This is the story of a restaurant that believes the coffee program is as important as the food. No, not a fairy tale, but a growing trend we here at Sprudge are documenting as it happens around the world. Today's glimpse into the food + coffee zeitgeist takes us to Venice, California, where Handsome Coffee alum Tyler Wells helms the coffee program at Superba Food + Bread, a four-month-old restaurant serving food, baked goods, and great coffee all day.
With the opening of Superba Snack Bar two years ago, Los Angeles westsiders have savored this go-to spot for hearty charcuterie, umami-rich vegetable dishes, and a heavenly smoked buccatini. So when the Superba Food + Bread project was announced with plans for a restaurant, bakery, and coffee bar concept, excitement was high. The new airy space created by Design, Bitches offers ample indoor and outdoor seating, a full view of the coffeebar, and a peek into the kitchen.
To learn more, I talked to General Manger Dan Pearl, who coordinates all of the moving parts of the ambitious Superba food and beverage department. When asked how coffee fits into the picture, Pearl replied, “The coffee program at Food + Bread is incredibly important to us, because we are striving to not only excel in all aspects of Superba Food + Bread, but to also deliver the best overall dining experience in Los Angeles.”
“How many restaurants do you go to, even Michelin-starred restaurants, where you have an amazing meal, and then you finish with a really bad coffee?” asked Pearl, echoing a wider angst that is well-documented elsewhere in these pages. “This is one of the last memories that you have of your overall dining experience, and it is often a missed opportunity,” Pearl told me. “Our approach is that we want the coffee to be just as memorable a part of your meal, as our savory program, pastry program, beer and wine, service, and general overall experience.”
Tyler Wells, one of the original Handsome Coffee co-founders and now a noted Los Angeles coffee gadabout, expanded: “Restaurants should have good coffee…but the consideration of every piece of a business oftentimes just ends with coffee.” At Superba, Wells chose has chosen to serve Heart Coffee Roasters, feeling that their quality and style went well with the larger Superba menu.
“The whole idea of this restaurant is understated high-quality and aiming for best in class,” explained Wells. To that end, Superba has assembled something of a “dream team” to help make that goal a reality. Pastry chef Lincoln Carson, who got his start at Le Bernardin, also worked for Francois Payard, and as the corporate pastry chef for Michael Mina's restaurant empire, while Jonathan Eng, formerly of Le Pain Quotidien, helms the bread program. “In the kitchen [Chef] Jason Travi is delivering food that is approachable, but the work that goes into it on the back-end is the parallel for what I think a good coffee program should be,” explains Wells. “Which is sorcery in the back of the house, so you just enjoy a plate of food, or a cup of coffee, and don’t have to think too much about it.”
The budget and support that Tyler has been given to build the coffee program includes resources for purchasing equipment, training staff, and sourcing coffee. Filter coffee is batch brewed on a Fetco and espresso drinks are made on a white La Marzocco FB80. They also serve the increasingly popular nitrogen-tap cold brew coffee, pouring out with a distinctively Guinness-like head. Superba even makes a fresh hazelnut milk in-house, seasoned with sea salt, lightly sweetened by maple syrup.
Learning to time coffee and food orders has been an interesting challenge for the coffee team–on a busy weekend brunch day, they're fielding 500 drink orders or more. Wells work along with the chefs to realize their goal of nuanced coffee, paired expertly with food. “The coffee is light, sweet, clean, and fruity and is such a nice match to the food,” Wells told me, making a single point that spoke to the wider philosophy at Superba. “It’s all about execution and subtlety. I think it's a perfect pairing.”