Pavement Coffeehouse is the mean between extremes. In a city full of coffee like Boston, it’s difficult to find a niche to fill. Dunkin’ and Starbucks have a lock on quick drinks, full of foam and syrup, and pastries or sandwiches to grab and go. Places like Blue Bottle focus almost exclusively on the coffee itself, eschewing everything else for its sake. Caffѐ Nero is aiming for an upscale industrial experience.
Pavement Coffeehouse, on the other hand, has carved out its own corner of the market. It is a comfortable—with emphasis on comfort—place with coffee-forward drinks and high-quality but approachable sandwiches.
Walking into its largest location, on Western Avenue in Lower Allston, I was immediately glad that I was there. The Clash was playing at an acceptable volume for listening, talking, or working. The inside seating was full but not crowded, customers in ones or twos spread out, some sitting in the sunny window bar, some in low-top tables, others with laptops open at the central workbench. The chairs—mostly stools—weren’t the kind that hurt to sit in after 20 minutes. The menu, posted prominently above the heads of the employees at the back, was simple and easy to read.
“We treat coffee as a culinary product. We really try to put the emphasis on high quality coffee from origin and not have a lot of options or syrups that are getting in the way of what coffee in its truest form is.”
Pavement’s menu has clearly divided sections for its beverages, reading “coffee,” “espresso,” “sweet,” and “tea.” Below are listed “homemade bagels” and “sandwiches.” Off to one side was a large chalkboard listing the pour-over coffee specials (name, area and country of origin, tasting notes) and a few seasonal specials like apple cider or pumpkin spice.
The point here is that there is nothing needlessly complex going on. Pavement is separating itself from the other coffee shops in Boston through a straightforward approach to its products and atmosphere. When I spoke with Andrew LoPilato, president of Pavement, it was this sentiment that he emphasized.
“We treat coffee as a culinary product,” LoPilato said. “We really try to put the emphasis on high quality coffee from origin and not have a lot of options or syrups that are getting in the way of what coffee in its truest form is.”
And he was true to his word. The most generic Pavement product, its drip coffee, is leagues beyond the black coffee of most other Boston establishments. Poured into a reassuringly heavy white mug, the steaming coffee was smooth, with notes of baking spices, especially cinnamon. I also tried one of their pour-over coffees, Frontera La Marimba from Acevedo, Colombia. The accompanying tasting notes were listed as apricot, vanilla, and citrus. I didn’t get any apricot, but the coffee was as smooth as velvet and definitely had vanilla flavors—to the point of near-creaminess—and citrus. There is also a touch of sweetness in both the pour-over and the drip, which comes from the roasting, all done in house, at the Allston location.
Almost two years ago, Pavement began roasting its own coffee. Capturing this aspect of coffee production has allowed the company to experiment and explore the world of coffee on its own terms.
This practice, coupled with the fact that Pavement produces all of its bagels and breads—with the exception of a couple pastries—in its own kitchen, gives its food and drinks a fresh and local quality that is often very difficult to find. Every morning, coffee and bagels are driven from Allston to each of its seven other locations in the Boston area.
But good coffee is not unique to Pavement, in Boston or anywhere else. LoPilato said that it was its coffee in combination with its food that makes Pavement stand out.
“I think the other thing that we do really well is that we combine that with fresh bagels, and those two things [the coffee], I think, invite people to appreciate what’s normally really familiar and taken for granted,” he said. “Like everyone knows what coffee is. But to get you to slow down and enjoy the coffee, everyone’s had a bagel, we try to reinvent the familiar things like coffee and bagels. So the bagel program really sets us apart from a lot of our competition. Getting a hot breakfast quickly with specialty coffee is kind of our thing.”
Pavement has spent a long time honing its selection of bagels down to its very modest size. With eight regular bagels and a “weekend special”—it was pumpkin when I visited—Pavement is shooting for quality, not quantity.
Every night, Pavement’s bagels are made from scratch from no preservatives, kettle boiled and then baked in a rotating hearth oven. Bagel snobs might scoff at the idea of a bagel from anywhere that isn’t New York, but these really are good. Not simply bread in the shape of a circle, Pavement’s bagels are chewy and flavorful, with a delicious crust that, when toasted, provides a satisfying flake. I chose the Vegan Tequila (seasoned tempeh, diablo tofu spread, pico de gallo, sprouts) on an everything bagel and it was delicious. The sandwich was filling but not heavy, and it was full of heat without being unapproachably spicy. This is the standard for all of Pavement’s sandwiches: They are approachable, easy to like, and comfortable.
Comfort is Pavement’s goal, in aesthetic, in food and drink, and in overall atmosphere.
“We want people to feel comfortable and warm,” LoPilato said. “That’s not necessarily cool or hip or edgy. We’re just trying to go for comfortable, and that comfort or warmth doesn’t have to be high-end or really expensive.”
Images by Jacob Schick / Heights Editor