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Who wants to cook? Let’s go out to eat. See where News-Herald staff members dined and where they go to unwind in our area. You might just find a new treasure in your own neighborhood.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Hold the Coffee @ Arabica in Willoughby

EDITOR’S NOTE: To read the latest posts on Simon’s coffee shop adventures, visit his blog at

I know what you're thinking... it is about time a Lake County coffee shop is finally reviewed! (And trust me, it won't be my last. I'll probably have Open Door Coffee on here sometime in the next two months.)

Arabica looks so inviting from the outside,
or is that just Matt's face?
Most posts on this blog have been dedicated to indie coffee shops I infrequently visit, and Arabica Coffee House is definitely not among them. I often camp out at the Downtown Willoughby coffee shop at least twice a month. It's partly because the News-Herald's office is only a four-minute drive away, but mostly it is because Arabica offers a fresh breath of indie flare in a county that is severely inundated with frontal parking lots and five-lane roads. If Euclid, Richmond Heights or western Lake County offered more indie coffee venues, I probably wouldn't need to know Arabica's hours of operation by heart like I do now.

My boyfriend Matt and I visited Arabica Friday, Jan. 17, for a pre-workout coffee break. Being so close to the newsroom, we were fortunate to have some of my coworkers, Amy, Devon and Cheryl join us for coffee.

Matt realizing he just poured salt in his coffee.
He said he thought the salt shaker was vanilla.
Location: There's only a handful of places in Lake County that possess a neighborhood-like flare (or a strong potential for it.) Those areas sit either around State and Main Street in Painesville, High and Third Street in Fairport Harbor and Route 84 and 528 in Madison Village. Downtown Willoughby, comprised mostly of Route 20, stands out as the success story in the county. Although it doesn't reach the offerings of some destinations in Columbus, Buffalo and Cleveland, Downtown Willoughby does remarkably well in creating a critical mass commercial district for a relatively small city. The first time I visited Downtown Willougby, its brick facades, narrow streets and seamless layer of buildings reminded me of Downtown Kent, minus the nearby massive college campus and needless hassle to find free parking.

They taste as good as they look.
Speaking about free parking, there's plenty of it near Arabica, whether its along Euclid Avenue, Spaulding Street, Erie Street or the municipal lot in front of City Hall. (Yes, Downtown Willoughby has a front parking lot, unfortunately.) I'd argue Arabica's storefront is the most convenient location for drivers in Downtown Willoughby.

Food and Beverages: If there's one thing that separates Arabica from most coffee shops, it is the baked goods, mostly the cookies and brownies. Their designs are often compelling and flavors often rich in  sweetness that I am surprised Arabica's management doesn't place signs near the counter warning diabetic patrons to stare with caution. Matt and I often leave Arabica with carb comas.  Friday's visit was not so different. Matt and I spent $10 and change for two 20-ounce coffees (one with an espresso shot) and two baked goods. Matt was wise and ordered a cranberry granola bar. I was weak-minded and caved in to the smore-brownie, which was the size of a stack of note cards.

Matt and I got Styrofoam cups.Nearly an hour later,
Devon showed us that you can order a mug if you ask. 
If there's one thing that troubles me about Arabica, however, it is its use of Styrofoam cups. Now, I can probably count at least a handful of other indie coffee shops that use Styrofoam, but that's no excuse. We just entered 2014, and it's little secret of the environmental consequences of Styrofoam. And Arabica uses plenty of Styrofoam cups--even for iced beverages, strangely enough. Up until a week ago, I didn't know you could actually order a mug if you asked the barista for it.

Space and Atmosphere: Arabica checks off all of the necessities of a neighborhood coffee shop, combining its wood-panel flooring, exposed brick walls, earth-tone lighting and antique black-and-white photos of Willoughby's urbanized landscape.

An artistic low-angle shot of Arabica!
Arabica excels especially well as a night-life bar. Not having done it myself, I can see patrons starting their bar crawl at Arabica to fill up on some caffeine and sober conversation before launching into one of Downtown Willoughby's nearly dozen bars.

With plenty of outlets and a Wi-Fi password available on the receipts, Arabica also offers patrons good working space. However be warned: the tables near the Erie Street door can get pretty drafty. The building is so old, I can't be too surprised by the draft. I often wonder if that's why Arabica was closed during the polar vortex earlier this month. In addition, its suppose to be closed Monday and Tuesday because of the Alberta Clipper, according to its Facebook page. Ouch! Closed on a frigid day when people like myself need you most? Not cool, Arabica. Not cool.
Here's Matt, Jan. 6, finding out that Arabica is closed
because of the Polar Vortex.
Again, if you have suggestions of a coffee shop for a future entry, send it to me via on Twitter at @SimonSaysNH.

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