Koffee Therapy provides a therapeutic experience for java lovers who are fed up with mainstream cafes. (Kevin Clark/News-Letter)
As you can tell from the photograph, the art on the walls at Koffee Therapy, a new downtown café and trend-magnet, does not suck. In cafés, the art is usually crap. It's usually some not very talented local artist that stays up far too long and just clashes with everything on top of not getting sold. This art is actually good. Nearly everything about Koffee Therapy is like other cafés, but actually good.
Usually I eschew ambience in my review - I like to focus on what's in front of me rather than window-dressing. This hip place, though, has ambience in spades. The art isn't the only thing going, either.
The decor generally is the apotheosis of hipster, with a few pieces, patterns and colors that don't really jive with everything else and give that hipster edge. There's a basement with space-age plastiform chairs and red walls, and they book good local bands, and seriously good jazz, including Mike Formanek, head of the Jazz department at Peabody.
There's a courtyard out back that will show films in the summer. The cafe is a renovated row house front room. The ceilings are high, and the molding on the ceiling is antique plaster of serious quality.
There's even a good 19th-century-looking lighting fixture hanging from the middle of the plaster flourishes, above and to the side of a brown couch whose former incarnation was on the set of The Ice Storm, or in some 70s psychologist's waiting room.
When you go in, the proprietor will show you around, talk up the upcoming calendar, expand on his plans for the future, including a reception for the artist currently being represented, complete with his own curator (part of the reason the art is, well, good) and a further expanded menu. He talks a good game - hence my review of the place - basically by listing true things. This is the sort of sales pitch I love - it's second only to a farmer in a market last August who handed me half an ear of corn without saying a word. I took a bite ten paces out - and turned around to buy a dozen ears.
One of the problems, though, with a place this young, is that low traffic equals stale coffee. The carafes should be emptied every 45 minutes - in high traffic shops and at high traffic times of day that isn't a problem, but with new places in the middle of the afternoon, the coffee's going to be a little too acidic, a little too bitter, unless you're lucky. But when you are lucky enough to get a fresh cup, and the frequency of that luck will just go up with time, it's a cup of coffee like at any other cafe, only better.
The menu is small, and in the last week had quadrupled in size from a single spinach pie - and a good one too - to include also a meat pie and two fairly inventive sandwiches. I say fairly inventive - they do include the two trendiest of the trendy sauces today, one per sandwich.
But the spinach pie. Most recipes for this sort of thing instruct you to put spinach in a blind-baked crust with a lot of milk and graham cracker crumbs and only a little cheese. Most recipes try to be healthy. Koffee Therapy, mercifully, does not. There's spinach in there to be sure, and there's a green color going on, sort of, but mostly it's a pie crust filled with cheese. This is what's supposed to happen - accompany spinach with a flavorful dairy product that has the viscosity too, not milk thickened with crumbs. I did not try to meat rustica, but I have faith it is of a similarly healthy view when it comes to cholesterol (I do not say 'healthy' in the manner of 'heart-healthy' or 'healthy eating' or, god forbid, 'health food'; I mean a 'healthy view when it comes to cholesterol' in the manner of a 'healthy and liberated view of sexuality').
The sandwiches are both pressed in a European-style panini grill. Good idea. One is a Mumbai club sandwich, and the other is called an Athens. The Athens contains pesto mayonnaise (trendy sauce number one), feta cheese (which melts in the sandwich press and makes you a happy eater), tomatoes, and myriad other things which usually come free in normal sandwiches.
This is a veggie-friendly sandwich upon which can be piled bacon or turkey for a little extra on the price (it bears mentioning that the food is a little pricy, like all cafe food).
Pesto mayonnaise does not carry the same punch as pesto, but is cheaper and keeps its color longer, and can be left open to the air at room temperature. It is a popular sauce.
Trendy sauce two is chipotle pepper mayonnaise (mayos are just stable and cheap for restaurants. Modified mayo is a good bet when you'd otherwise have to cook something difficult). On the Mumbai club sandwich, which has ham, turkey and bacon, the chipotle mayo works decently well, blending through it's tang the three meats not into a composite whole - that would be a boring sandwich - but into a varied, though unified whole. Why is this called a Mumbai club, you ask? Because you can get it on bread that is ostensibly naan with Indian spices embedded in it. The flavor here does add to the sandwich. That's what makes it an inventive dish - why would one expect to find American cold cuts, a European sandwich grill, and a chipotle mayonnaise all in Mumbai (otherwise known as Bombay, for those who don't own maps).
This naan has never seen the inside of a tandoor - but you have to abandon authenticity for quality. I was going over the difference between this naan and real naan in my head, all the while enjoying the sandwich, which is what counts. That's what this place is about - the proprietor wants to do something fun, and play movies, have concerts, art openings, whatever. This is a place to keep your eye on.