Can Springfield’s Main Street ever hope to attract more foot traffic? At a brainstorming session on Dec. 17, MassDevelopment posed the question to residents and stakeholders. What’s missing from sidewalk life? One common response: good cafes and coffee shops.
The idea is that hip young professionals won’t flock here for work without some trendier spots to put up their feet, eat good food, and relax among like-minded java connoisseurs. If you brew it, they will come.
To which I say: what about the corned beef hash breakfast sandwich at City Jake’s Cafe? The pistachio baklava at Cafe Du Jour? The cannoli at Palazzo Cafe? The salads to-go at Cornerstone Cafe?
Okay, you got me — I had no idea these things existed until one morning last week, when I walked up and down Main Street to take stock of this so-called lack of coffee options. I didn’t stop in at Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, Subway, or Hot Table, because while you can get a serviceable dose of caffeine at those chain establishments, they don’t exactly contribute to the local flavor.
Instead, I tried out the non-franchise coffee shops. It didn’t take long — as far as I can tell, there are only four of them.
I got lucky on my first try: City Jake’s Cafe, at the corner of Main and Worthington Streets, is just the kind of no-frills, workaday stop-in joint that neither yuppies nor chains can hope to replicate. Inside, the decor says car wash more than eatery: white walls, bright light, and bench seating scrubbed clean. The cups are all Styrofoam. Upkeep here, I expect, relies heavily on bleach.
It’s wonderfully unpretentious. And as with similar greasy-spoon storefronts in Boston and New York, the food is filling and rich. City Jake’s offers burgers, soups, salads, and sandwiches for the lunchtime crowd, but the all-day breakfast options seem like the reason to keep coming back. I had a corned beef hash and scrambled egg breakfast sandwich on grilled rye toast for four dollars — plus a two-dollar coffee — and the meal quickly warmed up my chilly, rainy morning.
Carry cash, bring an appetite, and you’re golden. Thanks, City Jake, for running such a tight ship.
A few blocks down, I poked my head into Cafe Du Jour, across from One Financial Plaza. This family establishment offers specialty Lebanese food in addition to your typical coffee, espresso, and latte menu. I nabbed a pistachio baklava for $1.50 to go with my coffee, although I was tempted by the spinach and cheese oven-toasted pita. Cafe Du Jour also sells egg and cheese sandwiches with turkey bacon, wraps, bagels and croissants, smoothies, pastries, sweet breads, coffee by the pound, and loose leaf tea.
The owners are sweet, and the coffee here, like at City Jake’s, is nothing special but perfectly fine. The oddest thing about Cafe Du Jour is the groundplan. The barista and cashier sit midway back from the front-window counter seating, in a narrow space that leads further back to a seating area with a white leather couch, knotted lime-green curtains, potted plants, and blown-up photos of the owners’ family members. I’m not sure anyone would hang out back there for very long, but you can’t really take off points for such earnest eccentricities.
It took me way too long to find my third destination. Palazzo Cafe is hidden off Main Street in the ground floor of One Financial Plaza, and its owners can’t quite shake that off-putting air of corporate lobby space. Still, they try, and some of that personality shows through, especially in the menu. Palazzo Cafe has the market cornered on imported European sweets: Kinder chocolate, holiday cookies, pastries, panettone, cannoli, and a brand of chocolate nougat waffle sandwiches called Knoppers.
If you ignore the elevator jazz music, it’s almost a charming space, thanks in part to the huge mural on one wall depicting Mediterranean shrub trees, a stone archway, and blue sky. The napkin holders have photos of old Italian ruins on them. There’s also a glassed-in “Sala Dirigente,” which translates from Italian as “Executive Room.” I assume this is for the most VIP of coffee drinkers. I didn’t ask about the criteria for sipping a macchiato in there.
My final stop, Cornerstone Cafe, is even harder to find. It’s in the lobby of the Monarch Place business tower, and it’s about the size of a hotel supply closet. The cafe has a pretty serious kitchen running somewhere unseen — the menu includes 17 salad options and 35 sandwiches — but the operation here is brisk and utilitarian. People swing through as quickly as if filling a tank of gas.
The only baked goods on display are bagels arranged on a few platters, like a continental breakfast minus the good stuff. The coffee is all Starbucks. And the only seating is out in the lobby, underneath a giant escalator. Yes, really.
Would coffee lovers and cafe loungers want to hang out in any of these four places for more than a few minutes? Hard to imagine. All four cafes are sterile, thin on ambiance, and full-up on fluorescent light. These are not the places for those hip young people that focus groups want to attract to Springfield.
Still, I hope they stay in business. These cafes serve the populations that are actually here, not the wealthier, more urbane crowd that might one day come to town. I’m all for a few new coffeehouses that know how to foster a cozy atmosphere and get customers to stick around. But sometimes all you’re looking for is a strong cup of joe, to go.•
Contact Hunter Styles at email@example.com.