Since it was built in 1890, Cynwyd Station has survived three fires, water damage, and even a nest of Richard Geres in the walls. Thanks to the renovation efforts of the Lower Merion Historical Society, it has found new life as a sustainable storm-water reclamation site and education center?and an undeniably quirky cafe. As a nod to its home's heritage, Cynwyd Station Cafe and Tea Room is filled with steampunk-tinged Victorian imagery, a playful and boutique twist on the culture of a bygone area. It also has an eye on the future, relying almost entirely on biodegradable materials, composting, and recycling. This environmental focus also spreads to the seasonal menu.
Artificial ingredients are nowhere to be found in the nearly 20 loose-leaf teas that range from the traditional but complex to more adventurous, spicy blends. Six rotating ice-cream flavors go into old-fashioned ice-cream sodas and chocolate-egg creams, as well as European-inspired sundaes and pockets. Meanwhile, Benjamin Franklin would swell with pride at the whimsical shop of curiosities, such as Fee Brothers botanical waters and handmade wooden games.
Taking to heart the idea that three is a magic number, the owners of Mugshots CoffeeHouse dedicate themselves to a triple bottom-line business model that supports people, profit, and the planet. Organic direct trade beans constitute the whole of the steamy coffee and espresso drinks served by the baristas, and locally raised, earth-friendly foodstuffs comprise each hot sandwich found on the menu. Much of the money generated by the brisk bean trade goes toward charities of both local and international origin. When not welcoming community organizations for meetings or fundraisers, the venue shows off its artsy side with film nights, open mics, and staged readings of VCR instructions.
Though it goes through its fair share of alligator meat and "Devil Dust," Beck's Cajun Cafe is not a medieval apothecary. Chefs receive alligator sausage directly from New Orleans, and dry rub the “Devil Dust" seasoning into cuts of meat awaiting the grill. This reverence for Cajun culinary tradition, along with many bowls of gumbo, has earned the stand its reputation as a Creole institution among the regulars of Reading Terminal Market. The squishy brain behind it all is chef Bill Beck, whose kitchen prowess has been documented on television programs, at Manhattan's James Beard House, and inside the homes of local hungry men. His menu layers traditional Louisiana eats with reinvented staples: beignets sell for Wednesday and Sunday breakfast along with egg, sausage, and cheese po’ boys. Lunchtime po’ boy variants feature fried oysters and catfish, and garnered the award for Best Sandwiches in Reading Terminal from Philadelphia magazine in 2011.
The secret behind Coffee Beanery's successful growth into more than 100 franchises is easy to spot: their roasting process. The company's master roaster skillfully toasts high-quality Arabica beans to create varied flavor profiles, from the slightly sweet to the dark and complex. These flavors come out when baristas brew the beans and blend them with steamed milk, chocolate shavings, and flavored syrups, creating the house's signature drinks. They specialize in drinks on the sweeter side, such as the rich chocolate ice fudge ripple and espresso frappalattes made with a choice of syrup. Guests looking to fuel up with food as well as caffeine can grab one of the cafe's signature toasted sandwiches or salads, creating meals that are satisfying and easy to eat on the go, unlike a watermelon on a stick.
Three floors below the glitzy Bistro St. Tropez lies another side of French cuisine. Chef Patrice Rames founded both establishments, and at Le Petit Cafe he shows off recipes that are no less carefully composed for being less formal. In addition to Illy coffee drinks, croissants, and classic French pastries, the menu presents quiche, salads, and sandwiches such as the croque monsieur or an ultra-savory combination of Virginia ham, thyme, caramelized onion, and gruyere.
The staff's minds may be in France much of the time, but their feet are planted firmly in Le Petit Cafe's actual neighborhood. They source as many ingredients as possible locally, complementing other green initiatives such as using compostable serving ware.
Cafe V treats its guests to breakfasts and lunches of fruit-crowned pancake stacks, toasty panini sandwiches, and colorful fruit smoothies. Like a club sandwich garnished with a gold-plated toothpick, the restaurant blends classic diner cuisine with a touch of elegance, serving up dishes such as prime-beef burgers topped with applewood bacon and Wisconsin cheddar, or egg-and-toast breakfast plates sided with morsels of filet mignon. Guests sample Italian flavors with 14-inch pizzas dotted with fresh basil, roasted chicken, or broccoli rabe, or they can snack on light, healthy plates, such as fennel and arugula or beet salad with goat cheese.