Published November 14. 2013 4:00AM
As a longtime coffee lover, there are two types of eateries I love most: diners and dedicated coffee shops. Diners because the coffee flows uninhibited; coffee shops because their proprietors take the art of the brew seriously and dream up crazy new concoctions for the warm/iced sipper crowd.
For example, Koffee Works in Old Lyme offers fine drip java, plus better than average espresso drinks (with Lavazza beans), but then you'll find intriguing specials like, say, the delightful vanilla lavender chai latte ($3.79 for a small). Even prepared with skim milk (per my request), this special chai recipe became dessert in a cup, with distinct lavender and vanilla notes achieved through judicious additions of flavored syrup.
Beyond coffee-shop baked basics like store-made doughnuts, muffins and bagels, Koffee Works adds a clever selection of seasonal and just-for-funsies baked goods that will make the sweet-toothed woozy.
The doughnuts ($1.05 apiece) are comparable to the simpler varieties at Dunkin' et al (sprinkled, chocolate-glazed, and apple cider types): they're sweet, enjoyable and fairly toothy versus doughnuts in the sugar-oil-air Krispy Kreme style. The chocolate-glazed was particularly well done, with deeper chocolate flavor than most.
But to rocket off into immediate sugar-induced bliss, try one of the house-made truffle bites beckoning from a refrigerated case. Recent options included Oreo cookie bites (Oreo cookie dough coated with chocolate) and the sea salt and peanut butter pretzel bites (99 cents apiece). I sampled the latter and enjoyed the rapture only true peanut-butter heads can experience when PB-laden food hits the mark.
Another big hit was the vegan peanut butter button ($2.50), a soft chocolate cookie filled with a big blob of peanut butter. On this item I can say don't let the vegan aspect put you off; the chocolate and peanut butter flavors are strong and rich enough to create an entirely dessert-y experience, but some of the other baked vegan items are more granola bar than peanut-butter-happy bomb. The chocolate couldn't make the vegan chocolate-chip cookie ($2.50) anything more than a chocolate-y ball of oats; it wasn't bad, but it wasn't great. A vegan apple cake ($2.50 for a slice) fell similarly flat; while the apple flavor nearly saved this dessert loaf from seeming too much like 1970s health-food-store fare, a lack of something made it a bit of a letdown.
But onto bigger and better. Koffee Works offers a menu of Beatles-themed sandwiches and wraps (with regular specials), and the two we sampled will bring us back in for more. The Revolution, a caprese-style panini with provolone, tomato and pesto ($6.25; served with bagel chips and pickle), proved to be a tasty option that was grilled to perfection.
The Apple Corp panini ($8.50; served with bagel chips and pickle), though, a recent daily special, knocked my socks off. Built with turkey, applewood bacon and provolone, this sandwich stands out thanks to the delicate sweetness of its final ingredient: apple butter. Balanced by the bacon, the sweetness adds a very pleasant layer of flavor to a classic turkey-bacon sandwich. We choose wheat bread for our Apple Corp, and it was a wise choice; the bread took beautifully to the panini press, and it was wheat-y enough to add still another flavorful dimension to the sandwich.
As for the egg and cheese breakfast sandwich ($3.25) I sampled, it was also comparable to the egg-sandwich options at Dunkin' Donuts; read: precooked egg on an OK bagel. It was another case of not bad but not fantastic, although the multi-grain bagel that contained my egg and cheese was quite good, presenting just the right balance of grain and starch, albeit a tad dry.
And from the Department of Random Things I Just Had to Try comes this recommendation: try the store-made hummus. Ready-to-go in the shop's cold case of pre-made specials (with items like couscous salads and still more baked goods), the oil-free hummus ($3.78) was bright and flavorful and though thicker than some hummuses, it went nicely with the store's pre-packaged bagel chips ($2.50). It was a huge hit at the gathering we brought it to, and, as someone who's very picky about hummus, I was doubly pleased to find a recipe that I enjoyed this much. I look forward to sampling the Lovely Linda wrap, which features the hummus with a selection of veggies.
Disappointments aside, like the Beatles, Koffee Works offers more hits than misses. Most important, the coffee is very good and the staff's culinary creativity shows a dedication to food that is refreshing. Time did not permit me to try still more intriguing menu items like fruit smoothies, the salads, and the rotating menu of house-made ice cream and gelato, but Koffee Works' efforts toward variety and healthiness will keep me coming back, eager to sample more hits that I'm sure lie ahead.