The first time I went to Espresso Royale on Grand River, I just had a cup of water. It was a business meeting, I was already incredibly caffeinated, and my next stop was lunch. I sat at a four-top on one of the table’s mis-matched chairs, talked website design, and thought that I liked the place.
What I actually thought was this: if I owned a coffee shop, this is what it would be like. It would have books to borrow, a pile of board games, and a woman with multicolored hair and librarian specs kneading dough in a small, open kitchen. It would have a big, front patio with umbrella tables for summer, a fireplace for winter, and would smell like good coffee and something baking in the oven. It looked un-corporate, un-planned, and very much like someone had said “I’m starting this coffee place. Can you bring me any extra furniture you have lying around?”
Espresso Royale interior
It was a lovely vision, but a place that serves coffee and food is really only as good as the coffee and food. I went back to investigate the goods, baked and otherwise, accompanied by a young companion who has the advantages of being adventurous, and always hungry.
We both ordered drinks and sandwiches at the counter where a board lists the day’s options. The menu is small, and pretty sandwich-centric with a variety of available fillings. There’s also a glass case full of baked goods, most if not all baked in-house. We were planning to stick with our sandwiches until I spotted multi-colored petits fours in the case and decided we needed to try one.
“Good choice – they’re delicious,” promised the young woman taking our order, “Jess made them.” Jess, it turned out, was the woman who was, again, baking at the other end of the long kitchen/display/café area running nearly the length of the room.
The room was full of students studying, often occupying four-tops alone with a pile of books, notebooks, laptops, tablets, phones, headphones, and empty plates with crumbs. It was exam week, so this seemed pretty reasonable. There were also a number of people who were probably faculty from across the street, and at least one table of senior citizens eating muffins and holding mugs.
Although the space was narrow, lots of natural light came in from high windows and a skylight. There was music playing, and there were numerous conversations but it was easy to hear. We sat at a low, round table, one of us in a kitchen chair and the other in a worn and ancient armchair, sipping our drinks while we waited for our sandwiches. I had iced coffee with soy milk and sugar-free hazelnut syrup and he had a Coke. Coffee that you can taste with that much adulteration is good coffee, and beneath the creamy and sweet stuff I could definitely taste strong, good coffee.
My companion chose turkey, provolone, and pesto mayo, and I had tomato, pesto, and egg (also with provolone), both served on a hot, flat bread that was crisp on the outside and tender on the inside like deep-dish pizza crust. Despite the fact that tomatoes aren’t in season, mine actually had some taste and the combination of the hot bread, melty cheese and the tang of the tomato with a sharp hit of basil from the pesto was a good thing. We were also impressed by the fact that we came away with drinks, sandwiches and dessert for two people for under twelve bucks.
Turkey pesto sandwich
The petit four was not only adorable but tasty; thin, rainbow layers of cake were assembled with (I’m pretty sure) a thin layer of raspberry jam and covered with chocolate frosting. In keeping with the homey, casual feel of Espresso Royale, the petit four was not so much an elegant French dessert as a creative jumble of color and flavor. We liked it.
I will absolutely go back to Espresso Royale, and I can recommend it for meeting a friend for coffee and/or a light lunch, studying or reading, strategizing, making a date last a little longer after dinner or a movie, or people-watching on the patio. There’s no reason kids wouldn’t be comfortable, but it’s a relatively small space and I wouldn’t plan on more than a quick visit for a smoothie or a pastry with kids much under ten.
The baked goods at the Café are explicitly “vegan-friendly,” and today’s offerings included a vegetarian hummus plate which is both dairy- and gluten-free. There are enough tea and coffee choices to keep you happy over multiple visits, and if you really love the coffee you can buy a bag and take it home. And maybe some muffins to go with it.
Espresso Royale is located at 527 E. Grand River, and they’re open from 6:30 a.m. to 12:00 a.m.