In March, a sign went up in the window of 90 Union St. in Brunswick. Dog Bar Jim was coming soon, it said, and was “winner of best of nothing by nobody yet.”
Yet. I have a feeling it won’t be long before this coffee shop gets some love from award givers. When a new coffee shop opens up in a smallish town, as Dog Bar Jim did in early April, word – and excitement – spreads quickly. That storefront had long been home to a place advertising free pregnancy tests and counseling and, in that iteration, rarely displayed any sign of life, pro or otherwise. By the time I made my first trip to Dog Bar Jim last week, half the people I know in town had already been in and gushed about the coffee and atmosphere on Facebook.
Let’s start with the atmosphere. There are a couple of small tables up front, a long row of counter seats and then in the back, a seating nook that’s half living room, half cafe and a 100 percent cozy. At one end of the counter is a giant copper Victoria Arduino machine, which even a mostly tea habit heathen like me immediately understood was impressive, real and built for quality.
At the other end, propped up to face out is a tiny red television running a constant loop of Seinfeld episodes. I asked Ben Gatchell, the owner, if he played other shows. “Just Seinfeld,” he said cheerfully as he made my cappuccino to go. (There are nine seasons, so he’s got plenty of material.) The first time I’d gone, for a quick lunch, I got a double shot, and as I hovered over my bed at 2 a.m., unable to sleep, I realized that whatever was coming out of that Victoria Aduino was too powerful for a lightweight like me to take a double.
It was delicious though, smooth and topped with perfectly frothed milk, and so was the single I had on my second visit. A sign the barista cares: Gatchell frowned at his first attempt, tossed it out and made me a fresh one.
This isn’t really a lunch spot, not yet anyway, but Gatchell makes pastries, like scones and pecan sticky buns, and gets bagel deliveries from 158 Picket Street Cafe every day. He serves them toasted with some simple toppings, including peanut butter and jelly, plain cream cheese and an herbal cream cheese spread that I opted for on that first visit.
I had it on an onion bagel and was pleased that Gatchell didn’t cake on the cream cheese in the kind of abundance that makes you feel like you are chewing through an entire rectangle of the Philadelphia brick. It’s a smear that covers the whole bagel, but not deeply. The spread tasted like spring, with a hit of spice, and intrigued me enough that I stopped at the counter to ask what the ingredients were on my way out. The predominant herb was tarragon, Gatchell said, and cayenne provided that spike of flavor. “I thought the tarragon might be controversial,” he said. Not for me; I loved it. With the double cappucino and the bagel ($3.50) my bill came to $8.69 with tax.
On my second visit a few days later, I grabbed one of his last two breakfast burritos, just egg, cheese and a side of salsa in a flour tortilla. It was snack-sized and comfortingly simple. A morning coffee shop habit is not in the cards for me financially, but when I want a treat of a seriously good cup of coffee in a charming atmosphere, this is where I will go.
The name of the place makes about no sense at all. There is a bar, or at least a counter, along one wall, but there’s no Jim and your dog (and mine) is not welcome, inside anyway. I eavesdropped on Gatchell explaining it to another customer. His father-in-law’s mechanic is named Jim. Jim lives on a road in Nevada called Dog Bar (there’s a photo of the street sign on the wall). People call him Dog Bar Jim. No, Gatchell hasn’t met him. But there the name is, three words, three letters each. A solid, durable name that provokes conversation. It’s basically the embodiment of why we humans get coffee together.
WHEN: 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: 90 Union St., Brunswick. 241-4300, dogbarjim.com
WAIT: Mere moments
PARKING: Small lot in the back, plus plentiful street parking
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes