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March 20, 2009

Coffee house suggestions and more on Firehouse Coffee

GrillArtCoffeeBar.jpgIn the post on best places to get a great cup of coffee, I wasn't as clear as I should have been. I was hoping for independently owned coffee bars, shops or houses, or at the very least fairly local franchises for my Top 10 list.

So, for instance, is there a best place to get Zeke's coffee? Doesn't it have its own location on Harford Road? But I'd like to bring other factors into play here, like the atmosphere (or not) and whether the things you can get with the coffee are worth buying, and whether that even matters. The most important part, of course, is that you can get a great cup of coffee there.

I did like this comment from ThinksItsSilly under the earlier post:

It's funny how no one will say Starbucks - - but clearly someone is buying coffee from them... regularly... because they're still around and (from what I see) always pretty busy. Fess up.

Also, Chowsearch's mention of Firehouse Coffee in Canton reminded me that I've been meaning to share a very nice e-mail I got from the owner, Mark Epstein. He actually sent it last month, but better late than never. If you remember, when I called Firehouse several months ago I talked to one of the employees and posted about it here. The employee no longer works there, but not because of me, thank goodness. I thought the incident was funny, not something that I got angry about.

Anyway, here's what Mark wrote: ...

I bought it as a Daily Grind franchise about a year ago, but the franchise thing was not for friendly agreement, I split from the franchise January 1st, 2009, and created my own new brand, Firehouse Coffee Company...I have freshly roasted coffee from the same roastmaster that is used by Dean and Deluca of Georgetown and New York and Balducci's of Bethesda and surrounding areas. People are telling me they love the coffee. We get the coffee beans within 24 hours of being roasted...that's unmatched by many roasters. I understand Starbucks coffee can sit for months. ...

Anyway, I still have a very busy law practice, but have really developed a passion about my coffee shop. I'm a Canton local myself, and love my community. That's part of the reason I undertook the project.

I've brought in anti-franchise Junior's, which you probably know from the Food Channel as Bobby Flay's winner as one of America's top cheesecakes and Carnegie Deli pie.....I'm introducing in the Spring BerryRed, my own answer to New York's Pinkberry and RedMango, a 70 calorie soft serve frozen yogurt with healthy toppings like granola, honey and blueberries.
I just introduced flatbread 7" personal size low fat-skim mozzarella pizzas, starting at just under 5 bucks; and my breakfast sandwiches are thick and awesome.

I have an 11 foot movie screen in the back where we feature on Sat. nights dvd concerts of the likes of Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, or movies like the Blues Brothers....and the community has come to love my statutes of the Blues Brothers that sit outside on fair weather days...and greet people at the old Canton firehouse. ...
Most of my customers rave about my staff as being very personable...we're the anti-Starbucks...
I have original artwork-murals along the walls by local artist Uri Victorov reminiscent of the Great Baltimore Fire, with blowups of actual photos from Baltimore Firefighting scenes from the local fire museum.

I'm a local Canton resident and bought and reinvented the place because I love my community and I love meeting people from my community. I hang out there all the time....and I've really put a lot of painstaking effort in trying to make the shop a warm place to hang out. ...I really was visited by an LA movie producer who was signing up a local actress, and he took me to the side to tell me how much he loved the place.

And in this age of struggling businesses with a slow economy, I've been grateful to have the support of my community.

I actually installed electric power strips conveniently at table height all around the store so that cyber addicts can stay plugged in at my store with free wi-fi.

Since I reinvented the store, sales are actually up 40 % over last year. 
(Monica Lopossay/Sun photographer)
Posted by Elizabeth Large at 10:51 AM | | Comments (30)


Zeke's does have its own place, its just off Harford Road on Montebello Terrace, behind the Chameleon Cafe.

This Firehouse Coffee place sounds like its really trying hard to please the local community, and I wish him luck.

I've been into Firehouse a few times and really love it! First impressions count and they rocked theirs: As my sister ran by in the Baltimore Marathon, she picked that moment to have a little break down. I ducked in to grab a water and shout that I would be back in a moment to pay for it (the place was packed). They shouted back not to worry about it. As I was coming back in to thank them, one of the staff members came out to check on my sister.

At that time, it was still under the Daily Grind franchise, but also the current owner. I've been back since then and have happily found the place to be regularly full with a few people in line and many working at tables.

Hope they succeed!

I actually had a 60 person party at firehouse last friday (you can rent the place out) and it worked out great. the owner came in to say hi and see how everything was, and the manager Justin and his staff were top notch.

highly rec'd

Going into Firehouse Coffe is like being thrown into a bad acid trip. Besides being startled of the realistic Blues Brothers sitting on chairs outside and a firefigher sliding down a pole it's got way too much going on. Advice to Mark: sell the place to coffee lovers (who will understand the product - coffee) and keep your focus on law. You could still help out the community and small businesses with you legal skills.

I guess Firehouse will be on the list, huh? This post is persuading me... I may try it this weekend.

Well, check back in and tell us what you thought. I make up the list Monday, and I don't think I have any consensus here. EL

I passed it when I was on my bar crawl on St. Patricks day. I didn't stop in but now I wish I had. I will have to make a point to go there, sounds like a cool place.

I like the Firehouse. It' a little more laid back then The Daily Grind in Fells Point.(I'm not nearly hip enough to hang at "The Grind".)Maybe I'll buy a laptop and hang out at The Firehouse and write my memoirs.

I wonder if he got those Blues Brothers from the pool table store that closed at Harford Road & Taylor Ave.

OMG I am beyond excited about the BerryRed frozen yogurt. For the longest time I have been praying for a Pinkberry to open in Baltimore let along in my neighborhood. Whoo hoo!

made me look CantonK

RayRay--you're hip enough.

Oooh, and RayRay, you're over at the garden blog, too!

Those Blues Brothers statues are everywhere, they are at a couple places down here in PCB. At Cowboys Bar in Dothan AL, they are perched atop the banks of speakers that flank the stage.

Hey everyone, PCB has been in the national news lately! For all the wrong reasons too!

If the question is where to get a great cup of coffee, cast my vote for Balt Coffee and Tea. They are serious about their product and the shear variety of flavored brews they offer can't be beat. There's always something new to try. They could throw some more comfy furniture in the place, but I love the atmosphere and dig the fact that it is all about the beans and a quality cup of coffee.

Baltimore Coffee and Tea sells stale beans. You can tell by the way they store them. That is *not* good coffee. I got a cup there once. Never again.

Blues Brothers statues? How many things are wrong with that?

Smarter-than-me Bourbon Girl pointed out that this is a prime example of commodity fetishism, words that I had been searching for but didn't have the mental resources to steal from Marx. Premium vodkas are another current almost pathological example.

My dislike of being around people who drink coffee as a public activity are well known and don't need repeating. I had a particularly agitated rant about the coffee-sipping slow-walkers at the farmer's market in September. Why not revisit it...

Set phasers to RANT.

Yeah, most of the time when I go to the market I'm not so much in the Bon Marché kind of strolling mood like my ex-girlfriend used to dig. Any market, any day. Stroll stroll stroll. The Paris bird market was her fave. I'm a freakin' laser guided maniac sometimes. I want apples, I want bok choy and I want to get hell out of there.

So what bugs me more than strollers, because I can see them on my radar and evade. It's the ankle dragging freakin coffee people. Yeah, and that's probably some of you. You know who you are. Mmmmm..... slurpity slurp slurp, ahhhh, mmmm, shuffle stutter-step stop linger start stop wandering in your addict's haze and narcissistic dark roasted egoism. Walking two or more across because if nobody hears your mouth-gasms they just aren't that good. The problem other than my lifelong hatred of the coffee HABIT (not coffee, it's the celebratory ritual of lame addiction that irks me, damn, if you're going to get that worked up start chasing the dragon, swirl into a deep opium fog thinking of crickets and chanting all the vowels.) So I can't avoid you and I can't get to the stand with the hot farm girls. This is about food and an appreciation of tawny young women who rise at dawn and tear things from the ground for my nourishment and gustatory pleasure, get out of my way you poseur weekend divas with your khaki dreams and public onanistic mouth rapture. Gentlemen set your phasers to vaporize, I want my purple habaneros, a sunny smile from pepper girl and in my mind-kill-zone there is just a puddle of non-fat milk java that is the stain that you will be. Slurp on that.

This fetishization of a mediocre common drug in public and the concomitant lingering and fingering of the object of desire has lead me to coin a new word – procrasturbation. Slurp on that.

I actually love coffee shops for the same reasons that I love the suburbs and movies starring Hilary Duff Hugh Grant, Julia Roberts, Freddie Prinze Jr, and any sassy black man in a dress, – they are full of people I don't want to hang out with.

Disclaimer: I'm a total hypocrite. I have all kinds of rituals involving food, most of which I do in private.

Next thing you know they'll be selling cardboard-flavored coffee so you can have that coffee shop experience at home.

I'm a tea drinker, and I like their chai tea latte at Firehouse Coffee. Though the thing that I really like is the way the place is decorated with the fire service photos etc. It also has a very relaxed and laid back atmosphere in there.

Haven't been to the Firehouse Coffee joint but there certainly were a lot of "I"s in his message.

I guess he must run the place by himself.

I've been there a few times. I love the staff. Their coffee is awesome but they just seem spread way too thin. They are trying to sell everything now. It seems like it would be a better idea to do a few things well rather than a million things mediocre.

Mark Epstein, and his Firehouse Coffee Company, have not only the support of the Canton community of which he is a part, but also that of his many friends; all of whom enjoy the quality products and very cool venue he provides. And "for all the lad-ies" ... Mark is good-looking, bright, thoughtful, congenial, and oft-times "hand-on" (opps, poor choice of words) at the Firehouse.

Oh, gods, another shill! Do they blossom right after the daffodils or something?

"My name is Legion: for we are many."

Are we wearing the wrong perfume? Is that what's attracting them?

As a Canton local, I have to say that I am somewhat disappointed in this store. I was so excited to hear that there was an independent coffee shop on the square, but it really isn't anything special. There are a lot of bells and whistles, sure, but for a really good cup of coffee I still have to go elsewhere. I very much agree with Chris' comment that this store would be better if it were run by coffee lovers.

I also have to admit to being somewhat baffled by the wholepizza and pinkberry knock off stuff. Sounds gimmicky and absolutely like the wrong direction for a coffee shop to head in. Maybe I'm just old fashioned, though...

Meredith, if you want a good cup of coffee, walk up to High Grounds in Highlandtown. He can roast.

If the person behind the counter can't tell you what time the beans were roasted, within a few hours, or if the beans are more than 3 days old, you might get atmosphere, but you aren't getting good coffee.

I'm reserving judgement on the pizzas and generic pinkberry until something actually happens. I imagine that space is quite costly to lease, so the owners are looking for ways to keep the spot relevant for longer hours than just the morning. I'm guessing that they're hoping to get foot traffic from people at the square who want some place else to go in the evening other than a bar. Vaccaro's is one alternative, but their space is limited.

I hope they are able to put enough attention on the food and service to make it a success. Otherwise, it will become another Kiss Cafe: identfiable only by bad attitude.

Lissa, thanks so much for the recommendation! I swung by High Grounds last week and it was just the kind of thing I was looking for. No pizza, no soft serve, just a delicious, fresh cup of coffee! I highly recommend it!

In way of explanation of the "for the lay-dies" comment lauding the "hands-on" owner of Firehouse:

Meredith, I'm glad High Grounds works for you. He does roast good coffee.

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About this blog
Richard Gorelick was appointed The Baltimore Sun's restaurant critic in September 2010. Before joining the paper staff fulltime, he contributed freelance criticism and features articles about food to area and regional publications. Along the way, he dispatched for short-distance trucking companies, shilled for cultural non-profits, and assisted in cognitive neurology research – never the subject, always the control.

He takes restaurants seriously but not himself, and his favorite restaurant is the one you love, too.

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