5590 Main St., Williamsville, NY 14221
Web: Coffee Culture
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"We'd pick this location over the nearby Starbucks, and though we're fans of Spot, it remains to be seen whether the Williamsville venue will open and rival its predecessors."
Suburbanites may have been waiting for months to patronize Williamsville's still unfinished Main Street location of Buffalo's well-liked Spot Coffee, but now there's an attractive alternative just down the street: at the end of March, Coffee Culture seemed to have come from nowhere to inhabit the former Sweet Jenny's location at the corner of Main and East Spring, and has spent the last month building a loyal customer base. As discussed in our earlier preview, this first U.S. location of a 45-store Canadian chain has thoroughly renovated the prior venue; we returned for a second visit now that it's running at full steam, and found it ripe for a full review and star rating.
Located next door to the artisan's boutique 10,000 Villages and directly across the street from The Irishman, Coffee Culture arrived on the Williamsville scene arrived with a sense of interior design and class that fit wonderfully into the modernizing Main Street strip. We'd never heard of the Canadian company before walking in the door for our first visit, and the people behind the counter indicated - wrongly - that it wasn't part of a chain. Yet everything was so obviously polished that we knew that it wasn't just a one-off indie coffee shop: outside, there's highly attractive, professionally designed signage, and inside, there's a pricey new wood and tile interior, plus a large plasma TV with a group seating area, and free Wi-Fi Internet access, all major upgrades to the prior tenant's old fashioned candy shop venue. These touches, along with a short but sweet breakfast/lunch menu, are the products of an expansion plan that's been underway for roughly two years; Williamsville is the Canadian chain's first U.S. location, apparently chosen because it had frontage on two streets and would benefit from good foot traffic. Four additional locations are planned for the area, two in Buffalo, one on Sheridan Drive in Tonawanda, and one in Ellicottville.
In the absence of Spot and with Starbucks in a state of continuing decline, we're especially glad to see Coffee Culture here - it's a step or two behind Spot on drinks, but still quite good, bolstered by a generally solid selection of pastries, cakes, and sandwiches. On our first visit, we were satisfied with a Caramel Latte and a Chai Tea Latte, finding both to be entirely satisfactory, though on the cloyingly sweet side - quite like one would expect from a Wilson Farms cappuccino, only served in a nicer setting with real china. We were similarly pleased on our next visit, when we tried a drip coffee with an added shot of espresso, and found it to be appropriately robust, tasty, and hot; a cappuccino was delicious, with the right level of froth and strong coffee flavor. Also ordered for contrast was a frozen Chai Chiller, which arrived as an appropriately light vanilla and chai tea cup, best of all properly blended - Starbucks could learn a thing about this, these days. It was only a little too small given the "large" size we ordered, though the prices are generally lower than Starbucks': small hot specialty drinks sell for $2.79, with large ones at $3.29, and drip coffees are less expensive, while frozen drinks go for $2.99 to $3.49.
The food items at Coffee Culture are generally quite good. One of the big surprises was the quality of the croissants: on our second visit, we sampled both Butter and Almond Croissants, finding both to be wonderfully fresh, light, and flaky. While the Butter version was thoroughly butter-flavored and nicely hinted with the taste of cheese, the latter was even better: in addition to its outer thin almond shavings, the inside had just enough light almond paste to really impress with every bite. Similarly, both a Blueberry Muffin and an Orange Cranberry Muffin ($1.29 each) tasted very good - moist and appropriately fruity - while hot items were fine.
On our first visit, which took place on Coffee Culture's second day of operation, the store was out of the Spinach Pie ($4), so we instead tried a Roasted Veggie Sandwich ($5.49) - a grilled panini with a decent collection of vegetables and some melted cheese. Though the selected veggies somehow tasted a little too light and green relative to similar versions we've had at Spot Coffee and the Clarence Center Coffee Company and Cafe, it was okay; the bagel part of an Egg and Cheese Bagel ($2.99) tasted as if it was perhaps a day old, while the egg and cheese tasted a little bit processed but still very edible. We got the impression on our second visit, nearly a month after the place opened, that the pastries and bagels were being more frequently restocked.
There are other options, as well. Five cakes and an apple streusel were in a display case, and a friend we bumped into on our second visit ordered the streusel - its plate striped with caramel - and pronounced it pretty good. A member of our group raved over the chocolate in the pre-packaged biscotti that were being served; additional fresh pastries are prominently displayed near the cash registers. Finally, a wall menu that was previously two boards shy of being complete on our early first visit was finished on our second, with specials listed. There's no shortage of options here for breakfast, lunch, or an evening snack.
In our view, Coffee Culture is shaping up to be a very solid option for cafe fans: a great location with very good drinks and generally quite good food, attractive interior decor, and free wireless Internet access. We'd pick this first location over the nearby Starbucks, and though we're fans of Spot Coffee, it remains to be seen whether the long-awaited Williamsville venue will open and rival its predecessors. For the time being, there's a lot to love about this Canadian export, and we're very glad to see it contributing to the improvement of Main Street. It's certainly worthy of a visit.