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The Wydown Coffee Bar, Chad and Alex McCracken's St. Louis-Inspired Coffee House at 14th and U Street


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The Wydown  is a 'temporary pop-up' (see below) high-quality independent coffee shop right in the middle of The Hot Area Of The City for all things food, beverage and retail:  the 14th & U St NW corridor.

Walking to the car this past week following a meeting, came across this place and hadn't before heard of it.  Thinking I know most all the better coffee shops in town, had to go in and explore.

In two words:  Thumbs Up!

As coffee shops continue to sprout here, it becomes tougher and tougher for any to really stand apart.  Yet, some still do it the old fashioned way; by doing things others don't or by doing them better.

The Wydown has the basics nailed required of any high-quality coffee purveyor.  Great equipment, trained and enthusiastic staff and quality joe.  Didn't try the espresso drinks on this visit since I usually will go for a pourover on a first visit.  Had a delicious Kenyan priced a bit higher than nearly all the espresso and fresh-brewed coffees in the $2.50-$3 range..

So, what's different/better about The Wydown?  Three things mainly:

1. The Coffee.  Like many others, they use quality beans from Intelligentsia and PTs.  Unlike nearly all others, they also use Kaldi's. If you don't know Kaldi's Coffee, it's probably because you don't know St. Louis. Kaldi's is a nearly 20-year-old roaster/retailer that only recently is beginning to venture further afield from Missouri.  Top notch beans handled expertly.

2.  The Other Stuff. Namely, the baked goods.  The two brothers who own this place have experience in restaurants and coffee and it shows. Their coffee program is excellent and, while they're starting to do some baking also, most of the pastries/muffins are from Patisserie Poupon.  So, better than 95% of all coffee shops in town straightaway on the baked goods front.

3. The People.  Barista and brewer quality is a big differentiator between the great and the merely very good. These guys seem off to a very strong start since opening in mid May.  And, I like the St. Louis inspiration that drives the name (it's a major boulevard and neighborhood there), explains the owners' passion and philosophy and is the source of the beans for what I think may be the only Kaldi's outlet in the city. Good people very good at what they do.

I had opportunity to chat with one of the two brothers, Chad, and he's great.  Very knowledgeable, experienced and, as important, genuinely nice.  They've been open just two months. Tim Carman just talked with the other brother, Alex, and seems to agree.

Their current space, on the south side of U a bit closer to 13th than 14th, is a "temporary pop-up" because they'll be moving into street level space with the TJ's under construction (aka "The Louis") on the SW corner of 14th and U by end of year. Or so they're told. [wink]

Though there are now a bunch of great coffee shops within a few blocks' walk of this location (Peregrine, The Coffee Bar, Bakehouse), I expect that The Wydown will do very well with all the foot traffic and given their focus on providing a great experience for customers of all kinds.  The current space is clean, light with plenty of seating, and free WiFi so definitely worth checking out if you're a coffee hound...or just looking for a good cup...or an almond croissant all served by some genuinely nice people. I'm not a Cardinals fan but you can count me as a fan of these brothers McCracken and of the Wydown Coffee Bar, a great new entrant in DC's now positively booming coffee scene.

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I'm trying to imagine what makes it a St. Louis inspired coffee house.  (Said the person who grew up with a Wydown telephone exchange...)   Yes, Kaldi's is great, but without some St. Louis style pastries (gooey butter cake) I'm going to skeptical.

That isn't an area I'm in very often but I see a trip there soon just to see for myself...

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I'm trying to imagine what makes it a St. Louis inspired coffee house.  (Said the person who grew up with a Wydown telephone exchange...)   Yes, Kaldi's is great, but without some St. Louis style pastries (gooey butter cake) I'm going to skeptical.

That isn't an area I'm in very often but I see a trip there soon just to see for myself...

"Data" supporting the "STL inspired" part of my title :) :

1. Wydown. Boulevard and 'hood in STL, as you know

2. Both brothers McCracken are from said 'hood (or thereabouts). In fact, they moved here to open this shop figuring DC might be a better market. Kind of like how the Reds are a better baseball team than the red birds. ;)

3. Kaldi's is of course STLese for "coffee" and, to the best of my knowledge, Wydown is the only place 'round here that serves it.

As for your red bird, hoedown, St. Louis muffin gooey pastries....or whatever those are...I bet if you go in and ask about that, you'll get big points. And then we coastal types might get to try them too if you're able to goad the brothers into baking them.

Let us know what you think, BLB. Hope you like it.

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Minor note for most but I was back in to Wydown earlier this week and had a chance to taste some coffee being brewed experimentally with a vacuum pot (also know as a "siphon".)  Not entirely sure but I don't think any shops in DC are using these (though Spro in Baltimore does) but looks like they may use it when they move to the Louis at 14th and U later this year/early next. Vac Pots produce a very clean and pure brew and are more common on the west coast.  They're more skill dependent to produce good results than other methods and were first used in the 1960s before falling out of favor to be resurrected in the late 90s.  Fun to watch (and smell) in action if you get a chance. They're definitely a multi-sensory exprience.  Stumptown shops in San Francisco use them along with other shops there and up through the Pacific NW coffee bastions in OR, WA and BC.

Whether or not this becomes regularly available at Wydown in the future (they're more time and labor intensive which is why most shops don't use them), Wydown is clearly focused on providing an especially high-quality experience as they further develop the concept.

Pic of a vac pot here for those that haven't seen one.

post-2258-0-98536400-1376033584_thumb.jp

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If you're the kind of person that doesn't taste big differences between coffees, I had a coffee at Wydown this week that might be for you.  I don't think it uncommon that some have trouble distinguishing between "big," "full," "acidic," "sweet" and "complex" coffees whether the beans are from Ethiopia, Costa Rica or Indonesia.  Depending on so many factors (bean age, roast particulars, harvesting method), the range in flavors can seem narrow to many people.

Wydown is currently serving a Panamanian (less typical provenance for coffee in the US relative to the surround Latin American states) "Natural" from PTs (the Topeka, KS roaster) which was described to me as tasting like "strawberry jam."  I always get a laugh out of tasting notes and have gotten head nods from roasters when when sharing that.  "Burnt toffee," "tobacco," "apple," "socks," "cocoa," "sassafras," "butter," "currant" and "peat" are all terms I've seen on bean package labels.  Rare is the time I'll perceive whatever collection of taste descriptors as labeled in their entirety. Sometimes I think roasters use notes more to entertain (themselves and others) than to describe.

That said, no joke, Wydown's PT's Panamanian Natural both smells and tastes like strawberry jam.  So, if you like strawberries and coffee, I guess this is one to try.

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Does anyone know when Wydown might be re-opening? 

edit:  or I could look it up for myself.  Apparently Wydown is open (as a pop up again) in Patty Boom Boom at 1359 U St. NW, across the street from their previous location.

The permanent space will be in the building catty corner to that where the Trader Joe's is opening which should be sometime this Spring.

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Open and awesome. I love this place. Very friendly - has a great vibe going.  Not my top choice for just hanging out (that would be coffee bar's chill patio) but good, consistent coffee and espresso & super convenient. (right next to Trader Joes). You should go (and over to coffee bar as well, esp while weather remains tolerable).

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Just a quick update on The Wydown in its new digs at The Louis by the new 14th St TJs.

- For my money, this is clearly a top 5 shop in DC. Probably top 3. One of way too few representing different, carefully selected roasters (as I wish more independents were doing; you want to be analagous to wine? No restaurant or bar represents only one vineyard/winemaker!)

- The decor is both hip and functional. Can be tough to get a seat during busy times but the wall decor (large 'abstract' coffee splatters on art paper labeled with the varietal and roaster) is genius.

- As serious about bean and drink crafting as any shop in the city. True for both pour overs and espresso drinks.

- No WiFi

- The brothers who own this place are great and the St. Louis connection means they are the only DC shop with STL-based Kaldi's coffee (not to be confused with the Ethiopian-owned Silver Spring shop called Kaldi's that exclusively sells Counter Culture).

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Just a short note to add to the thread on Wydown. Have been a fan of the Brothers McCracken since they first opened the pop-up on U St. They're ultra serious about coffee without being so serious as people. Good Guys whose staff mirror that "new wave", hospitable service model (see Rose's Luxury, Red Hen and Macon Bistro & Latest, among others).

Baking. Wydown has a unique approach as far as coffee shops go. Most shops offer very minimal food or buy wholesale from a small number of positively mediocre local providers.

Wydown is further ahead than a couple of other promising new shops (Slipstream and Compass Coffee) who are baking in house. Conventional wisdom would have it that a small space like Wydown and many shops can't or shouldn't use the square footage on food prep. This line of thinking is most often financial (not profit maximizing) or strategic (do one thing well versus multiple things poorly). I'm increasingly thinking that conventional wisdom wrong.

At Wydown, Sophie Camp is the Baker and regularly replenishes the small case near the entrance with lovely scones, cookies, cinnamon rolls and other baked items. While this isn't BreadFurst or Praline, Sophie is a good baker! And the proof here gives Wydown a definite advantage or differentiator in the market.

I already loved these guys for their passion for coffee, use of different independent roasters and emphasis on excellent technique. Sophie and their baked-goods program just offer another reason.

Now, if they would only turn on WiFi at least weekdays during the less busy times!

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Praline?

And agreed - the Wydown has some of the best baked goods around, much better than typical coffee house goods.

Too fast! :-) Was editing that line when your comment posted. The brackets were a note-to-self when I sometimes write something offline first and can't check.

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