Good to Go

Big Bear Cafe in Bloomingdale

Latte art adorns a hot cup at comfy, retro Big Bear, where Wi-Fi is free.
Latte art adorns a hot cup at comfy, retro Big Bear, where Wi-Fi is free. (By Lois Raimondo -- The Washington Post)
Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Long, long ago, before Starbucks ruled the world, coffee shops were real community spots with mismatched furniture, friendly faces and drinks that you could order without resorting to such phrases as "half-caf skinny with wings."

Big Bear Cafe, which opened in June in Bloomingdale, is a throwback to the B.S. era. The airy space has communal tables, the requisite comfy armchairs in the corner and a long bar where verifiable locals sip expertly made lattes, ordered without lingo. The lone clue that you're in an A.S. coffee shop is the quiet: On a recent weekday morning, the only sounds were an alt-rock soundtrack and the soft clicking of computer keys as patrons surfed the Net on free Wi-Fi.

If all of that still doesn't warrant a trip to First and R, the food will. Pastries are delivered daily, and salads and hot and cold sandwiches are made to order with fresh ingredients, many from the Sunday farmers market that in season sets up shop right outside. Josie's Salad ($6) is a generous portion of field greens, chopped chicken breast, feta and cucumber that manages to be healthful and satisfying. So does the buttery smoked salmon sandwich with cucumber and cream cheese on a fresh baguette ($7). Even better were the grilled panini. The most popular are the turkey, apple and gooey brie ($6) and the old-fashioned grilled cheese ($4.50), which tastes just like Mom's -- maybe better.

And don't forget the coffee. Big Bear serves single-bean and blend coffees from Counter Culture, a North Carolina-based boutique coffee importer, and none of them has that dark-to-burned flavor that we've come to associate with too many "specialty" coffees. There's also a selection of lovely loose Rishi teas, such as peach blossom white tea and earthy citrus oolong.

-- Jane Black

Big Bear Cafe, 1700 First St. NW,, Mondays through Fridays, 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Saturdays, 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Sundays, 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company