10 Dang Good Cafes In The American Heartland

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Here in the US of A, we use the term “heartland” to mean any part of the United States that doesn’t touch an ocean, be it Pacific or Atlantic. But to put a finer point on it, the heartland of America is what’s sometimes referred to as “flyover country”—the sorts of places media elites in New York City, Chicago, or Los Angeles might only see out the window of their first-class seats.

But tasty coffee doesn’t give two hoots about where you live, and in fact, some of the most interesting cafes and coffee companies in all of America are located thousands of miles from coastal climes. In this look at 10 of our favorite heartland cafes, we’re relying on crack reporting from Zac Cadwalader, our Texas-based staff writer, as well as features by regular contributors Charlie Burt (based in Kansas City) and Evan Jones (based in St. Louis).

Charm And Sophistication At Onyx Coffee Lab In Fayetteville, Arkansas

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Inside, the shop is modern but not rigid, inviting but not rustic. The matte black of the exterior continues on the long southern wall, standing in contrast to the white tile from its northern counterpart behind the coffee bar. In the far corner of the building, a pastiche of various shapes and sizes of scrap wood cover the walls, contributing to the overall warmth of the interior. Owner Jon Allen says, “the Fayetteville spot is ‘Ozark Modern,’ so lots of clean straight lines mixed with a wide range of colored hardwoods.  We like textures—wood, tile, concrete—so we tried to keep things minimal but then have the walls and floors change the feel.”

Feature by Zac Cadwalader. 

Craft Coffee Cocktails At Hodges Bend In Tulsa, Oklahoma 

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The growth of coffee and cocktail cultures in smaller cities like Tulsa indicates that the whole craft movement has legs. It goes to show thoughtfulness in preparation isn’t just relegated to metropolises with populations in the multi-millions and that taste and subtlety of flavor aren’t just for high-density cities. It unquestionably proves once and for all that so long as there are inhabitants, there is a need for really well-made coffee and a really good drink. And for Tulsans, as long as Hodges Bend is around, they won’t have to go too far for either.

Feature by Zac Cadwalader. 

Inside The Brand New Houndstooth Coffee Dallas Location

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Set in East Dallas’s lively Knox-Henderson neighborhood, Houndstooth owner Sean Henry and company are taking over the 1900 N. Henderson Ave storefront previously occupied by The Pearl Cup, a casualty in the specialty coffee arms race sweeping the city. Henry is originally from Dallas, and has spent the past few months building anticipation for the new store by opening Saturday afternoon pop-ups at various neighborhood retailersTransit Bicycle Company and the Bonobos Guideshop are among the handful of local spots to host a temporary residence. “I believe in place,” Henry told me. “Whenever I fell into specialty coffee in other cities, I just wanted to bring better coffee to Texas because that’s where I’m from. Dallas is a great city that gets a bad rap sometimes. We’ve met some amazing people while we’ve lived here and we’re excited about the future.”

Feature by Zac Cadwalader.

Is This The Best Little Coffee & Shop In America? 

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The current list of titles at Walled In is impeccably chosen, featuring hard to find and revered international titles like Delayed GratificationOh ComelyApartamentoVery Nearly AlmostPerdizMomma Tried, and many, many more. Never mind the fact that it’s in Denver, or part of a cafe: Walled In is one of the best magazine shops in America, with titles beautifully presented in a vintage grocery store produce fridge, topped with a small forest of potted plants.

Feature by Charlie Burt. 

Kansas City: Thou Mayest Have A Beer & Muffin With Your Coffee 

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Baristas at Thou Mayest are also the bartenders and vice versa, and based on the opening celebration event I attended, it seems to work pretty smoothly. Because the brewing station, espresso machine, and liquor bar are given such equal prominence, it feels natural that the workstations would meet and overlap as opposed to being disjointed or segregated. And while I’ve seen this concept executed in coastal cities, this makes a first for Kansas City.

Feature by Charlie Burt. 

In Small Town Missouri, A Land Of Coffee And Chocolate 

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“We wanted to showcase chocolate truffles like jewelry,” owner and head chocolatier Conor VanBuskirk says. “It creates an ambiance and curiosity.”

Early evening signals a wardrobe change. Bar manager Lisa Berdeaux fires up the draft beer lines and primes her cocktail shakers. There’s a food menu including cheese boards and flatbreads to help offset the wine, beer, martini, and spirits behind the bar. A food menu, once offered all day, now comes out only at night to allow the baristas to focus solely on the coffee.

Feature by Evan Jones. 

Louisville: Please & Thank You’s Cookie-Fueled Rise To The Top 

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I wanted the pastries to be just as good as the coffee without, like, really geeking out about coffee,” owner Brooke Vaughn tells me inside her newest project in a growing empire, called Hot Coffee. “It’s just a cookie and it’s just a cup of coffee. It’s just about making somebody happy.”

Feature by Evan Jones. 

Inside The Fiercely Independent World Of Sump Coffee In St. Louis 

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Sump Coffee opened for business December 1, 2011 as a multi-roaster cafe, but decided to explore roasting when consistency of product became an issue. A roaster was bought in July 2012 as owner Scott Carey learned roasting on the fly; he says over 60 kilograms of green coffee were practice roasted before going out to customers.

“This idea of finding your own voice and creating that voice and throwing it into the pile, that’s when roasting became like ‘Oh, we should start doing this, we should think about this,’” he says. “It gives us control of what we have even though we didn’t know what we were doing, but it also allows us a voice or a dialogue in a greater landscape.”

Feature by Evan Jones. 

On The Lonely Texas Highway, Coffee’s Your Only Friend

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Twenty miles south of Amarillo lies Canyon, Texas, a town of around 13,000 inhabitants that in many ways feels like a holdover from frontier times. The terrain is harsh and unforgiving, but ruggedly beautiful. Thanks to the onslaught of dust storms, the sky in Canyon is perpetually fading from blue to golden brown as it nears the horizon.

Tumbleweeds intersect your path regularly. And then there’s the heat. Oh, the heat. It takes an intrepid spirit to put down roots in Canyon, one of the last “dry” cities in Texas, but Patrick Burns of Palace Coffee Company is audacious enough to do just that.

Feature by Zac Cadwalader. 

Wizards Of Sproz: Alchemy & Decade Coffee Of Lawrence, Kansas

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All of the coffee offerings at Decade come from much acclaimed Bay Area roaster Four Barrel Coffee, and are predominantly brewed as either espresso (via the shop’s Synesso) or AeroPress. Decade also has one of Mahlkönig’s coveted EK43 coffee grinders, currently on several months worth of back order for new customers. This modern gear is progressive; it screams “contemporary coffee bar.” But I wound up more impressed by the cafe’s approach to ceramics.

When it came to the serving vessels, well, I probably came off like a crazy person, as I couldn’t stop ogling them. Each bowl and mug was made by local ceramist Mike Crouch and, according to Mr. Wigen-Toccalino, taking this route has single-handedly solved the age-old issue of beverages’ corresponding cup sizes. Rather than pouring his drinks into cups denoted by ounces, the proper drink goes with the proper cup. End of story.

Feature by Charlie Burt.