Restaurant Review | Pavement Coffee House cozy but average
Back Bay coffee chain falls short of potential
Published: Monday, March 4, 2013
Updated: Monday, March 4, 2013 02:03
If you’ve been to the Back Bay in the past decade, chances are that you’ve been to one of Pavement Coffee House’s three locations. With shops at 286 Newbury Street, 44 Gainsborough Street and 1096 Boylston Street, Pavement occupies some truly excellent real estate and will be opening a fourth location soon. Though these first three locations were originally home to Espresso Royale Caffe, they are now independently and locally owned.
On its website, Pavement claims to “combine the gritty vibe of its surrounding artistic community with a warm and inviting ambiance.” And Pavement tries, it really does. But it tries in exactly the same way as virtually every other coffee shop in America does. Its furnishings and general aesthetic perfectly showcase the industrial−chic look that is so popular now, with plenty of exposed wooden counters, Venetian blind cabinet doors and funky, colorful furniture. It’s cohesive and inviting, but not particularly groundbreaking.
Then there’s the wall art. Coffee shops are historically an excellent place for aspiring artists to exhibit their works for the first time. The upshot to this, however, is that “coffee house art” has practically become synonymous with “mediocre student art.” Kudos to anyone who shows his or her artwork anywhere, but the torn canvas/string/acrylic paint disasters at Pavement’s Gainsborough location are just plain bad.
Pavement serves a standard selection of coffee, including drip coffee, lattes and the like, as well as the popular “Spanish Latte.” Prices are on the higher side, but seem generally reasonable for the Back Bay — drip coffee is $2.00 for a small and $2.25 for a large, for example. The coffee is also deliciously bold.
In terms of food, Pavement has some serious potential (all three locations have the same menu). In addition to serving from the “breakfast menu” late into the afternoon, Pavement makes sandwiches that are healthy, for the most part: they offer seven−grain bread and eight−grain bagels, and most options incorporate a hearty serving of veggies — be it sliced eggplant, sprouts, shredded beets or avocado spread. Anything can be made into a salad at the customer’s request, and there are some solid vegetarian and vegan options. And each sandwich only costs around $6.
But Pavement’s food preparation is terrible. I have ordered food from Pavement three separate times, at two separate locations, and my order has been up to snuff exactly zero times. The first time, they were out of vegan bacon for a sandwich, and they told me 10 minutes after I placed my order. Oh well. The second time, they served me a normal “Tequila Sunrise” — with jalapeno cream cheese, scrambled egg, red onion, tomato and bacon — instead of a vegan one, as ordered. This is a problem, unsurprisingly, if you are a vegetarian. Finally, a recent order of “The Awakening” — scrambled eggs, sundried tomato pesto, feta cheese, caramelized onion, arugula and “rustic bread” — arrived cold. Very cold. If you claim to be an independent coffee shop and you’re reheating egg patties and frozen caramelized onions for each customer, so be it, but at least make sure that you’re microwaving everything thoroughly. Fast service redeems the food somewhat, but most people would agree that it’s worth waiting a few extra minutes for a warm sandwich. At least all of the cooks, baristas and cashiers are friendly.
Pavement’s atmosphere almost makes up for disappointing service. The cafes draw an artsy crowd — unsurprising, considering their proximity to Boston University, Northeastern University and Berklee College of Music — and the people−watching is top−notch, even if you’re not toting around a cello on your back. But you will feel out of place, especially at the Gainsborough location, if you’re not a twenty−something who is musically or artistically inclined. There was precisely one “bro” in Gainsborough’s Pavement on Friday morning and he looked comically out of place in contrast to the plaid toting, skinny jean clad, tousle−haired baristas and fellow patrons. Still, each Pavement has myriad seating options and free wifi for up to one hour, making them ideal locations to work or meet up with friends.
In short, Pavement is fine — it’s reasonably priced , and it’s there when you need some caffeine or a quick bite to eat. It definitely has its moments, and it definitely has its fans. There’s just nothing particularly unique or redeeming about it.