I first picked up on Patterson Perk in a lengthy thread on CoffeeGeek. What I read didn’t give me tremendous confidence, but most of the entries were also a few years old. Unfortunately, the other two articles I found that had a more positive spin, were also from the same time period. One of them discussed the owner’s involvement and contribution to the community despite being outsiders and the other mentioned, amongst other things, that the house blend is roasted locally (for, but not by, the cafe).
I wanted to update this dated information so I stopped off at Patterson Perk as I headed out of town. I should say up front, that I didn’t have time to give Patterson Perk a thorough review. It was late so I only ordered a decaf, and an Americano at that. I might have hesitated in scoring this cafe if not for some of the coffee production practices I witnessed while ordering that confirmed the results of my limited tasting. Before I get to those, however, I should give you a few details about the shop.
Patterson Perk sits on the southern border of Baltimore’s Patterson Park (park-perk, get it). The name alone was almost enough for me to steer clear. I typically find that punny business names (I won’t bore you with examples – OK, I guess I just did) often result from a lack of creativity in the owners which translates itself into the quality of their products or services. Of course, businesses with puns as names aren’t always poor performers (I’ve been known to pun on “park” myself!), but they do seem more likely to be sub-par than their peers, especially when there is little meaning behind the pun in question. In this regard, at least Patterson Perk’s pun has some relevance since it says something about its location.
Clearly my pun theory doesn’t hold up when it comes to cafe design. This tiny cafe is nice inside with some stylish second hand furniture and a slightly dated industrial look (see a photo here). One whole wall of the cafe is exposed brick and ductwork. There isn’t a lot of space, but it’s comfy and could provide a nice break to a day at the park. There’s a smattering of attractive outdoor seats to settle into when the weather is good, free wifi and allegedly their bathrooms, which I didn’t use, are quite impressive.
The coffee, however, is exactly what my pun theory might predict. I started out by asking the barista who roasts the coffee. He didn’t know, but was able to tell me that they had a light and a dark blend and that it was organic and fair trade. As he was showing me the coffee bins, I spotted the brewed coffee, baking in glass carafes on burners. I quickly opted for an espresso drink, the aforementioned Americano, wagering that it would at least be freshly made.
I couldn’t identify the espresso machine, but it was old and held together in parts with tape. The barista ground the coffee fresh for the shot, but he did so on a Cuisinart Burr Grinder, a consumer level grinder rated pretty universally as deficient for espresso grinding, and, quite possibly, drip coffee as well. I was so surprised to see this machine used in a professional setting that I failed to note the grinder used for the regular coffee beyond the fact that it was, thankfully, something on the more professional end of the spectrum.
I suppose the twist to the story is that the Americano wasn’t half bad. It could have been the magic of the hot water, often capable of taming even fairly harsh espresso. I didn’t, after all, get to taste the naked shot. Still, I think the espresso, itself, must have been better than a sink shot even if it was far from God; my Americano was not noteworthy, but not burnt or bitter and certainly drinkable. The bottom line is that Patterson Perk is far from a coffee destination, and has much room to improve, but it could be a suitable stopping point if you happen to be in the area.