Coffee is much needed fuel as we start our days on the road, a ritual of sorts. But it also provides a reason to explore smaller towns off our planned routes. One of our best coffee stops happened just two days into our trip. Thanks to a tip from our Boondocker’s Welcome host in South Wales, New York, we spent the next morning in East Aurora. There were many options in town for breakfast, and we chose well. Elm Street Bakery provided a side patio where we enjoyed artisan bread sandwiches and strong coffee. Then we strolled through town and the grounds of the Roycroft Campus, a utopian arts and crafts colony from the 1880s to 1920s. Less exciting was our stop two days later, dictated by real fuel needs and no coffee options. We sipped Dunkin’ Donuts coffee on the van step in a busy gas station west of Schenectady.
How do you find the perfect coffee stop? The most important rule is to stay away from local chains and national brands. If we have many miles ahead of us, we often search out a town an hour down the road, looking for a local coffee shop or bakery. We prefer ones with outdoor seating areas or a park nearby so that Nicky can join us. Alternatively, if our route takes us along rural byways, we look for where the most cars are parked in towns along the way and do as the locals do—stop to fill our tanks. This worked well in Saranac Lake, New York, where we discovered Origin Coffee Company and enjoyed breakfast in shady Berkeley Green while we planned the next stretch of our roadtrip. Unfortunately, on our final travel day this well-honed strategy backfired. In Port Clinton, Ohio, Coffee Express, untrue to its name, was under-staffed and over-crowded. The coffee was fine, but the food was not worth the wait.
Almost every coffee shop we visited had a small menu of muffins, breakfast sandwiches, and burritos. When the menu was too limited, we might stop twice as we did in Plattsburgh, New York. After enjoying coffee from Chapter One in nearby Trinity Park, we visited Plattsburgh Sourdough Co. to buy bread. We left with a delicious loaf as well as a five-star Everything Bagel with cream cheese and another coffee to go. During our stay in Penobscot, Maine, we made a pilgrimage of sorts to Tinder Hearth in Brooksville. Famous for its wood-hearth pizza and bread, it also creates a mouth-watering selection of pastry. Even on a rainy Sunday morning, there was a line outside—well worth it. But no coffee as advertised! We finally found a quiet spot to stop—Bakeman Beach—and sipped store-bought iced coffee instead. The towns of Castine and Blue Hill fulfilled our coffee needs on subsequent days.
It is interesting how many local coffee shops have a faith or social mission attached to their enterprise. Often area artists display and sell a variety of artwork. Bulletin boards provide the important function of advertising local events but also provide outsiders like us with insights into community issues.
I would be remiss not to mention the wonderful coffee, environs, and company provided by all the family and friends we visited along our route. Conversations and coffee—what a great way to start any day.
COFFEE SHOP ITINERARY
Mr. Smith’s Coffee Shop, Sandusky, OH
Elm Street Bakery, East Aurora, NY
Coal Yard Cafe, Ithaca, NY
Dunkin’ Donuts, Schenectady, NY
Flamingo’s Coffee Bar, Hampton Beach, NH
The Blue, Kennebunk, ME
Mornings in Paris, Kennebunk, ME
Wild Oats, Brunswick, ME
Flipside Coffee, Thomaston, ME
Tinder Hearth, Brooksville, ME
Bucklyn Coffee, Blue Hill, ME
Hawaian Cafe, Castine, ME
Blue Hill Co-op, Blue Hill, ME
Black Cap Cafe, Morrisville, VT
Chef’s Corner, Williston, VT
Chapter One: Coffee and Tea, Plattsburgh, NY
Sourdough Bakery Co., Plattsburgh, NY
Origin Coffee Co., Saranac Lake, NY
Dunkin Donuts, Malone, NY
Phillip’s Diner, Ogdensburg, NY
Oswego Bagelry & Bread Shop, Oswego, NY
Open Door Coffee, Geneva, OH
Coffee Express, Port Clinton, OH