Southern-style coffee

christmas_2008-005Coffee chains, like chain letters, seldom make it to my favorites list. Originality. Homey feel. Personal. Sustainable — in holistic as well as economic terms. Charm. These are some of the intangibles that can’t be packaged and distributed for mass consumption, although that doesn’t keep the big guys from trying.

Still, to my delight, some things continue to survive — and thrive — amid the SoCal chaos of booms, busts and big-box galore of the Inland Empire.

 My favorite coffeehouse, Back to the Grind in Riverside, seems to be holding its own in a sea of chain-gang coffee shops that line SoCal strip mauls malls. This is a shop where I’ve studied, met post-divorce dates, admired artwork and taken in new-to-the-scene musical performances.

As charming and lived in as its worn wooden floors and hand-painted tables, it’s a hip, retro and inviting place where diversity and acceptance are norms. Expect Darren to top your cappuccino with feathery foam and an endearing “Here you are, dear,” which, coming from him, warms you like a smooth coffee blend. And if you forget a book or newspaper, pluck one from the towering shelves. Or settle in for a chat, like the students and professors from nearby University of California at Riverside do.christmas_2008-001


If you’re going:

What: Back to the Grind coffeehouse

Address: 3575 University Ave., Riverside, CA 92501 (Mapquest here)

Tele: (951) 784-0800

Hours: Monday through Friday: 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Saturday 9 a.m. to midnight; Sunday 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.

MySpace site:


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