I'm not a coffee fanatic, but I have my standards. I like coffee enough to make it my first morning chore and enough to have worked hard to perfect a ritual that produces reliably satisfying coffee from scratch. Friends and family have plied me with coffee makers that squirt hot water through little pods of coffee grounds. The technology is ingenious, and the cleanup is effortless, but I can't give up the aroma of freshly ground beans (we mix different varieties together) and the reassuring gurgle of my coffee maker. I don't need to leave my house to have a good cup of coffee.
But sooner or later, it becomes necessary to seek out a cup of coffee around town. What follows is my view of the current status of coffee in Fairfield, focusing specifically on establishments designed around coffee.
Diners: In the movies, people always end up at diner counters for coffee, so we should include them.We've got several to choose from in Fairfield (Penny's, Andros, Athena, Circle). Diner coffee is hit-or-miss, often weak, and sometimes aged in the urn well past its prime, but the refills keep coming, and you can get one honkin' big hunk of pie to eat while you read the paper, if that's your thing.
Dunkin' Donuts: This venerable national chain has several locations in Fairfield. Many years ago, when they still served coffee in real mugs, I had my DD phase, polishing off a honey-glazed doughnut or two before work. But 10 pounds later, I woke up and smelled the coffee. I know I won't convince you, DD fans, but I'm going to give it to you straight: DD coffee is "mild," and by "mild," I mean "hardly tastes like coffee." If you then add milk and sugar, whatever traces of coffee flavor there was to begin with become undetectable. You're drinking that milky liquid because it's caffeinated, and hey, that may be reason enough for you. On the plus side, DD service is quick. As for ambience, you can choose to squeeze into a little prefab table to have your coffee, but you then have to watch small children inhale doughnuts the size of their heads. I choose not to.
Starbucks: Another venerable national chain with several Fairfield locations, but with a totally different approach. The ambience is "corporate-hip," with earth tones and subdued lighting. If you like coffee that makes a statement (strong -- some would say burnt), Starbucks is for you. Starbucks specializes in coffee-based exotica, but ordering any of those requires you to have mastered Starbucks terminology, which I am unwilling to do, especially for a $4.50 price tag. Seating is more conforming to human anatomy, and the food, while marginally healthier than what you can get at DD, at least looks healthier. The most relaxing Starbucks, in my opinion, is the one that's housed in the Fairfield University Bookstore.
Doughnut Inn: Since 1977, the D'Ambrosio family has been serving up coffee, doughnuts and other basic edibles to Fairfielders, now from two locations. DI coffee is clearly superior to DD's in body and flavor, but still might not satisfy the Starbucks strong-coffee hardliners.
I can't vouch for the doughnuts, but its bagels are surprisingly good. DI's no-frills but understated decor stays away from the sensory assault at DD, so you can actually enjoy sitting there for a while. They also get extra credit for spelling "doughnut" traditionally.
Bagel King: The Viselli family operates two locations in Fairfield. Bagel King thrives on takeout, but there is limited seating where you can enjoy a perfectly decent cup of coffee and one of their excellent bagels, or choose from an assortment of other baked goods.
If you take your coffee break at Bagel King, it's not about the ambience, and it's not about lingering very long. It's about the magical combination of good coffee and a fresh bagel.
Whole Foods: The Fairfield edition of a national phenomenon. After you park your hybrid car in a privileged spot near the door, toss your compostable kitchen scraps in the appropriate receptacle, and trade your firstborn for a pound of grass-fed beef, you can grab an organic flaxseed and granola bar, order a cup of organic coffee, and take a seat at a table in the cavernous dining area. The coffee (Allegro, Whole Food's own brand), I must admit, is excellent, but the flaxseeds get caught in my teeth.
Las Vetas Lounge: An honest-to-god local independent coffee shop, lovingly and funkily maintained by owner Andy Servetas. Everything, from the huge windows facing Unquowa Road, to the artfully mismatched and witty furnishings, is welcoming and comfortable in its own skin. It's very popular with students (yes, it can get loud sometimes), but older folks seem to blend in pretty well. There are several varieties of coffee, all good, with a decent selection of basic food choices. Las Vetas provides a venue for the local music scene, including our personal favorite singer-songwriter, Fairfield's own Dylan Connor.
Isabel et Vincent French Bakery: You deserve a treat now and then! This special bakery is a slice of France right here in Fairfield. You can peruse the gorgeous array of pastries and chocolates in the display case, pick something out (I have a weakness for pain au chocolat), and enjoy that little masterpiece with a cup of fine coffee in a charming little seating area in the front of the store. You'll pay a little more here for your "coffee-and," as my mother used to say, but it will cost a lot more to fly to Strasbourg.
That's my own, obviously biased, and possibly incomplete, coffee survey. All in all, Fairfield has plenty of coffee options; to each, their own! I'm sorry if I left any coffee places out, and I'd be happy to hear about them.
Ron Blumenfeld is a Fairfield writer and retired pediatrician. His "Moving Forward, Looking Back" appears periodically. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.