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Midwest Coffee Shops

I'm planning two road trips this Spring around the Midwest and it's coffee culture. I'm looking for coffee houses that are secret gems to anyone outside that town or city. Whether it's the experience going there or the coffee and espresso being excellent. The states I'm interested in are Missouri, Iowa, Illinois, Kansas and Arkansas. And please...no chains!

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  1. Broadway Cafe right off Westport Road on Broadway in KC has the BEST coffee. They also have a place 1 block away where they roast their beans called Broadway Roasters. It's at Westport Road and Central. All types of coffee drinks at both locations are just the best.

    1. Broadway Cafe is a pretty good choice -- best of all, it's right next to a Starbucks and busy as ever.

      If you're really interested in coffee culture, I would recommend a trip to Lawrence, Kansas. In particular, Massachusetts Street, which is the historic main drag, has the highest caffeine density I've seen in the Midwest. There are five or six distinct coffee shops, each with it's own particular coffee culture. Standouts are:

      * La Prima Tazza, catering to grad students and film buffs
      * Henry's, catering to the black eyeliner journalistas
      * La Bourgeois Pig, catering to international students

      There is also Signs of Life Cafe, Milton's, Java Break, House of Cha, and a cyber cafe whose name escapes me. Oh, and Wheatfields Bakery. All right on or a block on either side of Mass St., along a less-than-1-mile stretch.

      1. Columbia, Missouri has three wonderfully distinct, no-chain, coffee houses. Each is located in our downtown district. Broadway is the major east - west street in The District. Lakota is the only one with an in-house roast master. The owner left the corporate world to pursue his passion for coffee. Really great coffee in a beautiful building, located one block south of Broadway on 9th Street. It can come across as a little snooty at times, even though the owner is not that way at all. Coffee Zone is owned by a Jordanian-born imigrant whose slogan is "Death before Decaf." A cup of "Rocket Fuel" will keep you going all day. Good selection of Middle Eastern dishes for lunch and great selection of interesting baklava and other sweet treats. Located one block north of Broadway on 9th Street. Cherry Street Artisan is part coffee house, part deli, part gallery and part performing arts venue. Live music at lunch such as blue grass, acoustic guitar, etc. Poetry slams, belly dancers, jazz and a bit of anything else scheduled in the evenings. This is a fun and funky location, one block south of Broadway between 8th & 9th Streets.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Wren Graham

          I back up the recommendations for Lakota and Coffee Zone. Not a fan of Artisan based on the way they treat their performers.

          If you're going through Fayetteville, Arkansas, check out Arsaga's. They have several locations in town, but they're NOT a chain in the sense that Kaldi's or Starbucks are. They're more like a successful local coffee roaster and they make wonderful baked goods. The one on Block Street (just off the Square downtown, has limited seating), but the locations on North Gregg and the Mission/Crossover area are both cozy and funky.

        2. Here in our tiny little Sac City, Iowa, on highway 20 about 75 miles east of Sioux City, we have a little place called The Hub on 5th. The locals don't quite know what to do with espresso and coffee drinks that cost $2 or $3--and some of them think cappuccino comes out of a packet--but a few of us do like them, and they do serve regular coffee, and also have really good sandwiches and salads and other things at lunchtime. The coffee is good, and they have Italian sodas too (although they looked at me like I had three heads when I asked them to put cream in one for me).

          If you happen to pass through at lunchtime (dinnertime to us locals) be sure to stop in. The owner's father is a caterer of some repute around here, a fellow with the nickname of Wimp, and they have his specialty, "Wimpy Beans," every day. They're really nice baked beans with bacon, peppers, mushrooms, tomatoes, shredded pork, and goodness only knows what else. (They don't stop serving after the dinner hour; you can get any of this stuff till they close late in the afternoon.)

          The way you get there is go to the stoplight downtown (5th street) and turn north for one block, and it's on the left-hand (west) side of the street right next door to a secondhand store called "Second Hand Seller."

          1. Very good. I'll keep a file of these. Certainly want to check out Columbia and Sioux City's choices. I've been to Lawrence fairly recently, but haven't seriously hit all the places. I went to a game at KU and had an excellent Americano at a place called The Pulse on campus. Love Wheatfields and their espresso based drinks were very good and well crafted. Then there was the pastries...wow. Anyone out there that hasn't been here, it's worth a drive.

            I've been to Broadway. Great location and love seeing them hang with that Starbucks, but their coffee has a reputation of being sub-par and tasty to smokers only. I use to go there a lot in the mid-90's and they haven't progressed much since.

            1 Reply
            1. re: BurtonBailey

              I'm not sure if the road trips are still ahead of you, but if you find yourself in Sioux City the hands-down #1 choice is Pierce St. Coffee Works on 1920 Pierce Street. I grew up in the Seattle area and have found this place to have the closest thing to a real latte I've tasted in the Midwest. They even brew Peet's as their regular coffee. The soups and sandwiches are always fresh and tasty, making it one of the best lunch spots in town. The owner travels around the world taking photographs and often you'll find them lining the walls of the shop along with other modern paintings from talented artists in the region.

            2. For a great vegetarian Sunday brunch, try MoKaBe's at Grand and Arsenal in St. Louis. If you are traveling with your dog, they have a dog-friendly terrace.

              2 Replies
              1. re: Doug

                Is it a coffee house...and is their coffee and atmosphere nice or interesting?

                1. re: BurtonBailey

                  Mokabe's is great becuase of the people and vibe. It's very liberal/counterculture, glbt and veggie/vegan friendly. Basically, you can get a good (not great) coffee and enjoy all the south city hipster culture. It's always filled with a diverse and interesting crowd. Cons (for me) are that it's usually noisy and smoky downstairs. The upstairs is non-smoking. My favorite coffee shop in town bar none.

                  For the best coffee in town, you should go to Kaldi's on DeMun in Clayton. It's much quieter and usually filled with studying WashU grad students. Kaldi's roasts their own and sells to some of the best restaurants in town, but it's best to go straight to the source.

              2. Fortunately, both Broadway locations are smoke - free now and have been for years. I've never heard of them as being considered sub par, I like them alot and buy their beans for home brewing. Their Ethiopian beans are wonderful. I have to say I do know people who like the coffee, but not the atmosphere. We've been loyal customers since the day they opened, so I'm not too objective about that :-)
                Have you been to Room 39? The coffee bar is small, but I've had nice espresso there. And always good food.
                It's not coffee, but Tea Drops on Pennsylvania in Westport (KC) is very comfortable and has great drinks and tea accessories.

                  1. re: DrWine

                    I was just going to post this.

                    Also, Le Chat Noir is a great little place in a big house in a neighborhood near downtown. At night you can also buy very reasonably-priced bottles of wine. I hoep they're still open--I graduated from Drake University in 2000 and haven't been back since.

                    1. re: IndyGirl

                      I'm afraid to say that Le Chat Noir is now closed. It's been converted into an Italian place (Cafe di Scala I think) that is only open a few days each week. I did have a chance to eat there for lunch about six months ago but haven't been there for dinner yet.

                      1. re: dg2445

                        I stopped in one night for dessert and wine, and it happened to be Saturday night. Nice vibe, but VERY loud, as they have live jazz on Saturday nights. Had some good tiramisu and a glass of sparkling dessert wine.

                  2. A couple of other KC joints you should check out would be:

                    * Filling Station at about 30th and Gillham. The food and coffee are both excellent, and the shop is in a converted gas station, complete with roll-up windowed doors

                    * YJ's Snack Bar at about 18th and Baltimore. This is a Crossroads hangout, some of the best people watching in KC, and open 24 hours a day on the weekend

                    * Latte Land. This is a local chain with a number of locations, but I would go to the location at 47th and Jefferson on the Plaza. Definitely the see-and-be-seen coffee shop for the ladies that lunch.

                    1. I second Zanzibars for the steamed eggs (they use the steamer on the espresso machine). Java Joes is another great place.

                      1 Reply
                      1. When you go to St. Louis, don't forget Kayak Coffee, another Wash U hangout. It's at the corner of Skinker and Forest Park Parkway, right at the Metro stop

                        1. I preface with I am a cappuccino fan. Few places in St. Louis can pull and pour a traditional cappuccino as apposed to the over foamed mess that Seattle has pawned off as the cappuccino. The best baristas in my opinion are in St. Charles at Picasso's Coffeehouse on historic main street as they can pull my capp better then anyone in the city. Partly this is because they are familiar with my preference, and customer service is at the forefront of what they do. They use Chauvin coffee which is a local roaster that supplies many of the shops in town, so their beans are pretty good, but not as good as they could be if they were taking care of it themselves. It's also the only shop in town that consistently pours latte art, proving my point that they have the most well trained baristas.

                          Freshest coffee goes to Northwest. They roast every Monday and Thursday in small batches. They do a good job roasting, and if you go to the shop in the central west end where they do the actual roasting you can get a good shot or capp. There other location is a bit weak.

                          Shaw's on the Hill (Italian part of town) is a beautiful shop, but I feel they over roast, and don't pull a very good shot.

                          Kaldi's original location on Demun in Clayton can pull a good espresso, but trying to get a traditional capp out of them leaves one wishing you were having your teeth pulled. I do prefer their espresso blend more then any other shop that's roasting for themselves in the city, and although I am skeptical of the freshness on all their beans for sale, I'm sure they're pouring through the espresso blend and all is well with that one. Kaldi's also has some great cakes and cookies.

                          I'll post more if anything comes to mind of interest. There are a couple shops I've been meaning to make the trek to, but I can only drink so many shots in a short time frame before I feel like I'm going to explode.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: bobzemuda

                            I think bobzemuda is right about Shaw "overroasting," but I might say that they just lean dark. I've never found the roast to get to the point that it made the coffee worse, but just that it tastes roastier. Plus, when i get a capp they do the milk well, which is as important as the coffee I think. I think they are superior to Kaldi's, but Kaldi's is still good.

                          2. Some more good ones here. I have gone to Zanzibar's and Kaldi's before and enjoyed both. Kaldi's has a good location and both have decent coffee. I live in KC, so I won't be visiting the shops here, but my personal favorite here is The Roasterie Café. Really packed, great hours and the best coffee by far in KC. They were featured in Imbibe (great new bev. magazine) recently as a US bev. destination. Check out this site coffeereview.com. I do some of my research here.

                            I'll certainly look into Java Joe's and another place I enjoyed a lot on a mini-trip last year was Mars Cafe by Drake U. It was a coffee bar with a few microbrews.

                            Thanks about Kayak Coffee. Sounds worth going. Also while there I'll check into Picasso's and Northwest (great name). Where in the CWE is Northwest?

                            Thanks guys, keep them coming. I'll probably leave for Iowa and Nebraska the first of March.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: BurtonBailey

                              Have a good trip! I hope you make it to Sac City and The Hub.

                              Interesting little note: our county was just named #7 on the list of the Best Places to Live in Rural America.

                              As you pass through on the highway, be sure to watch for Barn Quilts.

                            2. In regards to Kayak's, I'd avoid the one by the Galleria. I've been several times and have not been impressed. The counter people's attitudes range from aloof to downright snotty. I've tried several of the sandwiches too and am yet to find one that's decent. I really wanted to like this place but have now given up on it. There's lots of places to get coffee!

                              1. In St. Louis, Hartford Coffee is a nice place. They roast their own coffee, I think in-house, and they air roast it as opposed to the more common drum roasting method. Also, they have great desserts. The place is kid friendly -- that will be an attraction to some and a turn-off to others, but all in all it's a very comfortable, inviting place. Northwest Coffee is also very good. They have two spots in St. Louis, one in the Central West End, where they, too, roast their beans, and another location in Clayton. Here's a link to an article about local roasters and their shops in the St. Louis area: http://www.saucemagazine.com/article/...

                                1. Last few posts...very helpful. Heading to Chicago in two weeks and will try 2 STL places mentioned. Curious about air roasting, suppose to be more even roast. I saw that last year in 2 mags. Also, ALL about the small town (The Hub).This has been very helpful gang. If any of you have KC restaurant questions let me know.

                                  1. I got the best capp outside of NYC that I've ever had at 222 Artisan Bakery in Edwardsville a couple weeks ago.

                                    Perfect 1/3s in a 6oz cup.

                                    So delicious!

                                    They are definitely my high mark for the area, and they, themselves, are true coffee geeks.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: bobzemuda

                                      Edwardsville, Il? Edwardsville, KS?

                                    2. I'm very fond of Hi Hat Coffee on Stateline in Mission, Kansas (just over the line from KC, MO) It's in a converted gas station that was also a haircutting place many years ago - actually first place my beau got his hair cut. But that probably is not what makes their coffee so good. I aslo like their baked goods, especially their whole wheat snickerdoodles.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. At the risk of incurring your wrath, I suggest a chain -- but a local one -- in Iowa City, Iowa. The Java House is a bit upscale for a place that draws so many college students. Perhaps pricey (though not being a major coffee drinker, I have little with which to compare). Plenty of types of coffee. You'd find something you like. Live music on Friday morning and evening at the main downtown location. And most important... wireless internet.

                                        I like the Java House location in Prairie Lights Bookstore the best. Prairie Lights is one of the best-known independent bookstores in the country. In the space now occupied by the coffeehouse, a local literary society met in the 1930s, hosting Carl Sandburg, Robert Frost, Langston Hughes and e e cummings, among others (the story is that Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas were scheduled for a reading, but their plane was detained). None of this may mean anything to you, but as a filmmaker who goes there sometimes to write, I like the idea that the ghosts might be watching over me.

                                        Elsewhere in IC, check out the Tobacco Bowl on the Ped Mall downtown. It's funky and eclectic, a lot more downscale than the Java House. Formica tables and kitchen chairs. I haven't tried anything there because, being the Tobacco Bowl, I think you're required to smoke.

                                        Anyone from the Quad Cities in this thread? There used to be a neat place in downtown Davenport on Brady Street (Theo's Java something or other). It, too, was eclectic and comfortable, but I don't know if it went out of business or just moved. And there is (was?) a coffeehouse on the Rock Island Ped Mall that, judging from the books on sale, seemed to be a gay and lesbian hangout.

                                        Kind of a neat place in Moline, Illinois. Fireworks, on 23rd Street (I believe) about a mile south of downtown. It's a fairly new place where people can sit and make pottery or listen to live music.

                                        1. One more in eastern Iowa. Cup o Joe's in Cedar Falls on the north edge of downtown. CF is home of the University of Northern Iowa, so the coffeehouse has a young vibe to it. Prices are reasonable, more so than most coffeehouses I visit. The furnishings are very neat, bright fifties-looking table lamps, each with a shade of a different color. Gives the place a happy, festive look. Has the feel of one of those "Futurama" kind of kitchens from Worlds Fair days.

                                          1. While we're on the subject - does anyone know of a decent coffee shop in Cedar Rapids, IA? *$ is about the only option that I'm aware of and I try to avoid the place. Thanks.

                                            7 Replies
                                            1. re: dg2445

                                              St. Louis

                                              the best coffee in town is definitely at KALDI's . the original location is in DeMun, area code 63105. they do have other locations and just opened in columbia- demun is original and much grungier- the coffee is great everywhere. Kaldis roasts its coffee in St. Louis

                                              Northwest coffee is also very good with a location in Ladue which is in St. Louis. They have a roasting facility in town as well.

                                              1. re: EmilyCorson

                                                The best in "the area" is in Edwardsville at Goshen Coffee.

                                                I'd give the second nod to Kaldi's. They have a nice espresso, and I like it a lot, but they don't pull consistent shots. For drip, they roast too much coffee at one time, and as a result, it's often stale. There's just no way to sell it fast enough. I think things will only get worse as they sold and are lookign to expand more with two shops opening that I'm aware of.

                                                Northwest and Shaw both tend to lean towards over-roasting causing bitterness in every shot and also I have never had a drink made sufficiently there.

                                                Those two shops are still better than most in town. Park Ave coffee for instance - yikes can they ruin Chauvin's product fast.

                                                People tell me to go to Mississippi Mud House but I haven't made it yet.

                                                Overall though, we're way behind on our coffee culture for the size of St. Louis with the exception of Goshen/222 Artisan Bakery. They pull wicked shots, and are tru coffeegeeks.

                                              2. re: dg2445

                                                Roasters in Hiawatha (on Center Point just north of Boyson)... coffee gets no fresher.

                                                If you're downtown, the Blue Strawberry (near 2nd & 2nd) is an oasis of activity in a ghost town.

                                                1. re: cali2ia

                                                  Thanks! My family lives on the SW side of CR so neither is particularly convenient, but I'll have to check them out next time I'm in town.

                                                2. re: dg2445

                                                  I haven't been there, but I waited on a couple who told me to visit Croissant du Jour on Mt. Vernon Rd. in Cedar Rapids. They (the couple) raved about the sandwiches and pastries. Google them for hours and address, etc., and report back, please!

                                                  1. re: ctscorp

                                                    Not quite what I was looking for but I also have a weakness for good pastries. I'll have to try it next time I'm in town.

                                                    1. re: ctscorp

                                                      I have been there, and absolutely love it. It's run by a French woman and her french-trained-former-chef husband. Most of its opening hours it's a patisserie, but from 11-2 they do soups, croque monsieurs, and quiches. Soups tended to be blended. I think it was asparagus & mushroom the last time I was there (in July, before deadlines put an end to my long drives for lunch). I find the quiches fantastic, but my wife deemed them to be not as good as her mother's. But as she'll eat the frozen ones from target, her palate is suspect.

                                                      As for the coffee, as this is a coffee thread, I've only had Cafe au Lait there which I've thoroughly enjoyed and I've had that nowhere else, so I have no frame of reference to compare. There are some reviews on Yelp, where I first heard about the place earlier this year.

                                                  2. Grace Cafe in Cape Girardeau. On Broadway going downtown. I would put them up against any other shop in the state. Everytime I go to St. Louis or KC I just shake my head at the fact that I have to drive home for a really good espresso. Robbie is the man to look for, if you want to talk dirty to him about the dark brew he will spin your ear and jack you up on some of his finest stuff. Closed on sundays. I can't recommend this place enough!!!