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Walking out of the screening of “Chef” the movie, a prominent thought in one’s mind has to be, “I’ve got to get me a Cubano. Now.” After the pork fantasy subsides, the next prominent thought is the “pretentiousness” of the food and coffee world. When does one cross the line between “connoisseur” and “snob”? How does one define “good” food or coffee? Or is there even such a definition? Can good food be just “good,” and can good coffee be just “good,” without the superlatives, adjectives, and the beards and flannel?

While spending some time away from this site, I was asking myself some of these questions. As a read various coffee reviews and food columns – and as I tried to wrap my head around those honey-blood orange-cactus-butterfly-cumquat cupping notes – I realized that coffee and food is not some hipster fad. Rather, they are fundamentals of life that have been part of people’s lives since the dawn of civilization (yes, coffee came a bit later). Gatherers gathered, hunters hunted, farmers farmed, fishermen fished. And at the end of the day, folks built a fire and gathered around a table to break bread. Good food, good people. No nonsense, just communion.

When I first planned to write about Northside Social in Arlington (alas, already several months ago), I remember being somewhat disappointed that the cafe did not offer pour over coffee. I thought to myself, you’re serving great Counterculture Coffee, and all you have is that pre-dripped Bunn trash that I can get at the diner down the street? And yes, I was planning to write a harsh review on Northside’s lack of coffee sophistication, that while serving as a cool local hangout, the cafe did not offer anything worth noting.

Snob. Douche. Unappreciative of what coffee, and food, is all about.

Northside Social is the perfect cafe for a late night shot of whatever (and wine upstairs) with terrific pastries (biscotti and chocolate cake are worth every bite) and sandwiches. When most other cafes are closed by nightfall, Northside runs strong into the night, buzzing until midnight on Fridays and Saturdays. Besides having more than enough tables outside for a cold one on a summer night, live music in the cafe is not a stranger, as musicians from all roads come and go with their tales.

Good coffee is so much more than cupping notes. The countless minutes I wasted swirling my Chemexed brew around my tongue to get a glimpse of that preserved blackberry note. While quality beans roasted perfectly will undoubtedly have pronounced flavors, there is no need to make coffee more than what it is. Some of the best food I’ve had came from the fish-gut riddled streets of an outdoor market in rural Korea, and I was applying a different standard to coffee. A lack of pour over service is not a death sentence. Maybe I don’t need to know the exact soil content of the micro lot the coffee came from. Maybe I just won’t drop a Benjamin to buy that state-of-the-art coffee scale, maybe I just won’t nervously eye the stopwatch to time my brew to the exact second.

Maybe I’ll just brew coffee and drink coffee.

Excellence should be awarded. Perfection should be pursued, and perfected. Yes, please don’t stop developing those personal relationships with micro lot farmers, and please don’t stop working the soil to harvest the best coffee there is. Please keep the science moving.

But at the end of the day, it’s meat over an open pit, fresh bread from the oven, and coffee. It’s that steaming Cubano from the truck. It’s a good meal with good people, and coffee. A good Cubano is not birthed by chance; marinating the pork, roasting it, slicing it, buttering the bread, pressing it down on the grill, all requires precise science, innovation, technique. But that Einstein Cubano is not meant to be eaten with forks and knives. It’s best when eaten curbside, hot mustard and grease running down your thumb, the Autumn heat pounding on the back of your neck.

Coffee tastes of the atmosphere. It’s a communal beverage, soaking in the notes of the music and people that surround it during consumption. In that realm, Northside has great coffee. Folks chatting over a glass of wine, folks chomping on paninis with their eyes glued to their Macbook monitors, folks splitting a thick slab of triple-chocolate cake over late night coffee. Lively, boisterous, unpretentious. Coffee where coffee belongs, in the midst of conversation, work, tears, joy. Amongst the people.

Give coffee back to the people.

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Admittedly, it is not normal for one to enjoy a cup of hot, drip coffee at nine p.m. But a life of sole individual norms does not add to much, and for no particular reason, I have a personal tradition of ordering black coffee before late night movies. It is as addictive, and comforting, as extra-buttered popcorn or warm kettlecorn. As others munch through their bags of corn, I sip incessantly, sometimes consciously, but mostly at a pace of utter ignorance and lack of thought. I just drink.

Coffee at the movies does not usually generate much conversation. Not only is it less popular than the standard popcorn, nachos, and soda, but the quality is (understandably) below what I would consider drinkable. Somewhere between law school coffee and the three p.m. leftover pot at work. For coffee, that is kin to the eighth ring of hell, in Dante’s terms. Soda and popcorn, that is the staple. Soda and nachos, soda and hotdogs. I find incredible, heartfelt joy when I find another being sipping coffee at the movies, as if I’d found a long lost kin.

Angelika Film Center and Cafe is like none other. When it first opened its theater in the Mosaic District in Northern Virginia, people flocked to it for the balanced showings of independent and blockbuster films, the occasional foreign features, and believe it or not, the kimchi hotdog – which I’ve tried, and to my disappointment, is nothing special. Bollywood or no Bollywood, kimchi-dog or no kimchi-dog, what drew my attention was the shiny La Marzocco espresso machine on the first floor. I could not believe my eyes. Where was the Denny’s coffee pot, and Bunn brewing thing?

Along with beer on tap and an impressive assortment of baked goods, the tiny cafe in the corner brews Intelligentsia coffee, even at the utmost late hours, for addicts like me shaking to take that fresh cup into the showing. The baristas knew what they were doing, and let’s just say that sipping quality coffee at the movies was something I did not expect to see in this decade.

After opening its flagship theater in New York’s Soho district in 1989, Angelika has expanded into Dallas and Plano, Texas, and Northern Virginia. This is not the AMC you’re accustomed to. The interior design, the layout, and the lighting is more like an exhibition, patrons lounging and chatting with a glass of wine, pint of beer, and yes, coffee. Gourmet snacks, gourmet-level independent films, and a gourmet atmosphere is very fitting for gourmet coffee.

Angelika’s iconic logo, resembling the likes of a mixed breed between a Greek god, Roman soldier, and rugby stud, hangs prominently on one wall, as if to watch over the patrons as they ascend or descend the glass stairs to and from the theaters. I wish, however, that Angelika would make more use of the logo. Simple prints or stamps of it on the coffee cups or sleeves would be a nice touch, and would enhance its branding.

Tapping the Fandango app on my phone, finding a new movie I’ve barely heard of, realizing that it starts in thirteen minutes, rushing to the theater, barely making it to my seat to catch the final seconds of previews – with a cup of Intelligentsia coffee in hand. Fewer things in life could be more satisfying.

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