Twenty years ago Cyndy and Joe Coppola opened Java Joes on Fourth St., ushering in not only a revival of the neighborhood, but the return of coffeehouse culture to a city bereft of such a cosmopolitan fixture.
Independently within months, Julie McGuire opened Zanzibar's Coffee Adventure on Ingersoll Ave., quickly becoming a neighborhood favorite for their plethora of quality fresh-roasted coffees, exotic teas, delightfully simple breakfast fare, locally made baked goods, and various gadgets to enlighten coffee and tea enjoyment at home.
I’ve never been a regular at Zanzibar’s. When I lived in Highland Park, I gravitated towards Java Joes mainly due to a friend who worked there. When I moved to Ingersoll, I would frequent Zanizibar’s a few times a month, but mostly soaked in the eclectic scene of the then newly-opened Ritual Cafe on 13th St. One of the co-owners was a former barista at Java Joes and I was happy to give her my business.
When I moved downtown I stopped frequenting Ritual Cafe and patronized Amici Espresso at Sixth & Mulberry, where I could enjoy a brewed iced decaf coffee (Ritual opted for a toddy concentrate), longer hours for most weekdays, and service on Sundays and most holidays.
Despite my fickle preferences, one constant remained and that was Zanzibar’s. Going there today is as it was five, ten, or fifteen years ago. Despite the presence of two drive-up coffee chains – the long-defunct Grounds for Celebration on Grand Ave. next to Terrace Hill, and Caribou Coffee for the last five years up the street – Zanizbar’s preserveres as an Ingersoll fixture with a loyal following of regulars alongside less frequent customers, myself included.
On a recent weekend visit I enjoyed a steamed scrambled egg with toast, juice and coffee. The egg is one the fluffiest you'll ever eat. With some white cheddar and scallion tops, the presentation and flavor is sublime. Sturdy toast pairs well with the delicate egg. And the fresh squeezed orange juice is so pulpy it separates from the waterier elements and floats to the top if left to rest.
I must sheepishly admit – being a sporadic patron – I had not known of the Linda Special: a choice of toast or bagel topped with cream cheese under a broiled cap of the aforementioned cheddar and scallions. Enlightened with such knowledge I returned a couple of days later for an appraisal. And I can tell you it tastes as good as it sounds. It was hinted to me that one could ask for a steamed egg on top. I look forward to sampling that option.
I also partook another menu item unique to Zanzibar’s, a Red Espresso which is rooibos herbal tea prepared through an espresso machine. Served as an alternative to coffee in espresso drinks, I tried it neat. Hooked by its dry, hay-like flavor, it along with the Linda Special will likely be my breakfast of choice on future visits. Though another squeeze of pulpy orange juice would be welcome.