Outside the Oreo

Lauren Piro

College students quickly learn to appreciate the jolt provided by a cup of coffee. Travel mugs and to-go cups alike, students can be seen pulling an all-nighter or fending off the February freeze speed walking from class to class. Coffee is also enjoyed for the sake of enjoyment. Like many college towns, the Main Line is not without its coffee shops. Tired of the less-than-stellar brew at Holy Grounds, this week I explored the area’s independent coffeehouses.

Milkboy Coffee

(Bryn Mawr/Ardmore):

With its two locations and dedication to local music, Milkboy is well-known to the singer-songwriter types. And as the place’s soundtrack changes from smooth jazz to Mitch Hedberg to an alternative track, it’s apparent that its indie-art cred is legit. The Ardmore location boasts ample seating, from deep-seated couches complete with cup holders to cushioned window seats perfect for people watching. The large space caters to those looking for some alone time with their laptops, but also to the crowds the shop’s weekly musical showcases attract.

Milkboy’s menu offers a decent selection of sandwiches, breakfast eats and of course, caffeinated drinks. I order a macchiato and am forewarned that it is not a caramel macchiato – oh, that S’bux culture. Just espresso with foam, the drink is a little bold for my taste but could easily please any “darker-the-better” bean lover.

Maia Café (Villanova):

When Maia opened this past summer, Philadelphia food critics deemed it the best thing to happen to the Main Line culinary scene since Savona, Margaret Kuo’s or even Chili’s. A neighbor to Villanova but beyond the student budget, Maia’s flavors are so close yet so far for most Wildcats – but not the café. With cherry chocolate chip muffin tops, bloated chocolate croissants and sophisticated Valentine’s Day cupcakes, Maia puts any pastry lover in heaven. I tried the dark chocolate hot cocoa – it is much better than anything I could have concocted out of a powder-filled packet.

The café is decorated with mod orange chairs surrounding several tables, but with the cold tile floor and drafty window overlooking the parking lot, I wasn’t inclined to outstay my welcome. Still, with Maia a walkable distance from the edge of campus, living on the Southwest Corner never tasted so sweet.

The Head Nut (Ardmore):

I did not know what to expect when I entered thiws mom-and-pop shop slightly off the beaten path of the Main Line. Deemed the Ardmore Café and Main Line Coffee Roasters, in addition to primarily being known as the Head Nut, I expected (and found) decent coffee, but I was not prepared for the rest of what I stumbled upon.

More of a coffee and espresso bar than a sit-down establishment, the coffee draws in a set of regulars and passers-through as they make their way around the rest of the large store. When walking in the entrance near the bar, I am greeted with rows upon rows of hard candies akin to Grandma’s house.

A turn to the right and I find myself next to a Great Wall of tea and am swallowed in the maze that is the rest of the store. I follow the aisles and find all that anyone could want by way of culinary goodies – retro candy, hot sauces, marinades, specialty chocolates and endless varieties of nuts and party mixes. I may have come for the coffee, but I’ll be back for the treasure trove of treats.

Gryphon Café (Wayne):

Although Gryphon Café’s brick storefront is easy to miss, once I found it, I knew I would be back. The shop is charming, with its Tuscan-yellow walls, display of paintings from local artists and old-world windows. Although mildly cramped, the café clearly welcomes lingering to those toting a good novel or MacBook. Many come with the intent of staying quite a while, but the management does not seem to mind; it treats its customers with the same care as the coffee. The latté I order is far better than any generic chain version, and sipping it from blue-patterned china feels more special than the styrofoam Dunkin’ Donuts’ container I’ve come to expect. Plus, I’m a sucker for the design the barista makes with the foam – key for a keeper in my coffee shop book.