Hot or Frozen, Spot's Coffee Soothes In Flavor & Freshness

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Spot Coffee
5330 Main St., Williamsville, NY 14221
Web: Spot Coffee
Phone: 716.565.0200
Rating:    [learn more]
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"Served straight, foamy, or frozen, the coffee here is amongst the very best available in the area, while the food and other drinks are good enough to satisfy, sometimes even to thrill."

Published statistics suggest that Americans consume 400 million cups of coffee per day, an average of 1.3 cups per person that accounts for 75% of all caffeine consumed in this country. Of course, not every cup is the same: some people want cardboard cups full of hot black java to take to work, while others want to sip oversized, latte-filled mugs in plush cafe chairs, and still others rush in from the heat of Summer for blended frozen drinks. Western New York's numerous coffee shops cater to these different tastes, with certain places attracting the pickiest and least price-sensitive customers, while others go after the least picky and most price-conscious ones. Having just opened its third Buffalo-area location, Spot Coffee has established itself as a coffee shop for coffee fans, a place for breakfast, lunch and dessert foods, and certainly a better overall choice these days than Starbucks, the international coffee giant with a shrinking national reputation. This full review is an update to our earlier article on Spot; having just attended the May 1 grand opening of its long-awaited Williamsville venue, we now feel comfortable offering a rating for the chain.

Spot's Buffalo-area locations are decidedly different from one another visually, though its two City shops have a lot more in common with each other than with Williamsville's. At the Delaware and Chippewa Spot, eclectic classic and antique furniture is scattered across two separate dining rooms, one more a small group gathering area than a room for solitary sipping. On both Elmwood and the new Main Street shop in Williamsville, though, Spot boasts a larger single room that's divided into serving and seating areas, with some tables on the floor and some up several steps on platforms. While the Elmwood shop boasts sidewalk patio seating and the same bohemian, relaxed ambience of the Chippewa store, Williamsville's brand new location is modern and straight-laced, with less hand-written signage, new furniture, and more "professional" polish. Thus, even though Coffee Culture has also just opened down the same street, the choice for Village-dwellers turns out not to be between shabby and clean locations, but rather two similarly nice shops with different quality drinks and food; all of these places offer free Wi-Fi access for laptop and iPhone users.

As far as coffee is concerned, Spot is as strong as or stronger than any local shop we've visited, including even the Clarence Center Coffee Company & Cafe. At Spot, the basic roast runs for $1.50 at 12 ounces, to $1.80 at 20 ounces, with lattes and espresso drinks starting at $2.80 and going up to $4.20 based on size and complexity; most are in the mid-$3 range for 16-ounce cups. On our first review visit, we sampled a Vanilla Latte (16 ounce, $3.60), which was properly made and tasty - bona-fide fresh and flavored with a nice vanilla syrup - though lacking in the delicacy and artistry of top-shelf places such as Seattle's Vivace; on subsequent visits, we tried everything from the basic drip coffee to cappuccinos, which we found to be similarly wonderful, with proper foam on the cappuccinos and strong, fresh coffee flavor throughout.

Other drinks were at least good, sometimes better. A blended frozen drink, the Cinco Shake ($4.95/24 ounces), combined four different flavors - espresso, white chocolate, caramel, and vanilla - that are normally offered in pairs in Spot's other drinks. Unlike the blended beverages that Starbucks keeps screwing up these days, Spot's was properly balanced and prepared, with just the right ratio of ice to sweet, syrupy, and creamy elements. By comparison, a Chai Latte (20-ounce, $3.85), a spiced milk tea we ordered on our first review visit, was a little watery and a little less than perfectly hot, but otherwise okay.

Our experiences with Spot's food options have been positive, sometimes highly so. Eight sandwiches, including a weekly wildcard that on our first visit was a Reuben, sell for around $7 each, while five total salad, wrap, and pasta items sell for $6-$7. There are also Starbucks-styled cookies, bagels, pastries, and frozen drinks at Starbucks-like prices, as well as weekly menu specials, and a small $4-$5 per item breakfast menu with belgian waffles, a wrap, a sandwich, and omelets that can be customized to your liking. We've tried the homemade pastries on two occasions, finding the blueberry muffins to be consistently moist - once, just a little too moist from apparent undercooking - and easy to eat, if not amazingly delicious. A cinnamon roll was served fresh, surprisingly large, and intriguingly light rather than overglazed and overstuffed with sugar and cinnamon paste; a similarly large snickerdoodle cookie was good to us, and great to the family members who broke it up and ate it with their coffee.

Hot items ranged from fine to great. On our first visit, there were three daily soup choices, and we excitedly snagged the Red Pepper Crab ($4), which arrived as a large portion of bright, creamy orange-red broth alongside a packet of oyster crackers. Though we could imagine the same dish offering larger crab chunks and other flourishes, what we received was just excellent in flavor and consistency, rich and possessing every bit of the sweet red pepper and crab taste that we'd hoped would be there. It was wonderful, and the sort of item you'd never find at a Starbucks.

That said, we used the soup to add something to a Chicken Focaccia sandwich ($7.25), which layered chopped, basil pesto-marinated chicken, melted mozzarella cheese, and too little sun dried tomato spread on grilled white focaccia bread; wheat bread had also been available. Served with kettle chips and a pickle, the sandwich came out hot, but without any great depth of flavor; it was as described on the menu, but notable more for its dryness than anything else. A little extra post-preparation sauce probably would have helped. Thus, with the toasted bread dipped into the soup, we were able to finish most of the sandwich - simultaneously sopping up the few remaining Red Pepper Crab drops - but didn't find ourselves as excited about emptying the Focaccia plate.

Additionally, we've been generally pleased but not completely won over by the service, which across several locations has proved to be universally friendly but a little less than ideal on execution. On our first review visit to Chippewa, the wait for our food was long; on one of two visits to Elmwood, drinks came out promptly, but the next time, the wait was long and compounded by servers who didn't know whose drinks they were handling; in Williamsville, issues with other patrons' orders and cashier change kept us waiting for 15 minutes for two drinks. While we wouldn't deny the new Main Street location - or the established predecessors - the opportunity to improve, there's surely no sense of mechanical precision in the way Spot's staff operates. Perhaps, as Starbucks' current staffing woes suggest, this is actually a better thing than it might seem; less regimented, stressed-out baristas may well make better drinks.

On a related note, we liked that Spot was trying to be a good part of the community, with a large posting area for local musicians and events, and enough seating to accommodate more than just take-out customers. The Williamsville Spot celebrated its opening with in-house music, the sort of thing patrons might find at the Clarence Center Coffee Company, but not at larger chain competitors. Even with Starbucks locations just down the street from each venue, Spot doesn't sit in their shadows; rather, it's the other way around.

After multiple opportunities to assess the drinks and food at Spot Coffee, our overall view of this growing chain is strongly positive: whether it's served straight, foamy, or frozen, the coffee here is amongst the very best available in the area, while the food and other drinks are good enough to pass muster, sometimes even to thrill. Based on the chain's focus, our 3.5-star rating is weighted towards the very impressive coffee, though it's admittedly a quarter- or half-star generous if less important elements are given disproportionate weight. Yes, if you're looking for nothing more than a super fast cup of coffee and don't care much about the quality, there are many cheap alternatives. But if you're willing to pay a little more and wait a little longer, we're virtually positive that you'll walk away with a better cup from Spot; it's currently our top coffee shop in each of its neighborhoods.

Spot Coffee on Urbanspoon

Spot Coffee on Urbanspoon

Spot Coffee on Urbanspoon

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