Walter Mencken 11 a.m., Jan. 31
Royal Food Mart and The Royal Coffee Shop
This combination convenience store and coffee shop on First Ave in Hillcrest is truly great. The two businesses seem technically separate, but they share a building and a clientele and might as well be considered one.
Royal Food Mart is a mixture of specialty grocery, deli, and 7-11. It has some household necessities (toiletries, cleaning products, etc), but the majority of the store is split between a better-than-average deli and a shockingly rich selection of beverages.
The deli part uses Boar's Head meats to create good, made to order sandwiches. Nothing truly mind blowing, but well beyond the norm. Breakfast items are also available to go with the coffee from next door.
It's the beverage selection that's most astonishing at Royal Food Mart. The little space is elegantly used to display a selection of craft and import beer and wine that rivals the tap list at some of the best local beer bars. Since the space isn't big, the selection isn't massive in scale, but it seems thoughtfully composed and shows the selective touch of a perfectionist buyer.
There is a wall-sized cabinet that houses bombers of local brews and exciting imports. The sheer classiness of this display is sublime.
And there are even unfamiliar sodas! Fermented colas and unfiltered ginger beers, sodas that someone who deplores the sugary excess of Coke and Pepsi might actually want to drink.
Royal Food Mart is a beverage gold mine.
The Royal Coffee Shop next door is quite lovely as well! Tastefully decorated in a light, modern sense that contrasts with the provincial charm of the market next door, the cafe offers a minimalist espresso and drip coffee service and an extensive list of Italian sodas. A small selection of pastries from local bakers is on hand, but for the most part any edibles have to come from next door.
To top the experience off, the staff seems to be warm and friendly in a genuine way that makes the forced affection that's so common in retail seem unbearable by comparison.
Overall, this bipartite business is a complete gem.
3401 First Avene