We can all, each one of us, use some good news from time to time, and this story is a happy update to one of our favorite sets of features in the 7-year history of Sprudge.
Way back in July of 2012, we ran a story titled, simply, “You Should Buy This Cafe“. It was a plea for someone—anyone—to buy the charming little cafe space located at 14th and Commercial in the heart of downtown Astoria, Oregon. That post was seen by a couple of Sprudge readers out in Berlin—one of whom happened to be a native Oregonian—and a plan was set in motion. Jennifer & Micha Cameron-Lattek bought the cafe after reading our feature, and in the years since have established Street 14 Cafe as arguably (happy to argue it) the best coffee destination on the Oregon Coast.
Just about 90 minutes from Portland, Astoria is undergoing a real renaissance these days, with a couple of really good hotels, a few good restaurants, beautiful scenery and history, access to incredible local seafood and produce, and great beer. Like really great beer, from Buoy and Fort George in Astoria proper, and wild AF natural yeast experimentalists De Garde just a few miles down the coast in Tillamook.
Street 14 has been happy to serve them all as a daytime coffee bar and cafe over the last few years, but still, they yearned for something more. Enter chef Andrew Catalano, a veteran of Danny Meyer’s restaurant group in Manhattan, whose love of fresh pasta and seafood is a perfect match for upstart Astoria. The result is a beautiful partnership, one that has Street 14 moving beyond the traditional confines of the coffee bar into something else entirely: neighborhood cafe by day, well-considered restaurant by night, and home to a truly superb after-dinner cappuccino.
After a recent dinner at Street 14—order all the pastas—I sat down digitally with Micha Cameron-Lattek to chat about the challenges and inspirations of fusing specialty coffee with fine dining. If you’re visiting Oregon for delicious things, or live here and have neglected the coast, get thee to Astoria for dinner & coffee at Street 14.
Why expand into dinner service at Street 14 Café? What made you want to try this?
For about three years, we served food and coffee from our bar area. As our business grew, that space kept getting smaller and smaller for our needs. When the neighboring space in our building became available, we realized we had a chance to build a restaurant kitchen to keep serving breakfast and lunch. But it also gave us the opportunity to serve dinner. Right as we were beginning construction, chef Andrew Catalano and us started talking. Andy and his wife Sara had come in as regulars and loved the atmosphere and our dedication to handcrafted coffee and pastry programs. We talked about each others’ plans and soon realized they lined up pretty perfectly.
Andy had years of fine dining experience at Gramercy Tavern and Maialino in New York and was ready to run his own kitchen. The added space also gave us an opportunity to serve more seasonally changing, local food. There’s a vibrant and longstanding community of supporters of sustainable farming out here. Some of our customers have small farms in the area and we wanted to work with as many local growers as possible. Less than a year in, we’re proud to support a community of over a dozen farmers, purveyors, and foragers from right here in Astoria, the Oregon Coast, and Southwestern Washington.
Your role at night is very “front of house”—what challenges does this present? Has it been fun?
I came to coffee as a customer and always think of a cafe from the customer perspective first. Stepping away from the espresso machine and serving people at their table has changed some things but others are remarkably similar. Interacting with customers over the course of a whole meal is a very rewarding experience. It has more layers than “the brief relationship” baristas and customers have at the counter over coffee. Morning rituals are important but people seem to be more willing to indulge, experiment, and enjoy when they come in for dinner.
I see my role as a barista as a steward of the people that came before me in the coffee journey: roasters, green coffee buyers, farmers. Serving local food makes that role much more tangible: we visit our farms, talk with our purveyors about what’s in season, what challenges they’re facing, and what they’re growing. It allows us to provide context to what customers have on their plates.
The biggest challenge for us has been to transform a counter service cafe into a table service restaurant in 60 minutes and we couldn’t do it every week without a great team of people who share our vision and enthusiasm.
The biggest kick I get out of dinner are the many regulars our service has already attracted. The number of locals who come in every week is great encouragement and a wonderful compliment. We serve a weekly changing menu, a unique concept in Astoria, and it has definitely found an enthusiastic following. Few things make me happier than when those customers are staff from other restaurants, businesses, or farms in our area. It reminds us what a welcoming and enthusiastic town Astoria can be.
What are some of your future plans for chef dinners, wine dinners, etc?
On July 3, 2016, we will host a dinner event showcasing locally, sustainably raised meats. We recently put beer and wine on tap and are looking forward to a fun party. Details will be available via our newsletter. We’ll be hosting special dinner events every six to eight weeks highlighting farmers, purveyors, and foragers of the Oregon Coast and Southwest Washington.
Jordan Michelman is a co-founder and editor at Sprudge Media Network. Read more Jordan Michelman on Sprudge.
Photos courtesy Street 14 Cafe.