Saturday, April 18, 2015

4th Street Coffee Wars, year two

4th Street Coffee Wars, year two

So now that the excitement over the worms in the ocean has settled a bit, a blog post five times more popular than even the one about Paris Hilton, draw your own conclusions, and Ventnor beach goers have been left with only the stench of rotting mussels to bum them out, we can turn out attention to this pressing issue. Which coffee shop is the proper heir to the fabled and beloved old 4th Street Cafe at 4th and Atlantic in Ocean City? I bit the bullet and had coffee and scones at both places this morning (hey, I have a story in today's paper, I'm entitled). As you can see by the photo above, the people at the Who's on First Cafe at 1st and Asbury, consider themselves the real 4th Street Cafe, and believe me, they have the coffee (La Colombe) the scones (how do they get that crust so crusty, that inside so fluffy???), and the management (from the old 4th Street) to make that claim. But yet....

 

But yet. It was only at 4th and Atlantic, where Positively Fourth Street thrives under the same owners of the building, but not the people who actually ran the old cafe, and the same gang hangs at the old roundtable in the back room, doing crossword puzzles and yacking, the breeze from the ocean finding its way to the front patio at that corner, which once upon a time was actually nearly ocean front, hence the old Lifeguard Station that is cattycorner to the cafe, that I felt that old 4th Street raison d'etre, or perhaps it's the comforting lack of raison d'etre, feeling kick in. The coffee, Harry & Beans Fair Trade Organic Nicauraguan, was good, tho not La Colombe. And the Mexican chocolate scone I had was a doughy parody of the ones the original 4th street cafe people mastered that now are baked at 1st street. But yet. Something about the space at 1st and Asbury that feels claustrophobic. Even the patio, which is nice, doesn't feel right. There's a bit of a slope, I think, and the chairs are too high, and I kind of couldn't wait to get out of there. And some guy stood on the corner and yacked on his cell phone, not realizing that even though he had stepped out of the cafe itself, to be polite, he was still bothering everyone on the patio. But at 4th Street, I settled in for a nice chunk of Anna Karenina (I'm on page 574, and I'm beginning to suspect that this isn't going to turn out so well for Anna). The chairs felt right. The tables inside have some really nice glass tile work. The coffee refills were free, not 50 cents, as at 1st and Asbury. It's still a tough call. I'd take either one in Ventnor and give thanks. The food is excellent at both places, both serve a similar lunch menu, with a similar dinner option. The baking is still better at 1st and Asbury. But the space, the je ne sais quoi, the reason we seek out these places to begin with, somehow, it didn't make the leap to 1st street. Maybe it's just the proximity to the ocean. A few blocks toward the bay is just stuffier air. Whatever it is, I'm going to give this year's nod to location.Still champ: 4th and Atlantic, a charmed spot at the Jersey shore. 

About this blog

Inquirer staff writer Amy S. Rosenberg has covered Philly police, city neighborhoods, Ed Rendell as mayor, the Jersey shore, Atlantic City, Miss America and the psychology of Eagles fans. She moved to Ventnor on July 3, 1995, which makes her a local, but not really.

Inquirer Staff Writer Jacqueline L. Urgo has spent every summer of her life at the Jersey Shore, and has lived there year-round for nearly 30 years, even fulfilling one of her bucket list dreams by once living in a house by the sea.

Since 1990, she has covered the waterfront for The Inquirer — from the Atlantic to the Delaware Bay shore — and some of the mainland in between. Along the way, she amassed an encyclopedic knowledge of this tear-it-down-and-build-it-back-up region, delving into the history and the hype of a place with a lot of unexpected stories to tell.

Amy S. Rosenberg
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