When Firefly Coffee House announced it was expanding its kitchen in the spot along North Anthony Boulevard, I was a bit excited and a bit worried.
Though Firefly has always been one of my favorite places to get coffee and I have grown to appreciate its food offerings – especially the fantastic BLTs – having it morph into more of a restaurant made me uneasy.
I love coffeehouses with food that is good enough to make it a for-lunch instead of just an after-lunch destination. But the cozy atmosphere featuring small tables and sofas, and a rotating display of local artists' works is one of its best features. So changing that to put in, say, bigger tables for the lunch crowd would have been somewhat devastating.
Luckily it seems as if nothing has changed. And that actually created another dilemma because the tables get filled up quickly by the laptop crowd, so enjoying a relaxing lunch isn't so easy. But after finding a couple of small tables to put together I had enough elbow room to really dig in.
The menu has not been expanded much, either. It still features a handful of sandwiches, ever-changing soups and, of course, a bevy of cookies, scones and other sweet treats. So why the new kitchen?
Firefly is baking all of its bread on-site and is selling whole loaves of delicious, fresh focaccia. Slices of those long, thin loaves are served with all of the soups, and it was wonderful – crusty on the outside, but soft and moist on the inside with a perfect chewiness.
My favorite find at Firefly also featured focaccia, but a rosemary version in this case. It also was something I settled on after missing out on something new I really wanted to try.
A French dip sandwich appeared regularly on Firefly's social media accounts, but I never seemed to be there the right day. I was also frustrated when I was told it is offered only whenever Paul Demaree, who owns Firefly with his wife, Cyndi, feels like making it. A set day for popular features would be a better policy.
The quinoa burger was featured quite often and it was available, so I opted for it instead. And it was fantastic. Not only was the rosemary bread perfect with just a hint of the herb, the quinoa patty for this vegetarian offering was one of the better faux burgers I have had recently.
Its ingredients were listed on the sign for those who might have allergies – quinoa, eggs, flour, corn, onions and peppers. It was nicely seared and its texture really mimicked cooked ground beef. This meat-eater loved that, and I loved its hearty flavor that was offset with kernels of sweet corn here and there.
It was also topped with a fabulous house-made chunky mango chutney. As good as the chutney was, I will ask for it on the side next time because I had more focaccia than I needed for the burger and would have loved to smear butter all over some of the scraps to eat that way instead of soaked with the sweet-spicy mango spread.
Firefly is also making its own bagels, and the rye bagel I chose for my breakfast sandwich made me want to buy a few more to take home and eat with just a little butter as well.
There was plenty of ham on the sandwich, a scrambled egg and a lot of feta cheese, but the cheese sort of melted away and got lost a bit. It was still a good option and made me eager to try one with bacon and a different cheese soon.
I had the veggie sandwich on a soft, flaky croissant and was not at all disappointed, though it was not as impressive as the house-made bread.
The artichoke hearts were heaped on it and they gave the meatless creation a lot of heft. I also liked the diversity of the vegetables which gave me crunchiness from the cucumbers and raw red onions in some bites and tender, sweet roasted pepper flavor in others.
As much as I love the BLT, I figured the egg salad BLT would be amazing. It was not. I chose the non-homemade sourdough for it, which was my first mistake. It was fine, but the focaccia would have been better. The egg salad tasted bland, as if it was made with just eggs and mayo with no pickle juice, pepper or salt – celery or regular. I would have given it a passing grade had there been more bacon, but a BLT short on the B gets an F.
All of the soups made the honor roll.
The tomato bisque had a distinct rich tomato flavor, was not overly creamed or sweet and a few bits of tomato here and there really set it apart. It was the perfect place to dunk the house focaccia into.
The creamy, cheesy yellow base of the broccoli-cheese soup could have been used to make a number of delicious soups because it was spot on. It had plenty of broccoli and several carrot counts to add a little natural sweetness.
The beef-barley soup was very straightforward and its cubes of tender meat reminded me of prime rib. Those bits also made me wish I had gotten to try a French dip because I am guessing that is where the scraps for the soup came from. Its broth was seasoned so perfectly.
And, of course, no good coffee shop should be without some tasty desserts.
The chocolate eruption cheesecake was my favorite with its smooth texture, big chunks of chocolate and a yummy chocolate ganache. I always have to get a scone to go with my post-meal coffee, and Firefly's cranberry-dotted ones are some of the best around.
The biggest eye-opener from the many desserts was the Masala Chai Bread. It had the signature spice notes of the popular hot beverage and was firm and moist. It sort of reminded me of a good old-fashioned spice cake, only better.
Was this new version of Firefly Coffee House better? Without a doubt.
Homemade soup and bread is never a bad thing, but it was what the owners didn't change that impressed me most.
It is still a great place for coffee, the people who work there are awesome and it still has the warmth and eclectic feel a coffeehouse should have.
Restaurant: Firefly Coffee House
Address: 3523 N. Anthony Blvd.
Hours: 6:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday; 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday; 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday
Handicapped accessible: Yes
Credit cards: Yes
Menu: Quinoa burger ($6.25 with salad; $7.50 with soup), breakfast sandwich ($4.05), veggie sandwich ($7.20), egg salad BLT ($7.20), soup ($3.20 shot; $4.90 tall), chai bread ($3.15), chocolate eruption cake ($6.10)
Rating breakdown: Food: ★★ (3-star maximum); atmosphere: ★ (1 maximum), service: 1/2 (1 maximum)
Ryan DuVall is a restaurant critic for The Journal Gazette. This review is based on two unannounced visits. The Journal Gazette pays for all meals. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org; call at 461-8130. DuVall's past reviews can be found at www.journalgazette.net. You can follow him on Twitter @DiningOutDuVall.
Out of a possible five