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Bandit Coffee Co.

The graceful minimalism of Bandit’s decor, right down to their gorgeous, caffeinated creations, brings one word to mind: artful. Stepping in to the shop off Central Avenue transports you into a bright, clean space of black and white. A swath of window occupies the entire street wall, allowing studiers and socializers to gaze into the vacant eyes of Casita Taqueria’s sugar skulls or to post up at a table and simply enjoy the sunlight pouring in. There’s no outside seating, but hopefully that’s on the to-do list for the future.

At Bandit, every cup of coffee is art.

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Drinks are served in glass cups of varying shapes and sizes so imbibers may savor with their eyes even before the first sip. The menu at Bandit is presented as minimally as the rest of their design, with options laid out simply from “espresso” or “espresso + milk” to hot coffee or cold brew. Don’t hesitate to ask the friendly, black-clad staff anything about their offerings: they know their shit and are happy to share.

Cold brew so silky you'll forget to add cream.

Cold brew so silky you’ll forget cream

Cappuccinos, mochas, and the like aren’t on the menu but can be made (awesomely), if you ask. Prices range from $3 for espresso or loose leaf tea to $4 for anything more substantial—including a bubbly glass of Mother Kombucha on tap! Two varieties of cold brew are also on tap— one of which is a nitro-infused pressure brew for the creamiest cuppa joe you’ve ever had. All their coffees are single origin (as opposed to blends) and are prepared by some of the best bean roasters around the country—including King Coffee from Tampa. You won’t find that bitter roast á la Starbucks here—everything I’ve tried has been well-rounded and smooth, if not downright creamy. Don’t do coffee? Don’t despair! In addition to loose leaf tea and kombucha, Bandit has a cooler full of non-caffeinated beverages in cans and bottles, like fruit flavored San Pellegrino.

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Although coffee is the clear focus here, Bandit also offers a limited selection of baked goods from local businesses such as The Hole Donuts and Craft Kafe (both with vegan options!). In a world of conglomerate coffee take-overs, it’s nice to see a local coffee shop actually committed to the city they’re representing. Their half and half is locally sourced, and they recycle (did you hear that, Kahwa?). Plus, anytime a customer provides their own cup, their coffee is only $2. To-go cups are an additional $0.25. So stick around, learn a thing or two about coffee, make a friend, or peer into the heart of the Burg and contemplate your place within it. Bandit has, and they’ve fit right in.

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Pour overs in Erlenmeyer flasks: need I say more?

 

 

 

 

Bandit Coffee is located on 2662 Central Ave and is open every day from 8-6.

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Rattling the Beers of the Cage

Cage brewing will hold its Grand Opening on February 27, but their soft opening has come and past, and when I visited last week, let’s just say it was still in soft opening stages. But because it wouldn’t be fair to count the chickens before they hatch, this article will focus on Cage’s brews and not their developing aesthetic.

What struck me when I first walked in was the length of their beer list—a TV screen full of options! Upon closer look, though, the menu came up noticeably light on darker styles like porters and stouts, and entirely lacking in lagers. I sampled eight (as a flight, people—otherwise this article wouldn’t be a thing).  Flights of four were $7 and pints ranged from $4 to $6 depending mostly on ABV. Here’s what I thought, and a few conclusions about their process as a whole:

  • SUNKIST Fruit Beer: How do you make fruit beer? Well, the guys over at Cage have cranked out a couple attempts, and they’re all about mediocre. Sunkist is a fruit beer of the orange variety, and while it’s not overwhelmingly orange-y, it also tastes like watery orange soda. Aptly named.
  • SUBVERT Pale Ale: (In case you’re like me and were wondering what “subvert” meant, subvert: to undermine the authority of an established system.) I wouldn’t say this pale ale is subverting anything besides the rules of good beer. Imagine Bud Light with more hops, and you’ll land on something like Subvert. Its appearance was hazy, almost opaque, and tasted like a watery, strongly bitter version of a pale ale. Excessive addition of hops attempts to compensate for relative lack of flavor but presents instead as a tangy, almost astringent beer.
  • COFFEE BROWN Brown Ale: This beer emanates coffee aroma even before drinking and tastes like you would expect it to: a brown ale plus coffee. It had a sharp aftertaste, reminiscent of a stout. It ranked around #3 on my list.
  • COLD CRUSH Spiced Beer: This beer was one of a few that solve the mystery of the huge beer list: Cold Crush is actually the American Amber Ale (called Grand Central Red) just with apple cider-y spices like cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg added. This one had no head, little aroma of any included spices, and it drank like an unremarkable beer—with spices. DSC00012
  • PINBALL PORTER Robust Porter: One of a limited number of dark beers on the menu, this porter is dry and sharp up front with the typical inky, porter taste coming after. Why pinball, you ask? Currently, Cage’s modest game selection includes two pinball machines! Sadly, they’re not free.
  • STATIC American IPA: This beer was my favorite of the ones I sampled, made with entirely citra hops to give an upfront fruity bouquet. It’s a well-rounded beer that is relatively light for an IPA (refreshing in this age of over-hoppage) but with a high enough ABV to one-and-done it (one-and-do it? You get the picture).
  • KING CRUSH Double IPA: This double is as heavy as you’d expect from a DIPA, but it’s lightened up by a faint aftertaste of lemon and orange peel. Overall, nothing to write home about.
  • MANGO CRUSH Mango DIPA: Yet another instance of repeats on the menu, this DIPA is actually the King Crush, but the batch was divided in two and one had mangoes added during the brewing process. I think I recall the bartender saying they were locally sourced mangoes, so bonus points for that. The mango flavor is mild but just enough. This ranked #2 on my list.

In conclusion…

Cage Brewing is a bold attempt to enter the beer scene in St. Pete, but their beers could use some refining. Out of the eight I tried, only one or two would be worthy of seconds. Don’t be fooled by the lengthy beer list: many are the same beer with different ingredients added during final brewing stages. And you’ll be want for a good dark beer. But one awesomely unique thing Cage has going for it is Mother Kombucha on tap! Can I get a woop woop?

Maybe Cage will step up their vibe to compensate for the mediocre brews [3 Daughters], but at this point, they have a ways to go on even this. The foundation has been laid (have you seen their murals? Sick!) but the interior has some distance to cover in terms of forming a solid image and marketing what they’ve got. As a side note, while live music is not requisite for a successful brewery, [Cycle Brewing], it’s certainly a nice addition when you have an expansive backyard and, erm, nothing else to offer. Just an idea, Cage.

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Trails (and Tribulations) of the Burg

In addition to a poppin’ downtown scene, did you know St. Pete has nature? Get your blades, kayaks, and canines ready, ’cause here’s the lowdown on the best nature and fitness trails in the area.

These friendly green signs mark official city trails

These friendly green signs mark official city trails

 

  1. The Pinellas Trail

The PT is 38.2 miles of trail running entirely within—you guessed it—Pinellas County. The trailheads are in Tarpon Springs and south St. Pete, but you can hop on anywhere along the way. The trail is all pavement, with occasional overpasses above roads that are a real bitch to go up and super fun to go down–I guess that’s a Floridian’s perspective on hills. It’s mostly shaded, running alongside small neighborhoods, but some parts get a little sketchy to do alone, especially at night. Still, a fun way to get out for runners, bladers, bikers, and skaters. Dogs are welcome, and it’s free!

Bayway section of the PT

Bayway portion of the PT

  1. Skyway Trail

The ST is technically the latest addition to the Pinellas Trail, but parts of it are so nice it deserves its own category. The trail branches off the PT around 34th Ave S and 43rd Street and runs east, opening up into the epic Clam Bayou—a protected natural estuary that will have you wondering how you missed the time machine. The trail runs past Twin Brooks golf course on 22nd Ave S and up towards 7th Ave S where it merges with the PT once again. From there, you can take it south towards Pinellas Point and, erm, the Skyway (think shady, freshly paved bike lanes and bike paths, and the intermittent overpass along the way)—or north to downtown. Did someone say brunch??

View from Clam Bayou

  1. Weedon Island

WI is a nature preserve by the St. Pete side of Gandy Bridge. The trails themselves are dirt paths through mostly mangrove woods with occasional boardwalks and lookout towers. It’s a nice place to hike and run, and there are even launch points along the way for kayaking and paddle boarding. Although the actual preserve would be tough for people on wheels, leading up to the trailhead is a beautiful swath of road that’s relatively quiet, which makes a killer longboarding, cycling, or blading spot. Pets welcome and freee.

  1. Boyd Hill

Boyd Hill is located in south St. Pete towards the end of 9th street. It’s also a nature preserve, and it’s the only place on here that is not pet friendly. It’s one to see, covering 245 acres and three miles of trails through mangrove forests, woods, and sawgrass. Be on the lookout for deer, coyotes, tortoises, and osprey. It has picnic areas and, erm, playgrounds, and the ranger center has an aviary attached where you can see some pretty sweet hawks. The whole thing runs around Lake Maggiore, which you can take canoes and kayaks on with park permission. Although beware of gators. Chomp. Sometimes the rangers even do night hikes, where they will lead you through the preserve and point out constellations, night sounds, and nocturnal animals. Admission is $3, and the park is closed on Mondays.

  1. Fort DeSoto
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Beachfront picnic area at Ft. DeSoto’s North Beach

Ft. DeSoto is a nature preserve built around an old Spanish colonial naval fort. The fort itself is underwhelming, but with the $5 park admission you have access to two pristine beaches (one ranked among America’s top 10 beaches), a kayak rental and access to mangrove islands, fishing piers, cookout pits, a dog park and dog beach, and 12 miles of paved trail. There’s just one gift shop/snack bar, which is a refreshment from the beach bars and Spring Breakers cluttering St. Pete Beach. Here, you can rent four-person bikes and other strange looking means of exercise. There are launch spots for those who already have a kayak or paddle board, as well, and it’s possible to explore little islands and open water all the way past Shell Key. FDS even has campgrounds, which need to be reserved in advance or at the station. The park closes at sundown.

  1. Puryear Park

Puryear Park, home to about a thousand kids’ soccer leagues and at least half that many playgrounds, also has some pretty sweet perks for those who have already graduated middle school. For one, there’s a dirt trail measuring a little over one mile that runs around the perimeter of the park. It’s relatively quiet, with water fountains along the way and intermittent paved areas. Careful not to venture too far from the trail, though, or to use it alone after dark, as some homeless folk have come to claim the mangroves in the back of the park as their home, and you may just stumble upon a dilapidated couch or some used condoms. Sweet. As an added bonus, though, Puryear also has clay tennis courts and concrete squash courts to the north side of the park—all free. Score! The park is on 57th Ave N and just off of 1st street.

  1. Crescent Lake

Crescent Lake Park, so called because of the crescent-shaped lake occupying its center, is a quaint little patch of nature located off 22nd Ave N and 4th Street (behind Panera Bread and Outback Steakhouse). There are multiple sidewalks running around its perimeter, the longest of which is about 1.5 miles around. It’s narrow, though, and frequented by dog walkers and strollers, so it’d probably be obnoxious to take a bike on—also may be a little uneven for blading or skating. Still, it’s a great place for a run or walk, with pleasant views of the lake and huge, ancient trees, and excellent bird watching—but don’t piss off the geese. There is also ample green space for throwing a Frisbee, picnicking, or an intimate day with Fido. Bonus: the park has clay tennis courts at the back, a big ol’ playground (we’re not judging…), and plenty of benches for ruminating.