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Very promising cafe opens in Berkeley

TopoTail Jun 15, 2009 03:48 PM

Just came from Cafe 123, which opened yesterday at 2049 San Pablo, just south of University. Due to stomach problems, I am currently unable to drink coffee, so I can't opine on the quality of the coffee, but everything about this place suggests that it is going to be an East Bay destination for serious coffee lovers.

They have a beautiful La Marzocco machine and are pulling shots via bottomless portafilters, which is a very good sign. (This means there are no spouts to direct the espresso into one or two cups; if you look at the bottom of the portafilters you just see the bottom of the basket that holds the ground coffee. If the barista isn't well trained, a bottomless portafilter is going to spell real trouble, but the barista was pulling beautiful shots that hung down straight and true, like warm honey--exactly what you want to see.)

It's owned by two women, and they are using coffee roasted by Flying Goat, a serious roaster in Santa Rosa. They are also preparing drip coffee to order, another good sign, and are serving teas from Flying Goat as well. I was treated to a nice cardamom shortcake, fresh from the oven, but was so fixated on the coffee setup that I didn't make note of what other food they're offering.

Anyway, check it out. I've got a good feeling about this place.

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  1. t
    TopoTail RE: TopoTail Jun 15, 2009 03:52 PM


    The name is Local 123, not Cafe 123.

    1. rworange RE: TopoTail Jun 15, 2009 04:39 PM


      Local 123
      2049 San Pablo Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94702

      1. Melanie Wong RE: TopoTail Jun 15, 2009 06:58 PM

        Thanks for the heads up. I'm not much of a coffee drinker, but want something very fine when I do choose to have a cup. When Flying Goat opened its first cafe in Healdsburg, it finally weaned several friends off Peet's. Until then, i was the mule shuttling beans from the original Berkeley store to the North Bay.

        Flying Goat Coffee
        419 Center St, Healdsburg, CA 95448

        1. l
          Leadbelly RE: TopoTail Jun 16, 2009 10:35 AM

          Stopped by yesterday afternoon--I have been somewhat anxiously awaiting the opening, since I live around the corner, though unemployment means I am going out to cafes less and will not be able to enjoy a morning cup before hopping on the transbay bus. Still, it is a nice addition to the area.

          The interior is nice, a bit bare-bones and streamlined--with all the hard surfaces, I could imagine it getting pretty noisy in there. However, they do have a couple little nooks, such as a couch or two around the corner from the cream-and-sugar station, maybe that will dampen future noise inside. There is also a small patio in the back, though I did not get a good look at it, since my dog was tied up on the sidewalk and I didn't want to leave him alone too long. I had a shot of espresso, which was short, dark and syrupy--really an excellent shot, though not much crema on top. I tried a small pouch of cardamom shortbread, a nice treat for $1. They were rich and buttery but the cardamom flavor was barely noticeable.

          There did not seem to be too much of a crowd for their first day, though it is not as though there was any noticeable advertising. I am sure word of mouth will spread, it seems like a nice little spot, and aside from Trieste 6 or 7 blocks away and Cafe Zeste, which has limited hours, there is no competition in the immediate area for a sit-down cafe.

          1. a
            abstractpoet RE: TopoTail Jun 16, 2009 12:58 PM

            Went by for a cup of coffee today and thought it was a lovely space, actually, especially the charming back patio--open air with high brick walls (from photos on their facebook page, it looks like there used to be a roof back there that they tore off). That whole area in the back, including the nook with the couches, is nice and bright in the morning--I could see myself bringing my laptop and doing work here on a regular basis. They do have free wifi, I believe. Didn't see any outlets in the back, but there were several by the tables in the front. Nice sturdy wood tabletops.

            My $2.00 cup of Sumatra drip coffee was very good. They were also offering a Guatemalan, an El Salvadoran, and, I believe, an Ecuadorian. Also had a decent pain au chocolat for $2.50. Saw some pre-made sandwiches on sale too--looked like some kind of roast beef and arugula combo, but I'm not certain.

            7 Replies
            1. re: abstractpoet
              psb RE: abstractpoet Jun 17, 2009 09:21 AM

              oh hello.

              1. yes they have free wifi
              2. yes, the kinda cool back patio used to be a horrible covered space they tore
              the roof off of [the space used to be a defunct video store and a beauty parlor of
              some kind.]

              i am not a coffee expert but the brief sip of my AMERICANO before i m usual
              giant amount of SUGAR and HALF-HALF seemed pretty good.

              aside from coffee, the usual types of cafe snacks ... the morning bun i bought was
              pretty good, and reasonably priced at $2.25. the only non-snack food appears to be
              something like salami or sopressata sandwich. unless you count the boiled egg ...
              the food prep area seemed pretty large, so i was curious if they had greater ambitions].

              nice folks. i hope the location works out for them.

              1. re: psb
                mattg RE: psb Jun 18, 2009 10:14 PM

                By induction, I believe they have a different sandwich every day. Today it was egg. They also have rather substantial prepared salads, but they were sold out on my second visit so I wasn't able to see if they also change daily.

                Today they had what looked like Moroccan style mint tea, but they sold out while I was drinking my coffee. Not sure if this is a normal menu item or a special.

                1. re: mattg
                  psb RE: mattg Jun 18, 2009 10:59 PM

                  >Today it was egg
                  maybe they didnt sell as many boiled eggs they planned on the day before :-)

                  >...different sandwich every day ...
                  >Moroccan style mint tea ... menu item or a special ...
                  >...care with which coffee is made...
                  yeah, they are clearly invested in the operation and not just
                  phoning it in. i guess they are the owners? marx would be proud
                  of their non-alienation.

                  anybody have a conjecture on where they source their morning buns from?
                  in restrospect, i liked it quite a bit.

                  ok tnx.

                  1. re: psb
                    rworange RE: psb Jun 20, 2009 02:58 PM

                    The morning buns are from Hopkins Bakery .. woo hoo !!! I love those ... and another place to get Hopkins Bakery items I asked if they were selling Hopkins donuts, but alas, no. It turns out the donuts are not ready for the early morning delivery.

                    The donuts are Pepple's vegan donuts. You either like them or not. I personally think they are very good and they had a number of flavors.

                    Rolls, croissants and chocolate croissants ... or whatever the chocolate ones are called ...are from Acme.

                    The only thing they made in-house on my visit were the oatmeal chocolate chip cookies which I liked because they were not sweet and had a nice crumbly oatmeal texture. They said they will make more in-house baked goods in the future.

                    I had the sandwich with the hard boiled egg slices on an Acme roll. It was a nice satisfying simple sandwich. Some sort of herb thing on it and lettuce and maybe something else. The sandwiches are on plates. There was a salad available.

                    I accidentally ordered the side of oilves. I was was just asking about what it was ... couldn't read the handwriting ... and they thought I ordered it. Not something I'd normally do at 9 am. However they were really good with a nice citrus dressing. If you get a sandwich, these are very nice with them.

                    I had a cappuccino which had a pretty decorative top and I enjoyed more than many I've had from the hot new SF coffee houses. They were taking time to train the staff on how to make them.

                    The real star for me though was the cup of drip coffee I had to go. There are four beans available and I asked for the strongest. I forget which it was ... I'm no damn good early in the morning at remembering stuff especially before major coffee infusions ... but this was so nice ... it had character yet was sweet. It did not have the sourness so many of the much lauded roasters have. It was not burnt. I enjoyed it very much and even considered going back for another.

                    This is a nice relaxing place. They have the option to roll up the front of the cafe so it is open air. There was a sidewalk table in addition to the patio out back.

                    I liked it. IMO, it beats most SF places. Great addition to the East Bay.

                    1. re: rworange
                      sydthekyd RE: rworange Jun 20, 2009 03:10 PM

                      Did you notice what kind of salad, please?

                      1. re: sydthekyd
                        rworange RE: sydthekyd Jun 20, 2009 03:22 PM

                        9 am ...syd ... 9 am. I'm lucky I remembered i went there. I'm kind of a night person. Really nothing is registering. At this point I don't think it is any destination place for food, but if making it a destination for coffee ... which it is ... then the food probably won't dissapoint.

                        1. re: sydthekyd
                          mattg RE: sydthekyd Jun 21, 2009 02:22 PM

                          I snapped a pic of the food menu. Here's my attempt at transcription:

                          1) croissant with homemade quince jam, meyer lemon curd or herbed butter
                          house salad: happy boy farms mixed greens, beets, carrots, egg. with side of olives
                          2) eggman sandwich: boiled egg, herbed butter, capers and mixed greens on acme baguette
                          3) soppressata sandwich: fra'mani handcrafted salami herbed butter and mixed greens on acme baguette
                          4) side of olives

              2. bbulkow RE: TopoTail Jun 17, 2009 02:02 PM

                Maybe I should start a new thread, but ---

                Speaking of "berkeley" coffee --

                How about great coffee in the greater solano area?

                I think my tops currently is Milano Cafe across from Monterey Market, but I don't love it. I want better.

                I'm a pure espresso drinker, if that helps. I currently consider peet's to be mediocre, so consider that the low bar.

                13 Replies
                1. re: bbulkow
                  TopoTail RE: bbulkow Jun 17, 2009 08:53 PM

                  I went to District 123 with a friend this morning and tasted her cappuccino despite my stomach problems. It was among the best cappuccinos I have ever tasted, and I've sampled the best coffees in Seattle and Italy, from Venice to Naples. Smooth and rich without a hint of bitterness. Intricate latte art on top, which is much more than a parlor trick, as it can't be achieved unless the milk is perfectly textured so that it resembles liquid silk.

                  Great coffee in the Solano area? I don't think so. In this country, great coffee anywhere outside the Pacific Northwest is a rarity, though things are improving rapidly. District 123 is operating in a different universe from Milano, Peet's, and the Trieste. Have you tried a straight shot there? I would be very surprised if it doesn't blow Milano out of the water.

                  The woman who has been pulling shots both times I've been there is a skilled barista who obviously understands what it takes to make great espresso drinks. This is the East Bay cafe I have been waiting for. These people totally get it.

                  1. re: TopoTail
                    lmnopm RE: TopoTail Jun 18, 2009 06:24 PM

                    I stopped there this afternoon for an occasional afternoon coffee fix. I had an espresso shot there, and a drip Sumatra to go. The espresso shot was fine, and I had it while waiting for my drip to drip. I really enjoyed the drip coffee - I did cream (not much) and sugar it up - it was really good, and a good temperature to start drinking it when served, as it is dripping into the serving cup directly (but not "kept hot.")

                    1. re: lmnopm
                      TopoTail RE: lmnopm Jun 18, 2009 10:50 PM

                      I intended to mention their drip coffee preparation in yesterday's post, as it's another indication of the care with which coffee is made at District 123. They prepare each cup of drip coffee to order, and they even pre wet the filter paper to help dissipate any taste the paper might impart to the coffee. If I remember right, they offer a choice of three different single-origin coffees for drip.

                      Unfortunately, once you've made it, it's virtually impossible to keep coffee hot without significantly damaging the taste. I was impressed when I noticed that the Trieste was brewing their drip coffee in Chemexes, but then I noticed that the Chemexes were sitting on hot plates, which immediately negates any advantage that might be gained from using a Chemex.

                    2. re: TopoTail
                      bbulkow RE: TopoTail Jun 19, 2009 10:59 AM

                      I haven't tried Cafe 123 because it's pretty far outside my standard flight plan. I often can't indulge an extra half hour in my day, even for a superlative cup. And I'm asking not because I like Milano and the like, it's because I dislike them. "Current favorite" should have read "the slightly better of a really, really sorry lot". Especially bad was an espresso at Royal Grounds. It was actually an americano, and it was a bad americano. My skin still crawls thinking about it.

                      I'll spare you the overall polemic on coffee around here. I think we're blessed with some pretty good beans and much slapdash barrista. You can taste the dirt in most machines, let alone the host of other problems.

                      I particularly like the fact that Cafe 123 might be using crotchless baskets, which I've never seen commercially around here.

                      For a while, my home machine and I were pulling good shots with a crotchless handle and triple basket, and it is seriously finicky. But glorious when you get it right. The machine, grind, and beans all have to be just right to get the pull dead center and clean. I will spare you the details - I've actually lost the touch, and am not drinking enough coffee to have a weekly order with blue bottle coming in.

                      If your point is that I should stop whining and it's only a few extra minutes, then point taken. I just wish there was something decent a little further north.

                      There's a newish place - 33 rpm? - in El Cerrito, I realized today Meal Ticket isn't that far out of my normal route. Still hoping for a good rec.

                      1. re: bbulkow
                        rworange RE: bbulkow Jun 19, 2009 12:10 PM

                        I haven't been to 33 rpm since it opened. It uses Ritual beans which I don't like and they weren't really careful about brewing in the beginning. That might have changed. Have you tried Cafe Ina on Solano? No trained baristas, but you might check it out and see if it does it for you, then Cafe 123 doesn't seem a stretch. Think you would get better results though starting a thread specifically about what you are looking for.

                        I don't know, if you are talking Royal Grounds and 33 rpm, then

                        1. re: rworange
                          lmnopm RE: rworange Jun 19, 2009 12:15 PM

                          Tangerine on Solano makes decent enough espresso based drinks. (They don't have drip coffee, and everything is served in paper cups.)

                        2. re: bbulkow
                          TopoTail RE: bbulkow Jun 19, 2009 12:24 PM

                          Hi Bulkow--

                          I'm not suggesting you should stop whining. I'm suggesting that a lot of other people should START whining, because you're absolutely right about the quality of coffee served up in 98% of Bay Area cafes. Like you, I make my own, and when I started 25 years ago, it didn't take long to realize that with a simple home machine and grinder (I've since upgraded) I could make better espresso drinks than I was getting at any Bay Area cafe.

                          Then came trips to Italy and Seattle, where I was exposed to coffee that was way better than what I could make. Until Blue Bottle, Ritual, Four Barrel and a few others, there were no Bay Area cafes that approached the quality one can get in Seattle and Portland. And we're not talking about subtle differences that only a trained palate can discern.

                          For years friends have asked me where they could go to get a rally good espresso drink and I would throw up my hands. When Ritual and Blue Bottle opened up I sent them to those two places. Now I am telling people in the East Bay to go to District 123.

                          I ran into Eileen from Ritual at the Temescal Farmers Market last Sunday, and she told me about District 123. She also said that there are several other really good cafes about to open up in the East Bay, including one in the Temescal area. Maybe a great cafe will show up in your neighborhood.

                          1. re: TopoTail
                            bbulkow RE: TopoTail Jun 19, 2009 03:35 PM

                            Got it. It's hard sometimes to calibrate. I'm used to the coffee shops around Stanford - there's quite a few decent cups.

                            If you make the south bay and haven't been, I love the beans from Barefoot in Santa Clara - they run neck and neck with blue bottle (I think bluebottle's better, some friends say the opposite), although they're just a different style. They roast dryer on the outside, but grind to a very different, moist consistency. I would call them nuttier, but I can get far more crema out of BB.

                            Re: cafe ina, I remember getting a half decent cup there. They're on the mental list filed under LUNCH, as I love their salads, but I'll try an espresso in the morning.

                            Good tips about The Pub and Tangerine, I'll try 'em out - I had never thought of The Pub.

                          2. re: bbulkow
                            Chuckles the Clone RE: bbulkow Jun 19, 2009 12:28 PM

                            The Pub on Solano does espresso until 9pm. You're at the mercy of the bartender and skillz range from lovingly masterful down through "I have no idea what I'm doing but I'm going to do it anyway." But you get your coffee in a ceramic cup and can sit outside on a nice patio.

                            I haven't been to 33rmp since they were still in the startup jitters stage. At the time they were still holding firm to the misconception that the proper "euro" volume of espresso is only slightly more than a foamy stain in the bottom of the cup. Their brewed coffee was french-pressed in bulk and kept warm in thermoses. Interesting idea and good if you got it fresh. Very pleasant environment and nice people but I don't have much reason to get up that way lately.

                            1. re: Chuckles the Clone
                              TopoTail RE: Chuckles the Clone Jun 19, 2009 04:20 PM

                              Hi Chuckles--

                              I'm not sure why you would refer to a ristretto shot as a "misconception." In Italy you can position yourself in the north-south axis by the amount of espresso in your demitasse. In Naples you will get about a half ounce; as you move north the amount of coffee in the cup increases, until you get to Trieste, where they serve "lungos," or long espressos of 2 or even 3 ounces.

                              I happen to prefer a ristretto shot (it means restricted, referring to the restricted amount of water used). And while I do find that lungo shots tend to be more bitter than ristrettos, I would not call a lungo shot wrong or a misconception.

                              About 25 years ago, Sergio Azzallini from the Cafe Roma in North Beach complained to me that when he made a Neapolitan style shot, his customers would complain that their cup wasn't full. He took me behind the counter, pulled a ristretto shot, and offered me a taste. Then he turned the pump back on and filled the cup to the brim, pointing out how the color of the coffee changed from dark brown to white--a telltale sign of overextraction--and asked me to taste it again. As he had predicted, the lungo was quite bitter and acidic (much more so than the lungos I have had in Venice, but he was pushing things to make a point.)

                              1. re: TopoTail
                                Chuckles the Clone RE: TopoTail Jun 20, 2009 11:10 PM

                                See? See! Even in Italy, the closer you get to civilization, the bigger the espressos get! :)

                                1. re: TopoTail
                                  chipman RE: TopoTail Aug 29, 2009 07:19 AM

                                  Ah.......... To ristretto or not to ristretto, that is the question. Here is some fun reading from a few years ago regarding the elusive ristretto shot.


                              2. re: bbulkow
                                kc72 RE: bbulkow Jun 19, 2009 12:31 PM

                                It's 33 Revolutions (in case anyone is searching for 33rpm).

                                33 Revolutions
                                10086 San Pablo Ave, El Cerrito, CA 94530

                          3. a
                            abstractpoet RE: TopoTail Jun 25, 2009 01:02 AM

                            Any tips on parking nearby if I want to stay for a while? That stretch of San Pablo seems to be all 1-hour or 30-minute limit meters. Free parking within walking distance would be ideal, but even a 2-hour meter would be nice.

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: abstractpoet
                              rworange RE: abstractpoet Jun 25, 2009 01:13 AM

                              The 99 Cent Only lot ... live on the wild side ... it is huge and I have never seen anyone check the cars there ... though you might not want to park there when it isn't open.

                              1. re: abstractpoet
                                Leadbelly RE: abstractpoet Jun 25, 2009 10:49 AM

                                You should be able to find non-metered street parking if you are willing to walk a block or two.

                                1. re: Leadbelly
                                  abstractpoet RE: Leadbelly Jun 25, 2009 02:32 PM

                                  Yeah, as it turns out, there was plenty of parking on the side streets--I actually ended up walking further than I would have needed to. No harm in that, what with the very large morning bun I ended up having with my coffee.

                              2. Emily Hope RE: TopoTail Jun 29, 2009 09:42 AM

                                Just wanted to say thanks for the heads up and add my kudos for Local 123. We happened to be in the East Bay over the weekend and stopped in--what a lovely little cafe! The decaf cappuccino that I had was excellent (and I have high standards for espresso drinks), and my husband enjoyed his chai and oatmeal cookies. I had the cardamom shortbread, which was pretty good (although cardamom was, as noted, not much in evidence). I wish they had a few more small pastry/cookie options, although it sounds like they will add new things as they go along.

                                The atmosphere is very relaxed and conducive to lingering--the area in the back with the couches is especially nice, and the music choices while we were there were similarly mellow (unlike, say, Ritual). Overall, if I were to pick someplace to hang out with a good book or a paper and have an excellent cup of coffee, this place is definitely near the top of my list now. I wish we lived closer! I hope that they do well in this location.

                                6 Replies
                                1. re: Emily Hope
                                  rworange RE: Emily Hope Jun 29, 2009 10:50 AM

                                  I was there about 10 am on Saturday morning and for some reason they didn't have as many baked goods as on the previous visit. I liked the Chai as well, but I don't drink a lot. The spices were there but not overwhelming. It was pleasant.

                                  That Meyer lemon curd with the croissant is very good.

                                  1. re: rworange
                                    Emily Hope RE: rworange Jun 29, 2009 01:03 PM

                                    I was there on Saturday as well, so I'm glad to hear that on other days there have been more options... I was totally tempted by the lemon curd with croissant--just barely managed to resist the siren song and go for the shortbread.

                                  2. re: Emily Hope
                                    Melanie Wong RE: Emily Hope Jun 29, 2009 11:12 PM

                                    I slid in before noon on Saturday and had a capp . . . wow! Here's the photo,

                                    1. re: Melanie Wong
                                      abstractpoet RE: Melanie Wong Jun 30, 2009 10:56 AM

                                      I also thought their cappuccino was one of the best I've ever had.

                                      1. re: abstractpoet
                                        Melanie Wong RE: abstractpoet Jun 30, 2009 10:58 AM

                                        Yes, I'm particularly sensitive to bitter and only drink coffee on occasion. I enjoyed this one as is with no added sugar, which is unusual.

                                        1. re: Melanie Wong
                                          rworange RE: Melanie Wong Jun 30, 2009 05:28 PM

                                          One thing to be aware of is that it seems they change the bean for their shots often. On my three visits so far it has always been different.

                                          I had the mocha today which was lovely. They also did some nice cappucinno art on the top which I thought was a nice touch as I never saw that on a mocha.

                                  3. b
                                    bradluen RE: TopoTail Jun 29, 2009 12:50 PM

                                    My new favourite cafe. Mokka's the only East Bay place that I think takes drip coffee as seriously, and Local 123 beats them on food and ambience. Admittedly, if I had made my sopressata sandwich at home it wouldn't have had to sit in the display case before I consumed it, but that sandwich was well into the upper percentiles of Berkeley coffeehouse food.

                                    Their description of the drip coffee choices seem pretty accurate, so you can choose your beans like you'd choose wine: El Salvador if you want something fruit-forward, Sumatra if you want something earthy. Yay to Flying Goat for finding a respectable balance between bean character and darkness of roast. (Though I'll still occasionally visit Mokka when I'm in the mood for their particular take on coffee, and also Sack's because it's convenient to me and decent.)

                                    1. bbulkow RE: TopoTail Jul 2, 2009 05:32 PM

                                      Got to say. Thanks for the heads-up, this place is the real deal.

                                      I see a lot of posts about the baked goods and drip coffee and coffee drinks. I just got an espresso. For an actual espresso lover, this place comes through. I sat waiting for my shot at the right side of the bar, so I could check their technique. They do it just like I was taught. Custom grind when it's slow. Machine to cup with no portafilter spout and no secondary cup. The result is pure crema bliss.

                                      The espressos are tiny. See discussion of ristretto or whatever above - it's a great shot. Two sips and out. When I'm pulling, I like going triple just to up the volume a bit, and I like to ride somewhere between a short and long shot, but these guys are dialed for short shots.

                                      That first sip, I thought my eyes were going to roll back in my head and I would die happy. That's the way espresso should be. No bitterness, huge crema.

                                      I would strongly encourage anyone who commonly drinks milk-based espresso drinks to try one straight espresso at Local 123. If you don't like it, you can be certain you don't like espresso.

                                      The space is extraordinarily pretty, lots of tables, back patio, nice bar. Being 3 doors down from Lanesplitter, it'll never take my place in the aprez-4pm dance, but it would sure be nice for a quick lunch.

                                      1. n
                                        nerdigrrl RE: TopoTail Jul 7, 2009 09:37 AM

                                        any news yet on Philz in N.Berkeley? I saw the sign up several months ago

                                        1. BernalKC RE: TopoTail Jul 7, 2009 03:23 PM

                                          Really nice space. Very clean, bright, open, well designed interior that manages to be both spacious, open and cozy. The mix of hard concrete and glass surfaces with warm wood furnishings gives it a very modern, likely LEET/green, feel. When I dropped in, 2:00 on a Tuesday, there was a decent crowd and the noise level was pretty low -- quiet enough to hear the oh-so-fitting low volume Sufjan Stevens no problem.

                                          The only thing I really want to add is that -- even for people like me that have almost no tolerance for coffee pretensions and rituals and snobbery -- their cappuccino really is fantastic.

                                          2 Replies
                                          1. re: BernalKC
                                            Chuckles the Clone RE: BernalKC Jul 7, 2009 08:48 PM

                                            I suppose we have now seen each other. Are you a tall african american man with long dreads?

                                            I also dropped in for the first time at about that time too. And had an excellent cappuccino. Day-old donuts were $1 but I passed. The "morning buns" looked weird and fabulous. Maybe next time I'll come with the munchies -- $2.25.

                                            I'll bet the folks in the Berkeley Office of Economic Development are doing backflips of joy over
                                            this place. A couple of years ago I was helping a friend get a completely unrelated business installed and off the ground across town and whenever we'd meet with Mike Caplan or Dave Fogerty in the City Manager's office at some point in the conversation one of them would drop a really strong hint that what we really should be doing is opening a coffee shop. Because they seemed to believe, and I completely agree, that what a neighborhood needs before it can really be a neighborhood is a great coffee shop. That corner of University and SPA seems like its been on the brink of neighborhood for a century. Maybe this will finally push it over. Middle of the afternoon and all tables, two couches, and half the back patio were filled.

                                            1. re: Chuckles the Clone
                                              BernalKC RE: Chuckles the Clone Jul 8, 2009 07:44 AM

                                              >>I suppose we have now seen each other. Are you a tall african american man with long dreads?<<

                                              Tall, yes. But quite the opposite on the other scores - "irish american" of the nearly bald variety. I was savoring the capp on a stool at the bar.

                                          2. m
                                            milklady RE: TopoTail Jul 27, 2009 02:18 PM

                                            I stopped by today. Lovely addition to the neighborhood. The space and layout is very attractive, and the staff were lowkey and great. I had a delicious (but strong) small latte. I also ordered a very green slice of zucchini bread. But, I ended up composting it! I could see upon ordering it that it was much more zucchini heavy than average (which is usually more or less cake with some shredded zucchini), but this was way too much for me. It tasted very eggy and very vegetable-y, and only slightly sweet. If it weren't so eggy I probably would have loved it, and I'm sure that others would find it delicious. But it's not for me.

                                            1. ...tm... RE: TopoTail Jul 27, 2009 06:11 PM

                                              I'm so glad this place moved in to my neighborhood. It is, to my taste, the best coffeshop in the Bay Area. Every time I've ordered an espresso based drink it has been executed flawlessly. The macchiato was even smooth enough for my Mom to enjoy--it lacked the acrid character of a poorly executed espresso. Their roast is dark and flavorful enough for me--I'm not a huge fan of the light roasts at places like Blue Bottle and Ritual. And beyond the coffee they have outdoor space in back, reliable wireless, pleasant surroundings and baristas, and their food offerings look good. I sampled the rosemary shortbread which were excellent, but noticed the menu of sandwiches and salads which sound great and include the sort of ingredients I'd usually buy, like Acme breads.

                                              1. a
                                                abstractpoet RE: TopoTail Aug 21, 2009 09:55 AM

                                                Today when I went by they were offering their espresso-based drinks with a choice of two single origin beans: the esperanca, which is what they've had all along, as well as a yellow bourbon (both from Brazil, I believe).

                                                I tried a cappuccino with the yellow bourbon, and it was excellent: deep flavor and, again, no need for sugar. Perhaps someone else will want to do a side by side tasting with the two varieties, though.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: abstractpoet
                                                  rworange RE: abstractpoet Aug 21, 2009 10:30 AM

                                                  I don't know if they always do this, but I wanted to try the house bean and the the bean of the day ... and take up someone's suggestion that even if you don't like coffee without milk this might make you a convert ...

                                                  Anyway, they gave me two separate single shots for the price of a double shot. I thought that was nice since the price would have been more otherwise.

                                                  I'm not a convert though. As much as I like their coffee, I need milk.

                                                2. a
                                                  abstractpoet RE: TopoTail Oct 20, 2009 08:51 AM

                                                  Ordered a piece of the carrot cake at Local 123 today after overhearing James Syhabout (chef at Commis) refer to it as his "favorite" when he came in the other day. Not cheap at $3.50 for a smallish square, but this is a great piece of cake--moist and flavorful with a light crumb. The best part is the lemon cream cheese frosting, which, despite being a cream cheese frosting, isn't too heavy or rich--the lemon flavor is a nice touch. A few walnuts sprinkled on top.

                                                  I believe the cake is house-made, but didn't have a chance to ask.

                                                  This would be a great little snack to have with your afternoon coffee or cappuccino. Made for a hecka fine breakfast too.

                                                  1. m
                                                    malachi RE: TopoTail Oct 20, 2009 09:20 AM

                                                    So, based upon all the incredible reviews, I went by today.

                                                    Perhaps I'm just looking for something different - or used to something different - but I was really really unimpressed by the coffee.

                                                    The food was okay - the space was nice - good service.
                                                    But the coffee was mediocre at best.
                                                    I'd place it one step below Blue Bottle in terms of quality.

                                                    Pretty disappointing.

                                                    3 Replies
                                                    1. re: malachi
                                                      abstractpoet RE: malachi Oct 20, 2009 09:30 AM

                                                      What kind of coffee did you order, Malachi? And what do you normally like?

                                                      1. re: malachi
                                                        bbulkow RE: malachi Oct 20, 2009 11:05 AM

                                                        We might argue about fine points, but mediocre is so far from my standard experience there that some further detail would be appreciated. Like, what you ordered and what you didn't like about it. I've never tried their drip coffee, for example.

                                                        Their espresso is a different style than most of what you get around here - extraordinarily short shot (ristretto) long on crema. If you're not a crema hound, you might wonder where your fine espresso is - there's only two small sips in a Local 123 shot - but I'd say crema is the soul of espresso, and they're pulling a better shot than anyone else.

                                                        As a counter-example, Cafe Doge in Palo Alto takes itself super-seriously, with multiple beans and roasts, and I don't like their shots. No crema, no body, a simplistic bitterness. The BB shots tend to be quite good, somehow they get more body and crema with a longer shot than Local 123.

                                                        Long shots are bitterer, and thus hold up to milk better. I believe there's a self fulfilling prophacy. People taste bitter espresso, so they order lattes and caps. If a shop pulls good espresso shots and uses them for lattes, it'll make substandard lattes, and lose business. So they pull long shots too, and espresso drinkers convert to milk-drinks. Thus the spiral gets deeper. Or the spiral can go the other way, with short sweet shots and latte drinkers converting to espresso - as I think might have happened in Seattle.

                                                        The right answer is to pull each shot based on the drink ordered. Arguably you should be using different roasts too. That requires barrista training above what most coffee shops provide.

                                                        I have started simply asking for short shots of espresso by default. Barristas are happy to oblige (after all, I'm not asking for a half-caff froboznitz), and my espresso experience is improving.

                                                        1. re: bbulkow
                                                          Missmoo RE: bbulkow Oct 21, 2009 06:19 AM

                                                          Reminds me of the time I gave a woman a shot of espresso and she complained about it being short, and I had pulled it a bit longer because I know about the public perception!

                                                      2. d
                                                        dcfb RE: TopoTail Oct 30, 2009 10:16 AM

                                                        Attractive place. Went recently and had a delicious espresso. Friend had a latte that I thought was a bit dead on the espresso side. I wonder, from reading the above, if it was more how it was pulled or what it was made with?

                                                        The no iced espresso drinks as a policy is rather silly to me, but I stand by their decision. this isn't menu by consensus and I think they should be able to control their brand.

                                                        I also think coffee is such a matter of personal preference. For a latte, we both tend to like a big, deep, coffee flavor that stands up to the milk. This did not deliver for us.

                                                        Kind of a mixed experience for me, but worth going back. All the commentary about the cleanliness, etc. is dead on. It's a great space.

                                                        Pastries were a big yes.

                                                        8 Replies
                                                        1. re: dcfb
                                                          dcfb RE: dcfb Nov 4, 2009 09:13 AM

                                                          Went back again to see if I was missing something. It's so nice, but my taste is for something bolder in the milk drinks. Any suggestions out there? Again, the espresso is beautiful on its own.

                                                          1. re: dcfb
                                                            dordogne RE: dcfb Nov 4, 2009 09:24 AM

                                                            Agreed, their expresso is sublime. They have begun serving a "single origin" espresso that beats anything I have had at other temples of caffeine in the Bay Area. If what you mean by "bolder" is a milk drink with more coffee intensity, try a macchiato (espresso with just a "stain" of steamed milk).

                                                            1. re: dordogne
                                                              escargot3 RE: dordogne Nov 4, 2009 08:47 PM

                                                              Yeah, macchiato is my drink of choice.
                                                              And I think that Local 123 is the best I've had in the Bay Area.

                                                              Local 123
                                                              2049 San Pablo Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94702

                                                            2. re: dcfb
                                                              bbulkow RE: dcfb Nov 5, 2009 08:30 AM

                                                              Local 123 has a religion - short shots, long crema. That religion does poorly with lattes.

                                                              I'm proud they stick to their guns, and they'll get my business every time I'm in the area, but maybe you have to go elsewhere for lattes. Or order a dry cap or macciato. Or even a hot chocolate.

                                                              You could try asking for a long shot in your latte. I wonder if they'll refuse.

                                                              Local 123
                                                              2049 San Pablo Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94702

                                                              1. re: bbulkow
                                                                boris_qd RE: bbulkow Nov 5, 2009 09:40 AM

                                                                That sounds like a coffee problem not a technique problem.

                                                                Short shots are much stronger in flavor then long shots at a given volume. If you want more coffee flavor you can try asking for an extra shot. But in general you get a stronger less bitter coffee from a short shot. I don't see any benefit to pulling longer.

                                                                I think it's excellent in a latte and much prefer it to long shots. I wish more places did it this way.

                                                                I haven't tried local123 - I'm just speaking in general.

                                                                1. re: boris_qd
                                                                  bbulkow RE: boris_qd Nov 5, 2009 06:34 PM

                                                                  We'd probably have to pull a few shots side by side and taste to get to the bottom of this discussion.

                                                                  I think a long shot - really long, like maybe 3oz for a double - with lots of bitter tastes - goes well in a latte, and might be what the poster was missing.

                                                                  The Local 123 shots are *really* short. I can't imagine they're a whole 1/2 oz, and I think that gets lost in the milk. The roast is light, but how they do the shots for espresso is - in my opinion - the peak of perfection.

                                                                  I hope they don't solve their "problem"!

                                                                  Local 123
                                                                  2049 San Pablo Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94702

                                                                2. re: bbulkow
                                                                  abstractpoet RE: bbulkow Nov 5, 2009 01:34 PM

                                                                  I agree about the macchiato. Their cap is my standard order, and probably nine times out of ten it's super intense and just perfect for my tastes. But if you want to be sure to get a serious coffee hit, the macchiato's a pretty sure bet. Just tried one with the single origin (Mordocofe) and, wow, it was like a punch in the face. (And I mean that in the best possible way.)

                                                                  1. re: abstractpoet
                                                                    rworange RE: abstractpoet Nov 9, 2009 10:17 PM

                                                                    Do the people who recommend macchiatos even Idrink lattes?

                                                                    These are two totally different drinks. That teeny cup of coffee isn't going to do a thing for someone who wants a latte. I've had the Macchiato at Local 123. It was a good drink but if I was looking for a latte ... nope ... not acceptable ... unless you dumped it in a larger cup and added steamed milk.

                                                                    Local 123
                                                                    2049 San Pablo Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94702

                                                            3. raeanne RE: TopoTail Nov 5, 2009 11:19 AM

                                                              For me, I think they really shine with drips. Their Guatemalan is solid every time and the Don Mayo was exceptional! Although I am a drip coffee person and love a good medium/light roast. Perhaps some of their baristas are still in training when it comes to pulling a knockout shot. If Freida's around (co-owner), which she usually is, you have to get a shot from her. She's amazing! And perfectly consistent. What kills it for me is really their great service. We ordered a scone that was sub-par a couple weeks ago and when I brought it to their attention, they thanked me profusely, pulled the rest of the batch, and brought us some awesome pear ginger muffins. It's really everything I want in my local cafe- gorgeous, clean, homey space, friendly faces that know my drink and a warm fuzzy feeling of community on top of IMHO, the best coffee this side of the bay! I even wrote about them here, I'm so glad they opened up

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