I am (embarrassingly) the sort of person who does, in fact, judge a book by its cover. I choose wine based on its label. And I was intrigued about this new Greenwood cafe mostly because its name--Ampersand--appealed to my inner word-nerd.
But unlike the last book I read and the last bottle of wine I bought, Ampersand turned out to be a good decision. It was also a suitable one: nearly two years ago I first started writing for Seattle Weekly in a column about food counters in grocery stores. And the newly opened shop is the sort of cafe/market hybrid that would have been perfect fodder for Counter Intel.Located on the bottom floor of a condo development on N. 85th Street and Dayton Avenue N., Ampersand is exactly the sort of corner store you wish was in your 'hood; or rather, it's exactly the sort of corner store I wish was in my 'hood, since I'd love to have a place that stocks cake flour, clarified butter, bananas, jars of spices, Mama Lil's peppers, and cans of Two Beers' IPA within walking distance. The limited selection of specialty goods caters to the eccentric, but that's OK in my book.
Most importantly, Ampersand sells good coffee: Keala's Hawaiian Coffee, which is roasted in small batches out of Seven Coffee Roasters in Ballard. They've got beans by the bag--a must for any grocer--but the cafe section sells cups of the Na Pali blend, as well as lattes, mochas, and typical cafe fare. The flavor of the Na Pali is unique, particularly in these parts, as it's a blend of coffee from Kauai and Central America. The two actually balance each other out nicely, making a well-balanced cup that is a little tropical but not overly fruity.
If you think it's a little strange for a Seattle cafe to be using Hawaiian beans, it's not coincidental. Marisa Tanji (who owns the place with husband Daryl Waits, who you may recognize as the owner of Alki pizzeria Slices) was born and raised there, and she wanted to carry over some of the familiar flavors from the island. "There's a lot of stuff from home that you can't get here, or you can, but you have to go a long way for it," Tanji said. "If I carry it, then I can drink it, too."
The Hawaiian influence doesn't stop at the coffee selection--Tanji also stocks Hawaiian sea salt, the traditional sweet bread rolls, Japanese rice, and, of course, Spam--though I wish it also carried over to the short menu of ready-to-eat items that are all made in house, right down to the bacon on the breakfast biscuits. Instead, the baguette sandwiches and simple pastries have a European feel; everything we tried was great, but I'd love to see a Spam musubi or onigiri alongside the buttery cinnamon rolls. Since Ampersand has only been open a month, maybe Tanji's still taking suggestions?