought it’d be fun to do a little review of some of the places I frequent most. After each location’s write up I’ve rated each on how good their coffee is, what the service is like, the general atmosphere of each place, musical aptitude and how reliable the WiFi connection is. Do enjoy and let me know if there are other East End shops that need reviewed (I’ve admittedly only reviewed a small fraction here.)
Crazy Mocha – Shadyside
Crazy Mocha is a Pittsburgh chain, but it doesn’t feel much like one, possibly due to the fact that each store is pretty unique in its decor. This particular branch, which was the original and is my most frequented hop (as I live just around the corner) is a fabulously brightly painted place with semi-exposed warehouse ceilings and cartoon paintings of goats working the coffee manufacturing line. It’s all a bit tacky, in my opinion, but Shadyside in general is more upscale kitsch than its residents like to admit.
The best thing about this place (aside from its proximity to me, which doesn’t necessarily affect you, dear reader) is its WiFi connection, which has been replaced with a decent stream of bandwidth provided by Verizon since Telerama shut down. It’s typically up, and even when it isn’t you can leach off of the cupcake store across the street or one of a few other open connections. A grumpy old guy (who can actually be quite amicable if you know how to ignore him at the right moments) will give you a hard time about how much room for cream you want or whether you want French Vanilla or just regular Vanilla in your latte. Locals are sipping coffee in packs, smoking cigarettes outside (it’s recently become non-smoking inside) and hanging out until midnight or later depending on the day of the week. They’ve got wheat salads, tabouli, decently healthy wraps and a huge selection of muffins, cakes and other assorted globules of fat and carbohydrates to help give you a reason to wash something down with coffee. The price of a medium cup here, though, is over $2 and some change, and there are no refills. The worst aspect of this place, though, is the music – Bob FM is on about 80% of the time, and there radio cuts in and out so much that you find yourself wondering what’s happened to Britney.
Crazy Mocha – Oakland
About 1/3rd of the size of their Shadyside branch, this place is typically much less packed and only offers a single inside table (the rest are comfortable couches and ample bar space.) An enormous map of the world displays Earth’s continents and countries in beautiful 4 color display and the girl behind the counter is cheerful if groggy, but almost always plays good music (all-Modest Mouse mix tapes aren’t uncommon). The WiFi here is atrocious, mostly because she isn’t very comfortable resetting it (I asked her to once and for the rest of the day they had no connection – I felt bad asking her about it ever again.) Given the Starbucks/Caribou Coffee options available in Oakland, this is probably your best bet. There are plenty of interesting people coming in and out all day, discussing keg parties, lectures and hospital lingo, and if you can manage to stay online it’s a pretty interesting place to work from.
Crazy Mocha – Bloomfield
Unlike other Crazy Mocha’s I’ve been to, this one gives out refills for only $0.80, which is a helluva lot better than paying $2.12 every time. The girl who usually works mornings has a bit of an arrogance to her, but it’s mostly perceptual – she’s outstandingly accommodating with special requests, always remembers your favorite drink but doesn’t mind asking if you’ve changed, and will pretty much drop whatever she’s doing to come and wait on you. This branch doesn’t really have food, aside from muffins and cake (which are in abundance, both in variety and gluttony), and have also recently become completely non-smoking, though there’s some outside seating available. One nifty aspect of this place is that it shares space with Dreaming Ant, a DVD rental place for those of you who don’t illegally download your movies or get them to show up in your mailbox every few days. Bloomfield in general is a great neighborhood, and this is definitely the boss alternative to Starbucks down the street.
Enrico’s Tazza D’Oro
Discounts for getting their on a bike, an extraordinarily liberal flier-posting policy and the owner’s willingness to support other local businesses (including allowing them to sell their wares – like stickers and magazines – right from her own counterspace) make this my absolute favorite place to get caffeinated and click at my keyboard. The owner rides to work everyday and is a member of Bike Pittsburgh’s Board of Directors. The other baristas are all pretty friendly, incredibly accurate at remembering your drink, and don’t mind bringing your soup out to your table. The crowd is incredibly varied – you get as many moms pushing strollers as you do tight-panted bicyclists, plus a heaping helping of colorful locals – and there’s a good chance you’ll be involved in more than a few conversations in a 6 hour shift.
The food is really good and they have a decent selection of vegetarian options, though it’s all a bit expensive and they run out of the soup of the day pretty often. Each cup of coffee comes with a free refill, and the owner gives away lattes and cappuccinos like credit card companies give away 25% interest rates. They have cyclist meet ups in the garden out back and run a blog, so check out their site for more info on that type of whatnot. Oh and one particularly interesting aspect of this place is their gift cards. They don’t accept credit cards, so they’re only cash and these gift cards – which you can purchase with a credit card. Go figure.
Coffee Tree – Shadyside
Google Map | No Website Available
The Coffee Tree would be so much better if they had their own, dedicated WiFi connection. The place has a chain store feeling, and I know there’s at least one other branch in Squirrel Hill, though I’m not sure if this is a local chain or something larger (the lack of an easy to find website makes me think local). That’s not entirely bad though, and it’s not completely plasticine like most chains feel. What you end up with is decent service and clean bathrooms. They have couches, some wrapping around a working fireplace, to keep you warm in the winter. They have a giant garage door that basically opens the entire front of their store, to keep you in touch with the outside world in the summer. Forgot to buy mom a birthday present? Grab a handmade mug from their small store area and you’re all set. With a nice selection of treats, smiling faces behind the counter and the convenience of everything else Walnut Street, this place would be one of my mainstays if it weren’t for its lack of WiFi (you’ve got to use the Shadyside Free Wireless, which is spotty at best).
Located just across the street from the Sprout Fund, I first found myself in Quiet Storm for a Barrett Black Band show a few years ago. It was night time, a BYOB show and the place was packed with hipsters who just couldn’t get enough of that rockin’ cello that Mr. Black plays so well. During the day it’s a bit of a different scene, though everyone in the place looks like they’re all suffering from lack of hat brims and pant material, with tattooed guests sipping coffees poured by mohican waiters. Their food is mostly (if not all) vegan and vegetarian, and you can get a never ending cup of coffee for $3. Considering my typical 6 hour shift, that’s a pretty damn good deal (I pay close to this much for one coffee from Crazy Mocha, for example.) The music is varied and reflects the hipster/punk rock people inside, many of whom have arrived by bicycle.
Quiet Storm is as much a restaurant and lounge (a big couch and pinball table in the back to set the mood) as it is a coffee shop, and aside from what can be sparse service, this is a great place to call the office for the day.
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