Finding a great cup of morning coffee is not a problem in downtown Oneonta. Deciding where to buy it is.
Oneonta boasts a variety of cafés and coffee shops where one can enjoy a morning cup of coffee or tea, a tasty accompaniment, and a feeling of connection _ because whether one is conversing with friends or reading the newspaper, being downtown provides the sense of community that comes from exchanging greetings with neighbors and watching people come and go on their morning business.
Elena's Sweet Indulgence
The oldest of the Main Street cafés is Elena's Sweet Indulgence, which opened on Chestnut Street 17 years ago. Five years later, owners Elena and Ed Doyle moved their business to Main Street where they felt they would be more accessible to the community.
Each café in Oneonta emanates a unique ambience. In Elena's, the crisp, white tablecloths and prints of Parisian cafés create a European flavor. This decor complements the taste of the handmade pastries, which include delicacies of Italian, German, French and Jewish origin.
I visited Elena's on a Saturday morning when clients were in "leisure mode."
Cynthia Goertemoeller said she goes to Elena's almost every Saturday morning before she goes to work as a volunteer at the hospital gift shop.
"I have known and liked Elena for a long time," she said. "The coffee's good and the pastries are good. It's a nice way to start a Saturday."
Joe and Marty Becker also frequent Elena's on Saturdays to reward themselves after a hard work week, they said. Joe said: "One of the main reasons I like to come here is the excellent scones." Marty, who was enjoying an almond Danish, said: "I like being out on Main Street and looking out the window." The Beckers agreed that they like "the bright and cheery European atmosphere."
The Saturday that I visited Elena's was just a few days after the funeral of Elena's husband, Ed, and yet Elena was back, doing the work that she loves, and that Ed loved, too. "We were partners in life. We were partners in business," she said.
From the very beginning, when they started the business together, Ed would say: "Do it right."
Elena told me: "If there was a mistake, we fixed it. The item was free, and the customer received a gift certificate."
Speaking about the past, Elena said: "This business was more than just a coffeehouse. We were here for the community. We felt like we were the kitchen of everyone."
Looking ahead to the future, Elena said plans are in the works for a sit-down counter at the window. Nicole Gelbsman, who was sitting in front of the window with her children, said they'd love a counter there "because we could all face the street and watch what's going on."
Nicole said she and her children go to Elena's once a week, if not twice.
Nicole's daughter, Lenon, 6, said: "I like Elena _ and the tasty treats."
Max Gelbsman, 3, said: "I like the hot cocoa."
"We love coming here for scones," Nicole said.
Sego Café and Wine Bar
Just two doors down from Elena's is the Sego Café and Wine Bar. The Sego started out as a wine bar in 2003 _ coffee and breakfast were added later _ so the Sego ambience is a bit more upscale than that of most coffee shops. Sculptured carpet, black tablecloths, and polished wood chairs set the mood for evening jazz sessions, while creating a serene atmosphere where customers can relax before they start their day.
I visited the Sego on a Wednesday morning when renovations were under way for the stage in front of the window. Hammers were pounding away, but loyal customer Tom Harrington was enjoying a toasted "everything" bagel and butter with a cup of coffee, seemingly oblivious to the noise.
"I come here every Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning after I work out at the Y,'" he said. "I like to support the downtown shops, and I know and like the people who work here."
Lisa King, operations manager, said: "Our customers enjoy the brand of coffee we offer, Panache. It is the opinion of many to be the best coffee in the area. Our typical morning customer comes in for coffee, freshly made breakfast sandwiches, omelettes, bagels and fresh baked goods."
Lisa said: "We have complimentary newspapers available, and comfortable seating areas where friends and business associates meet before they start their work day. A large part of our morning trade is made up of people stopping in for coffee and a quick breakfast item to go as they continue on to their places of work. We offer made-to-order food that customers can enjoy in-house, as well as call-in orders ready to go, paying close attention to fast service with regard to people's hurried schedules."
Lisa added: "Our ambience is cheerful and friendly with our focus on making our customer's experience comfortable, satisfying and pleasant ... a place where people want to return again and again."
The decor at the Sego is unique because the art on the walls is provided by local artists, and the display changes every month or so. Customers return, not just for the great food and coffee, but so they can see the latest art exhibit.
I visited the Latté Lounge on Main Street on the same Wednesday morning and found Bruce Sloan sitting at one of the tables, drinking coffee and eating toast while reading the morning paper. "I come here every Wednesday morning," he said. "I enjoy the coffee and I enjoy David and Georgia," referring to David Zummo, owner, and Georgia Paulina, manager.
Customers feel comfortable at the Latté Lounge thanks to the casual decor, which includes an easy chair, an ottoman, and a couch. Cream, sugar and other items are set out on an antique Hoosier cabinet. Artsy quilts hang on the walls. "The artwork is changed frequently," Bruce said. "Sometimes it's artwork instead of quilts."
After talking to Bruce, I relaxed on the couch positioned in front of an antique wooden fireplace frame, a coffee table, and a basket of magazines. I munched on a mango-chocolate chip biscotti as a line of customers waited for their coffee and treats to take to work.
In spite of the rush right before 9 a.m., David, Georgia and their employees manage to provide friendly, personable and fast service. Georgia told me: "We make huge muffins daily, and also fresh scones, cinnamon rolls, and croissants."
Georgia said: "Our coffee is from a roasting house out of the Albany area. It is roasted and vacuum-sealed on the same day, so it is able to retain the highest quality flavor profile."
Georgia also said: "What makes our lattés special is the high-quality espresso bean we start with. Without a high-quality bean, you can't make a great latté. Then you have to be consistent with your foam quality and use the correct ratio of foam to steamed milk."
If you haven't had a latté at the Latté Lounge, you probably don't know what a really good latté tastes like.
Annie's Bread and Butter
Annie's Bread and Butter, located at the Clinton Plaza, is a health food store that doubles as a café. Because of its proximity to the bus stop, Annie's is a convenient place to grab a cup of coffee before work, but customers who have more time can relax at one of the tables near the window, sit in one of the rocking chairs, or lounge on the couch to chat with Annie while she works at her computer and cash register.
Annie Avery is owner and manager of Annie's Bread and Butter. She said the sign on the window that reads: "Home Brewed Chai" has been misread as "Home Brewed Chat," which she said is appropriate for the casual, intimate conversations that take place there.
"It's the pickle barrel concept," she said, referring to the old general stores where folks used to gather for gossip and pie. Annie's is also similar to an old general store in that customers can shop for groceries, herbs, organic health products, and a variety of handmade products after enjoying their coffee.
"We serve Jim's Organic Coffee from Boston," Annie said. "It's a fairly traded coffee from South America. The Sumatra French Roast that we serve is knock-your-socks-off strong. Our chai is brewed from fresh herbs and spices, whole milk, honey, and spring water."
Annie offered me a cup of chai, and I can vouch that it was spicy _ I want some the next time my sinuses need clearing!
The baked goods that accompany Annie's beverages are prepared by Astrid, who used to bake for the Magic Bean. If you have missed Astrid's Famous Homemade Scones and Muffins, you know where to find them now. Astrid uses organic flour and other wholesome ingredients in her cheddar cheese, berry and apple-cinnamon scones, as well as in the muffins and granola bars. Annie warned that Astrid's brownies are "rich enough to feed a family of four for a week."
Annie's customers can enjoy the broad range of music that Annie plays via an Internet site that streams radio stations from other cities. You can borrow a book from the shelves near the tables _ and take it home if you don't finish it in one sitting. Just bring it back next time you come, and while you're at it, bring your own coffee mug and get a 25-cent discount on your beverage. Soon Annie plans to have a mug rack so that customers can keep their own mugs at her place, ready for their favorite beverage whenever they drop by!
Foti's Café, which used to be known as Foti's Italian Bakery, a bit out of "downtown" Oneonta, has been located at 42 River St. since 1924. The current owners, Jim Tomaino and Gina Pywar, maintain a lively business serving customers from the River Street neighborhood, in addition to supplying bread and rolls to local grocery stores, sub shops and restaurants. And then there are customers who grew up in Oneonta, moved away, and return to Foti's for their favorite Italian bread whenever they're in the area.
I stopped in at Foti's on a Monday morning and found two men who identified themselves as "retired neighborhood residents" sitting together at a table. They said they go to Foti's every morning, Monday through Friday, after their walk in Neawha Park.
"Men do coffee klatches," one of them said. "We come here because it's quiet and friendly. Gina's very nice to everybody, and it's the best coffee in town."
Gina explained how this great coffee is produced: "It's fresh roasted weekly by a provider in Albany. Commercial coffee brewers always make better coffee than you can make at home because the water is filtered, and the heat and pressure are greater."
Foti's also offers a variety of specialty drinks, including brewed chai. The baked goods include baklava from a bakery in New Jersey, but Gina bakes all of the other pastries on the premises. I tried a rugelach laced with chocolate _ a small but rich Swiss pastry that melted in my mouth!
Foti's maintains its 1920s ambience with the original tin ceiling, tangerine-colored walls and original glass windows. Its small size gives it a "warm, intimate" feeling. Each customer that enters receives a personal greeting from Jim and Gina, who seem to know everyone. As Jim said: "It's a family-run business" _ set in a friendly neighborhood.
After my stint of café hopping in Oneonta, I have come to the conclusion that wherever you have your morning coffee or other beverage and snack, you will be warmed three times: once by the delicious treat, again by the friendly service, and again by the charming ambience of your chosen destination. It's just a wonderful way to begin any day!