A review of Cafe Velo is really a review of many players, from the high-end Synesso espresso machines out of Seattle, to the Ozo Coffee products out of Boulder, to the baked goods from Monument's Taste of Life and top-of-the-line triathlon gear from all over. Of course all those elements have come together under a singular vision for a community hub, one half-lubricated by bike oils and the other by coffee oils.
Cafe Velo is part bicycle service shop, part retail space, part coffee cafe and 100 percent smart. Despite a fantastic view of the Front Range, the LED-lit, dual-fireplace-warmed space whispers hip Pacific Northwest in its sleek aesthetic. It embodies a heretofore locally untapped and understandable marriage between cycle and coffee cultures, wherein so many riders shuffle, spandex-clad, to counters for organic, fair-trade cups to go.
Still: Let none of this deter you if you haven't ridden a bike since it had handlebar tassels, or if you don't know how to answer when asked if you want your cappuccino wet. The staff is sitcom-caliber cheery and accommodating without being obsequious, and the atmosphere isn't snobbish or elitist.
Simply put: In two short months, Cafe Velo's already become a well-greased machine.
Dribble and hiss
But you came here to read about food and drink, not have me spin your wheels about the vibe and cultural significance of New Life Church's new neighbor, best accessed by the Santa Fe Trail for bike commuters. (Just FYI.)
So let's move to the acai bowls ($7.50), popularized in Hawaii, where owner Chris Witt's wife grew up. Similar to the Sambazon smoothie packs found in local health-food store freezers, Witt starts with a purée of frozen acai and guarana berries (both South American "superfoods"), then adds sliced bananas and strawberries and granola and/or hemp seeds.
It's a powerhouse combination in flavor and nutrition: No added sugars past whatever binds the granola, just delicious natural sweetness with some crunch, antioxidants and fuel. It's what you'll find Austrian XTERRA triathlon champion Michael Weiss snacking on during his mid-ride break, and what I'd make the top of my order from here forward.
Addressing the coffees next, they're expertly prepared and among the finest in town, with 8-, 12-, 16- and 20-ounce sizes available in eco-friendly cups. The daily-rotating drip variety ($1.50 to $2.30) comes off a Fetco machine, but Ozo's Organic Espresso Isabelle gets pampered treatment on the $17,000 Synesso.
With digital displays, two steam wands and three water lines each backed by its own boiler, the chrome beast is a Mercedes, requiring around 20 minutes of back-flushing and cleaning nightly to maintain optimal dribble and hiss.
Cafe manager Doug Stephens, a former roaster and consummate bean worshipper, talks impressively about the minutiae of excellent java brewing: for instance, resting beans post-roast for a few days to allow them to off-gas carbon dioxide, thereby molecularly creating more surface area, post-grind, for water to saturate and draw out more flavor during extraction. Yeah, nerdy shit. But awesome nerdy shit that quickly reveals its worthiness.
My aforementioned wet cappuccino ($2.40 to $3.80) — bearing more steamed milk than frothed milk in the pour — was perfectly velvety under a leafy-looking rosette design of foam art. A creamy mocha ($2.90 to $4.30) came wonderfully balanced in sweetness with Monin dark chocolate syrup and a lovely, nutty, roasty flavor. No bitterness or burnt characteristics anywhere.
In coming months, Witt says, he'll rotate his own specials among the Taste of Life-procured goods, to test them for inclusion on a more permanent, at least half-house-made menu. One such item is a quinoa tabouli, with cucumber, tomato wedges and parsley over dry spinach leaves. It's a start, but mine needed sea salt and olive oil, or lemon juice for flavor; it was bland, as a side to the nice, peppery Italian panini sandwich ($7.25), with crunchy, toasted olive bread focaccia embracing salami, provolone and Capicola ham with pepperoncini and olive relish.
A bagel sandwich ($5.95) of turkey, Swiss and avocado, which normally comes with Dijon mustard (mine was either absent or restrained to the point of muteness), was good but a touch dry, despite the avocado's creaminess. A thoroughly satisfying breakfast burrito ($4) ruled the savories with hash browns, uncured bacon bits, cheddar cheese, scrambled eggs, chopped green chilies (optional) and a bacon gravy.
Taste of Life's sweets include $2 cookies, $3.95 gluten-free muffins, $3 dessert bars and $2.75 coffee cake. Supreme among them is a caramel bar with an oatmeal-crust top and bottom glued together by non-tacky caramel and semisweet chocolate. The streusel-topped GF coffee cake is also great, as is a GF pumpkin chocolate chip muffin; an apple muffin was somewhat gooey on top, more crumbly and less pleasing, and a peanut butter chocolate chip cookie was under-nutty and kinda plain.
As Cafe Velo's menu grows, I'm sure the popular edibles will rise, and downers will drop off. But the acai bowls and coffee are so damn good, the outfit shouldn't worry. Sure, Witt and Co. could provide a counter-top menu so I wouldn't have to step back and awkwardly crane my neck to see the overhead chalkboards, but aside from such petty grievances, this bike's ready to ride.
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