I used to live around the corner from the old World Cup, and when I was pregnant and at loose ends, I'd hang out there for hours drinking decaf and eating muffins, waiting for the great day to arrive. Then I moved, and World Cup moved, and my visits became more and more infrequent.
So I didn't have the same sense of regret that some of my friends had when I heard the coffee shop was changing hands, and in fact I was pleased to hear that the Fan would get its own outpost of the funky and comfortable Crossroads Coffee & Ice Cream.
Across the river on Forest Hill Avenue, the original Crossroads, with its big old purple couches and mosaic-topped bistro tables, cranks out coffee with humor and noncorporate good cheer.
Hampered by its lack of a kitchen, the menu is limited to paninis and cold sandwiches, a wide selection of baked goods from bakers around town, and seriously good ice cream from Bev's. Yet the hummus has always been homemade, the tomatoes are always ripe, and the chunky chicken salad is worth a stop for lunch.
Over on Morris Street, in its new, kitchen-equipped building, Crossroads has a chance to stretch just a little and expand its menu. At breakfast, thick and fluffy omelets stuffed with things like sautéed red peppers and onions, fresh spinach and feta almost overlap the plates they're served on. The sides are less remarkable, but the French toast is thick and piled high, with a fragrant lashing of cinnamon.
Lunch choices are more varied, and now dinner is a real option. The blackened Caesar sandwich in its bright red sun-dried tomato wrap has a slow burn mediated by cold, crispy romaine and sliced cherry tomatoes.
There are a lot of vegetarian dishes, although things like the tempeh Philly wrap, with the usual green peppers and onions, lettuce and tomato, desperately needs salt and is only partially convincing in its Philly-ness once cheese is added.
Best is the sesame-encrusted shrimp salad, with perfectly seared shrimp, spicy baby arugula and mild citrusy dressing that allows the sweetness of the mandarin oranges to play off the sesame's nuttiness. Each dish is made with care, and although most of the sides are forgettable, the herbed couscous is a refreshing change from the usual coleslaw or side salad.
Gingered peach soup with cashew cream is cold and lush a pale orange garnished with a scattering of green chiffoned mint, barely hinting at the ginger enhancing the fruit. And that's a good thing, because it's all too easy to overplay ginger at the expense of other flavors. The cold cucumber mint soup, on the other hand, is a flat and disappointing counterpart, and could have used more mint and more cucumber to fatten up the flavor.
There are only three entrée choices for dinner, but for less than $10 and with such large portions, they're all a great deal. I just can't get on the vegan bandwagon, though, and the vegan chorizo marinara doesn't help much, although the deeply jammy tomato sauce almost compensates for the oddly flavored, peppery faux-sausage.
Alfredo comes with a choice of tempeh, chicken or shrimp, but stick with shrimp. Not only do these guys understand what it means to cook pasta al dente, they really know how to sear shrimp without fatally over- or undercooking it. The Alfredo sauce is creamy and not too heavy, and tossed in are sautéed zucchini, mushrooms, red peppers, onions and a scattering of spinach. A long slice of good, toasted garlic bread scoops up any stray vegetables.
The new Crossroads is a cleaner, more streamlined rendition of its shaggier older sibling across the river. But both sport the familiar red awnings, and although I wish the tabletops could be mosaic too, more important than its interior design is the care and attention the owners and staff pay to each person who walks through the door.
Luckily for the Fan, the folks at Crossroads have effortlessly managed to export to the other side of the river the essence of what makes the original place great. S
Crossroads Coffee & Ice Cream
26 N. Morris St.
Daily, 7 a.m.-10 p.m.