Sometimes life doesn’t give you a lot of warning. Like the other day, when my wife managed to get a last minute appointment but found herself without child care. I closed up things at work and rushed downstairs ready to receive my daughter like a relay baton. Suddenly, however, I found myself standing curbside, kid-in-tow, unsure how I was going to spend a few quality father-daughter hours in scenic downtown Oakland. I called up a friend of mine, who, as it turns out, was spending some time with his wife and kids at nearby Children’s Fairyland. I had never been, but had heard good things so the two of us strolled (or strollered) on over to join them.
In case you’re not familiar with it, Children’s Fairyland is a fairytale-themed amusement park, geared towards the toddler to age 8 crowd and located on the North shore of Oakland’s Lake Merrit. It’s a trippy throwback to the late 50’s, when someone attempted to create their own mini, Northern California version of Disneyland (update: please see the comments below which I believe is actually the correct account). The park includes: a smattering of kiddie rides that stretch the definition of “well-loved” but are too slow to be unsafe; a small “farm” including an alpaca, the soon-to-be-retired pony and sheep duo (and I mean relocated to a retirement farm – no euphemism here) who are apparently the best of friends and do everything together (it’s really very sweet), a couple of chickens, goats and a rabbit; several proto-psychedelic play structures encompassing children’s story themes; a stage for performances; and a marionette theater where a troupe performs stories like the original (quite macabre) tale of Pinocchio. The place is oddly frozen in time and a little worn down, but in spite of its quirks, or perhaps because of them, it truly is charming in a strictly old-school sort of way. Besides, the kiddies really dig it.
We had a great afternoon despite the mongrel hordes of identically clad summer camp kids that would occasionally overrun our play structure of choice, and just when things started to slow down, I noticed the magic, coffee dispensing pumpkin.
Peter’s Big Pumpkin Espresso is a tiny temple devoted to espresso with a menu that includes espresso and the barest selection of espresso-based drinks. They also serve hot chocolate. The spare simplicity of this place is really to be admired. They don’t even serve brewed coffee, just Americanos. Pretty much the only contents of this shack are: a Mazzer grinder (a Mini, I think); a 2-group, semi-automatic, Mr. Espresso-branded machine (a Capri based on Mr. Espresso’s old equipment website rather than on their new one); and a bag of Mr. Espresso’s Organic Neapolitan blend.
The barista pulled a very nice shot which was sweet, a little smoky and very smooth. It even had decent, albeit a little thin, golden brown crema. This was not a knock-your-socks-off espresso, but it was far better than amusement park coffee ought to be, and better than the majority of coffee in downtown Oakland. This is especially true given their mind-blowing, contrary-to-amusement-park-prices of just $1.25 for a single. Perhaps their secret is that the baristas are multi-talented. Besides pulling shots, mine pulled Pinocchio’s strings in the marionette show we had seen a half hour before. I kid you not. My nose is not growing.
Of course, this Pumpkin Brewster (ouch, sorry for that one) can’t please the plethora of peripatetic plebeians that permeate the prime morning hours downtown. It’s located inside an amusement park that requires accompaniment by at least one small child and charges $6 a head for admission. This means it may not be too convenient to stop by for coffee on your typical workday morning, and, at $13.25 (minimum) for a single, it’s far from economical. On a genuinely more critical note, but also understandable given their location, is that they don’t serve their shots in ceramic. Everything is paper.
These concerns aside, Fairyland deserves real kudos for giving such care and attention to the quality of their concessions as well as acknowledging the culinary intelligence of the parents that bring their kids there. Thank you Fairyland. I will certainly be back.