CoffeeBeer >> Double Shot Buzz >> Alyssum

Back Buzz - November 30, 2015

pumping heartAlyssum Café Bistro, 76 Barber Road, Commonside, Sheffield, South Yorkshire

It’s difficult to keep up with the continuing evolution of coffee shop locations. In Sheffield alone, I’ve reviewed 18 coffee cafes which have closed and changed into new coffee cafes, three of them four times so far. And one of these ever-changing locations is in Barber Road, which rises from Crookesmoor to Commonside and is home to six food shops and minimarkets, a launderette, a jewellery shop, shops supplying appliances, plumbing and heating supplies, carpets, and hardware, a mobile phone shop, a tax office, a pharmacy, and one lonely Indian takeaway. So it’s not the most likely place for a coffee cafe, and perhaps that’s why the location has been so volatile.

But the latest occupant, which started business in July, has something unique to offer. Not only does Alyssum do espresso drinks and pastries, but amid the rather standard Indian-Chinese-fish and chips-sandwich shop culture of the area it offers good home-cooked Greek food. The owner is Alexa Exarcopolous, who grew up in Athens and runs the cafe with her mother Jane.

So naturally I had to check it out, at least for a coffee, as I can’t afford to eat out at this time. I stopped in on a Friday morning before lunch, and as I walked through the door I instantly felt welcome and at home. The tiny cafe was already buzzing but fortunately, in the corner by the window, there was one free little table that seemed as if it were just waiting for me and a friend. As I was lacking the friend part I took the opportunity, in this irritatingly noisy hands-free-conversation world, to savour the rare tranquility imparted by the empty chair opposite me. Bliss.

My double cappuccino was served in a pretty little scallop-stemmed china cup with delicate designs. And I have to say it was not bad at all: good and strong, which is always a major plus point, as I needed an extra boost of caffeine to propel me through another wearily tedious day. As I sipped my robustly European coffee I instantly felt content and uplifted, as if I were having a coffee somewhere far away from Sheffield. I suppose the mellow Greek music in the background helped, as did the European country cafe feel to the decor. There are plenty of intricate details everywhere, from the painted rocks in the window to the filigree candle holders, the decorative coat hooks, the sewn chatchkis, and the tiny lights strewn across the ceiling. The whole effect, attempted by anybody else, could have turned out a bit kitsch and twee, but this has obviously been done with taste and love.

The other customers, including an ex-workmate of mine, were all having something to eat, and the food looked really nice, from the pizza-like flatbread to the soup and bread. There are traditional Greek dishes as well as the cafe’s own creations on the menu, and there are a lot of selections for vegetarians. The cakes and pastries look nice and include some traditional Greek desserts. I’ll definitely have to come back and sample the food when I can afford it.

One thing I was impressed by, as I was sipping my robust caffeinated macchiato, was the sign on the counter that says “Nothing good comes from drinking a skinny latte”. My sentiments exactly.

The view from my window was down Barber Road and across to the other side of Sheffield, backed by a magnificent sky of blue, white, and charcoal grey. I was suddenly reminded of my late teens and early twenties, when I used to go to Greek festivals in Los Angeles with my friend Phred and we’d eat spanakopetas and dolmades and drink Roditis and join in on the Greek dancing and stumble around on the dance floor. (Well, one of us stumbled, and I don’t think it was me...)

Perhaps I had stepped back into time, out of the current Sheffield goateed hands-free cafe-bar trendiness and into a calmer spot on Earth. Perhaps the day wouldn’t be quite so tedious after all.

Speaking of going back in time reminds me of a recent e-mail exchange with my Bay Area friend:

Have you ever heard of the Grandfather Paradox? It's a paradox in physics having to do with the feasibility of time travel. Basically, it states that if you could go back in time to a year before your father was born and murder your grandfather, then your father would never have been born and neither would you. As a result you wouldn't have gone back into time to murder your grandfather. Therefore your grandfather would have lived to marry your grandmother and have your father who would have had you. So you would have gone back in time and murdered your grandfather. Therefore, etc. etc.

I've come up with my own version. Let's say I was to go back in time to when an old workmate of ours – the one with the Ph.D in physics -- was in his twenties and thirties, and I was to steal his first green sweater which he was proud of because it was high-quality wool and made him look like a proper physicist. As a result he was so disheartened and fed up with life that he ditched his Masters in Physics and never went on to get a Ph.D, and therefore never got a job at Northrop in California and never met me. Therefore I would have never gone back in time and stolen his first green sweater etc.

This whole idea would be interesting to try to write a short story about, or even a novel or a film. But one project at a time... The Green Sweater Paradox seems especially timely, in light of the passage of "Back to the Future Day" yesterday, when the Chicago Cubs failed to stay in the running for the World Series, which they won when the 1989 film visited 2015. I'm looking forward to the details. Funny you should mention the Chicago Cubs! In the novel I’m currently writing, there is a Chicago man in his seventies who used to pitch for the Chicago Cubs during their "Dark Ages" (1947–1981). 'bout them Cubs?