There is a rich history of coffeehouses around the United States — and the world — which is worth getting into more detail about at another time. However, the focus of this week’s article is on the restaurant portion of the humble and widely adored cafes.
In terms of Philadelphia cafes, the options are plentiful and offer a variety of menus, locales, ambiances and cuisines that fill the need for a shop with hearty food partnered with heartwarming drinks. Beginning from the orientation of Drexel’s campus, two cafes should immediately come to mind: Sabrina’s and Green Line.
Sabrina’s is a household name in Philadelphia when it comes to brunch, and their outrageously-sized challah french toasts resonate with locals and tourists alike. But what is lesser known about Sabrina’s is that their all-day menu is also quite popular. Four of the five Sabrina’s Cafe — sorry, Italian Market Sabrina’s — locations also offer dinner almost every day of the week along with drink specials and other fun menu items that are unexpected for a breakfast and lunch place. However, if you plan on going on a weekend, either get there early or get in line now.
Another Philly favorite that has branched out across the City of Brotherly Love is the Green Line Cafe. This place began on 42nd Street and Baltimore Avenue back in 2003 with a family turning an abandoned building into a now community staple. With a nod to the 34 Green Line Trolley that runs along Baltimore Avenue, the Green Line cafe became — according to their website — “West Philly’s Living Room.”
What was initially just a coffeehouse has since expanded to having sandwiches, salads, local small-batch bagels and more, along with a total of six locations to date. What was once a singular West Philly haven now has five of its six locations scattered around the area, providing to the community that gave so much to the Green Line Cafe in its infancy. The Green Line favorite? Get “The Steve,” which has marinated tofu, arugula, tomato and a spicy aioli on a fresh ciabatta roll. And it’s less than $6!
If you travel a little further down Baltimore Avenue to 50th Street, you’ll reach the old fire hall that Dock Street Brewing Company has so lovingly renovated. But tucked away right next to Dock Street is the anarchist vegan hideout, also known as The Satellite Cafe. With espresso drinks that are named “Kick in the Pants” and “The Black Death,” written in large type on a chalkboard, and an extensive selection of unique wraps and bagel sandwiches, The Satellite Cafe sure takes their branding and their food seriously.
Heading eastward, just across the Walnut Street Bridge, there is a narrow, low-ceilinged spot that is sure to feel cozy, and that is none other than Good Karma Cafe. With four locations all south of City Hall, you’ll have to head to a certain part of town to find one. If you check out their website, Good Karma lays claim to offering “delicious Organic and Fair Trade Certified coffees,” “providing exceptional customer service,” and all the while “doing it in eco-friendly shops and sustainable practices that serve the neighboring community.”
Continuing with the theme of community service, one of Philly’s most unique cafes is helping its community grow together. The Monkey and the Elephant, located in Brewerytown, is Philadelphia’s first and only non-profit cafe. The idea that began back in 2011 took three years of pop-up shops before finally getting its own brick and mortar location in 2015.
According to their website, The Monkey and the Elephant is a cafe that has a mission: “to fortify former foster youth with personal and professional skills, employment and the supportive community needed to lead a sustainable and independent lifestyle.” Oh, and their paninis pair perfectly with a freshly-made coffee.
If you head east from The Monkey and the Elephant on West Girard towards 16th Street, you’ll end up by the next spot — Vineyards Cafe. This tiny yet ornamental corner cafe is one of the highest-rated eateries in all of Philadelphia and known for dishing out high quality in all their food.
Say you want a savory crepe filled with goat cheese and bacon? Check. What if you’re in the mood for a sweet crepe with ricotta, amaretto, caramel and vanilla bean sugar? They have it. Delicious sandwiches? They’re in stock. How about a simple bagel or two? Vineyards Cafe has that as well. What about the rare “toasted baguette” menu item? Don’t even break a sweat. Are all of the menu items under $10? That’s one final yes.
The coffee, food and sweet treats are incredibly reasonable in price, given the quality and portion sizes. This is why Vineyards Cafe has such a reliable return from its customers.
If you head down south to Rittenhouse Square area, you’ll find yourself near the widely adored — and previously mentioned in this food column — K’Far Cafe. K’Far is the Hebrew word for village, and K’Far Cafe represents the Israeli bakery that Mike Solomonov remembers working at outside Tel Aviv, K’Far Saba. Camille Cogswell is in charge of things here, and K’Far speaks for itself in terms of experience and food. If you want to broaden your cultural cafe horizons, K’Far cannot be overlooked.
Another spot on the edge of the Rittenhouse area is Res Ipsa Cafe. This restaurant is a tiny, magical place with large swaths of natural light shining in, pristine marble tables and an open kitchen for viewing pleasure. Come in the morning for their popular breakfast sandwich on their homemade english muffin, or come in the evening for their highly sought after pasta dishes, like the orecchiette with beans and pecorino or the bucatini with pine nuts, broccoli and anchovy. They also serve local roasters Reanimator Coffee, which can be bought for a mug on the spot or with a bag of beans to-go.
If you happen to see one of the editors from Bon Appetit Magazine there at the same time, don’t be surprised. They love Res Ipsa, too, and feel free to take their stamp of approval as quality control.
There is another Bon Appetit Magazine-loved cafe located some distance away from Res Ipsaa, and it is Hungry Pigeon in the heart of Queens Village. This is a heavily frequented cafe by countless locals and food critics alike, and the consensus is clear: you should go here. They serve righteous breakfast plates during their weekend brunch, with potentially the best hash brown in all of Philadelphia — just a rumor! — coupled with their offering of Philly’s own Ultimo Coffee. In the nighttime, Hungry Pigeon is proud to showcase a superb dinner menu with many local cheeses to try. They even go above and beyond with nailing their mainstay desserts: a butter-almond creme brulee and a black tea ganache on top of a flourless chocolate cake. If you ask just about anyone in a 10-block radius of Fourth and Fitzwater, they’ll tell you Hungry Pigeon is firing on all cylinders.
The last two spots to discuss (including this week’s hidden gem) are One Shot Cafe and Milkcrate Cafe.
The first spot to dive into is Milkcrate Cafe. Located in the heart of Fishtown, Milkcrate is equal parts record shop and cafe, offering over thousands of records, new and used turntables and more to pair with their creative cafe menu. They serve Philly-based giant La Colombe coffees, and they’re known for both their food and their record collection.
If you’re in the mood for an egg and cheese bagel sandwich, try “The Notorious e.g.g.” Want it with bacon? Go for “The Biggie.” Or maybe the “Bagella Fitzgerald” or the “Dixie Chicken” sandwiches will be more suited for your preferences. And yes, they really did that.
The final spot — and this week’s hidden gem — goes to One Shot Cafe. One Shot is a Northern Liberties favorite, repping its neighborhood with a beautiful wooden interior that is truly defining and well appreciated.
They do a slew of bagel sandwiches, along with a host of “Cafe Favorites” on their menu, but two of their go-tos seem to be their baked apple french toast and the mushroom and buttered kale omelet. They also have an in-house Pastry Program, dedicated to high-quality ingredients being turned into high-quality baked goods, creating anything from rustic tarts to scones to their famous “Baby Kronuts.”
In terms of coffee, One Shot gets theirs delivered from Stumptown Coffee in Red Hook, Brooklyn, and while it’s not Philly-affiliated, it is known for being high-quality coffee. Sweet or savory, indulgent or fresh, One Shot will have you covered, and you’ll want to stay a while.
While this week it was the cafe, next week it will be the coffeehouse. Tune in next Friday!