Cool independent coffee shop? In Gulf Gate? I'm sold before I even walk into The Clever Cup, which opened along Gateway Avenue earlier this month. The shop is open and warm, with a living room vibe reinforced by a low-slung yellow and white couch. Wood panels and gray paint cover the walls. A rack of fishbowl-sized white mugs bearing the shop's foxy logo sits by the front door. White plastic chairs and wooden benches provide seating at Clever's handful of tables.
The star here (duh) is coffee, with a menu that runs from a trio of drips to espresso mixtures and chai drinks. A clear box by the register displays the shop's assortment of pastries, whipped up by downtown Sarasota's Sift Bakehouse.
Gulf Gate has been hurting for a good coffee destination for years now, but besides delivering caffeine in the morning, Clever is also filling another niche by staying open late for BYOB Friday evenings, with live music or trivia, plus pie. Many times after dinner in Sarasota, I've wondered: Where can we go to hang out for a bit, eat something sweet, sip something, without hitting up a bar? Clever offers a relaxed and welcoming non-boozy destination for Friday nights. For that alone, I salute them.
Also, the coffee's great. The shop is offering three $2.25 drips on this rainy Wednesday morning. One hails from Ethiopia, one from Guatemala and one from Colombia. The Colombian, pitched as the shop's darkest and strongest, looks beautiful in Clever's creamy 16-ounce mugs, which are served atop a small dinner plate that catches stray drips. Small bubbles collect around the edge of the coffee's black surface. The coffee sits right at the perfect temperature—hot but not scalding, perfect for a long, leisurely sip while my friend, Justin, and I catch up.
As we chat, new regulars, almost entirely young women, keep filing in. One is a devoted "coffee snob" after experiencing the splendor of coffee shops in Boulder, Colo. Another expresses relief at not having to visit a corporate chain for her a.m. fix. Young mothers gather at tables and chat, while toddlers toddle around them. Sadly, it's U2, and not that new Kanye joint, that dominates this morning's playlist.
Aside from the coffee, there's those Sift pastries. An apple crumble muffin ($3.25) is just the right size, neither one of those puffy mammoth things I struggle to finish nor one of those pathetic, deflated discs that make me want to weep. It's moist, too, with nuggets of gooey apple strewn throughout. The sugary, crunchy top seals the deal.
Even after my coffee's long gone, my plate is strewn with tiny crumbs and Justin has headed off to work, I don't want to leave. The rain keeps coming down; the sky stays slate. I'm feeling quite all right sitting right here and answering some emails and doing some writing. What more could you want from a coffee shop? The Clever Cup has brought a particular independent coffee shop vibe to a neighborhood that's been missing that feel for a long time. For that reason alone, I label it a success.
The Clever Cup is located at 6530 Gateway Ave., Sarasota. It is open 7:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 7:30 a.m.-3 p.m. and 6-10 p.m. Friday, and 8 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. For more information, call 447-8383 or visit theclevercup.com.