10:30 a.m., April 16
30th Street Cafe
It's tough to look at the 30th Street Cafe in North Park and try to infer what made the owners think it was a good location for a coffee shop. Not all blocks are created equal, and the segment of 30th that splits the distance between University and Upas is dismal in comparison to the the territory a few blocks north or south. I don't have the answer to why that section of road feels ten years out of touch with the rest of the neighborhood, but a quarter of a mile can make all the difference in the world in terms of real estate.
As if to pile on the oddities, the Cafe occupies two-thirds of its building, but they're non-consecutive thirds. The dining area is separated from the miniature kitchen and coffee dispensary by a long hallway that leads to the offices of a small nonprofit. Peculiar. The patio seats out front are raised up off the sidewalk and well shaded by trees and umbrellas, so they trump the inside seating by a country mile.
Despite the physical limitations, 30th Street Cafe has some strong points. The staff seemed very friendly and the coffee was inexpensive, though only average in quality. The menu reached impressive depth considering the miniature kitchen's lack of space. Egg dishes, waffles, pastries, bagels, and other breakfast staples all managed to fit into the minimal square footage. The pile of capers that festooned my lox and bagels might have been excessive for some people, but for me it satisfied. A fresh lemon wedge and a few slices of red onion rounded out the dish, which had a large portion of salmon.
In typical coffee shop fashion, the Cafe has sandwiches for the lunch crowd, all of which are interchangeable with the sandwiches at any other uptown coffee shop. If 30th Street is able to distinguish itself, it's as a breakfast spot, especially since it closes early.
There's tension between the underwhelming location/decor and the unexpected bonus of good breakfast. If there was more patio space instead of the uncharismatic dining room, or if the building itself was somehow cooler, the cafe might be a total winner despite being caught in the no man's land between the heavily developed corners to the north and south. As it is, it's a matter of personal preference. Coffee shops depend on regular customers, who can be fiercely, illogically loyal. For the kind of people who want a convenient spot to pick up breakfast on a weekday morning, and don't necessarily care about it being cool to hang out, the 30th Street Cafe might engender just that kind of loyalty.
4620 30th Street