L'Albatros, Cleveland, Ohio
The dictionary defines obsession as “a persistent disturbing preoccupation with an often unreasonable idea or feeling.” Let me think about this…I sometimes drink more coffee than water during the day. I order whole beans from across the country. I’d rather toast with a cup of coffee instead of beer. I even hydrate with caffeine before I workout. Obsessed? More like “dedicated,” Merriam-Webster.
My overt addiction recently routed me to 11401 Bellflower Road, home to my favorite Cleveland restaurant, L’Albatros. You’d never guess that sandwiched between Case Western U’s Zeta Beta Tau and Alpha Chi Omega Greek houses is a nationally-acclaimed Neo-French Brasserie + Bar, one of four impressive establishments invented by James Beard award nominee Zachary Bruell.
That little detail is among the dozens that make this place quite distinctive. Other notables: an extensive menu of contemporary cuisine, mod décor, and, of course, the exquisite after-dinner drink.
About the latter, I’m not referring to the spirits selection. I’m talking about the four dark amber French Press brews: Kona, Kenya, Jamaican and Sumatran. And it was at said stomping ground where I taste-tested the quartet java rainbow.
Yes, the Anthony Bourdain experience came to fruition one sweet Saturday, after an especially exhausting 90-minute Power Vinyasa yoga class. If you’ve ever survived a 90-minute class with Cleveland Yoga’s Parker Bean, congratulations. She was a substitute for this particular class, and it felt like boot camp for boot camp. I barely survived the punishment, having finished Savasana showered with sweat and in need of a serious energy boost (note, her classes are my favorite, so I guess that makes me a masochist).
What’s a woman to do? Easy answer: cup it up. Sure, I could have stopped at a number of quick coffee shops, but why bother? It wasn’t that kind of day. No, no. This day warranted something more to counter the especially cloudy, cold, grey and rainy Cleveland weather. I wanted something elegant and decadent. L’Albatros was the perfect match, and I marched right in like a woman on a mission.
I was seated next to a calm, cozy fire, accompanied by my dear friend Ms. Lariss. The 2 p.m. crowd was serene. Though I was brought forth a delicious menu, I already knew what was in order: a pick-me-up cup of coffee. Question was, “which of the four brews to choose?” The server couldn’t decide either, so Sean McNeil, the assistant general manager, made the executive decision and brought forth the most elaborate, extravagant sampling one could ever ask for: four French Presses of each aforementioned coffee, complemented with desserts: a warm chocolate brownie with crème anglaise and vanilla bean ice cream; an apple almond tart with burnt caramel ice cream; crème caramel; and (yes, the list goes on), a decadent serving of house-made goat cheese ice cream.
Initially, I was euphoric about the elegant eats. But despite the table full of sugar, the sweetest moment was admiring the beautiful four French Presses, place before me like prized trophies. For several moments, I stared as if insanely committed. Then, the St.-Patrick’s-style drinking began.
Cup One: Jamaican
A mild, fresh grassy flavor
Paired best with the apple tart
Cup Two: Kenya
Clean flavor, premiere African coffee with vibrant acidity, hints of ripe berry
Paired best with the warm chocolate brownie
Cup Three: Kona
Hints of light citrus, medium-body and naturally sweet, no dark roast
Paired best with…not gonna lie, all of the desserts
Cup Four: Sumatran
Chocolate and caramel notes, full-bodied, smoky finish
Paired best with the crème caramel
Each coffee was presented in a stylish glass and silver press, served perfectly temperate and undeniably palatable. The complementing white porcelain cups more than welcomed coffee after coffee after coffee…after coffee. Indeed, I was charged like the Energizer Bunny thereafter. Believe me, I definitely didn’t have a normal sleep pattern for a couple of days. All of the caffeine kept me wired enough to have run a marathon—and it was every sip worth it.
One may wonder how a petite Ms. could’ve handled such an indulgent spread. Two answers: elastic waistband, and an extensive time span. Of course, I’m kidding about the elastic waistband—I don’t don such dress. The tasting lasted like an Italian-style dinner—I went long and strong for two-and-a-half hours, chatting with Ms. Lariss, Sean and L’Albatros’ general manager, Brandon Chrostowski, about all things coffee.
Among the reasons why L’Albatros remains my favorite Cleveland restaurant is due in large part to the enthusiastic staff who check in with each guest with such mindfulness, you can’t help but want to return just to see their sincere smiles. The menu is undeniably creative, and the sophisticated ambience couldn’t be more inviting.
Back to the brew, Mr. McNeil spilled the beans as the where L’Albatros gets their beans: Caruso’s, one of the Midwest’s largest specialty coffee roasters. After coming down from seventh coffee heaven, I was afforded the opportunity to tour Caruso’s roastery. Check back for a follow up post.