This summer saw the opening of two unique, contemporary cafes — Republik Coffee Lounge and Pillow Talk. Separated by a few city blocks, their openings were timed perfectly to provide a haven of Wi Fi and caffeine for all of us who traded our beautiful Southern California summer days for blue tinted laptop screens and overpriced textbooks. I visited Pillow Talk and Republik to over analyze every detail (the food, the drinks, the tech friendliness and the vibe) and to determine which of the new coffee shops would be my new haunt to sip coffee and fight off writer’s block. Spoiler alert: both places provide more charisma than any Starbucks.
Because this is a food column and not a Buzzfeed listicle for college students, I will start with the cuisines. Pillow Talk carries the simpler menu with four sandwiches between $8 and $11 and a small range of pastries. The Tomagoyaki ($8) has white bread, omelet eggs, dashi and mustard. The delicate sandwich came in halves boxed up nicer than I have ever boxed a gift. One bite in and I understood why it was boxed: it was one step above cotton candy, with its only faux texture provided by the mustard. The three other sandwiches keep the “pillow” namesake alive with the hardest ingredient among them the cucumber in the spam, egg and cucumber sandwich ($11). Fortunately, denture-friendly sandwiches are not the only thing available. They have pastry concoctions, like the mango mango ($8), which has a chiffon cake base, coconut mousse and mango jelly filling topped in chunks of mango, and the Oreo lover ($7), which has layers of chocolate cake and cream filling. There seems to be a rotation of varieties, so order a few and go halfsies with a friend.
As far as coffee shops go, Republik Coffee Lounge is in a league of its own. Along with a full selection of coffees and espressos they have full breakfast, lunch and weekend brunch menus. The brunch menu is complete with everything from the smoked salmon sandwich ($13) to quiche Lorraine ($11.50) and eggs Benedict ($11). The lunch menu sports a variety, with things like the cauliflower flatbread ($12.50) and quinoa Greek salad ($11.95). I was fortunate enough to stop in on a Sunday before the 3 p.m. brunch cutoff so I had to get the salmon sandwich with goat crème cheese, cherry tomatoes, onions, capers and arugula. Served open-faced, it was a great take on lox and cream cheese. My dining companion had the French toast ($12), brioche toast with mixed berries served with a gratuitous portion of whipped vanilla bean cream. Both of our plates warrant a second order. I cannot tell how many Sunday mornings I have wasted hopping from restaurant to cafe to find the right balance of cafe atmosphere in which I can take out my laptop and write but still enjoy eggs that were not tossed in a microwave next to an espresso machine. Republik has found the perfect balance. As an added bonus, they have a refrigerated section full of ready to eat sandwiches, salads and desserts if you do not have enough time to sit down and take in the atmosphere.
The coffee is where Republik and Pillow Talk tie. In terms of price, both average around $6 for an espresso concoction. Pillow Talk’s signature drink is the iced tiramisu ($5.75). This drink has a layer of milk foam on the very top that they coat in a cocoa powder and creates milk foam bubbles. If you are a coffee elitist that snubs their noses at the smallest amount of sweetness in coffee, relax. The baristas will provide you with a host of sweetness options to suit your palate. I went with the half-sweet choice. Pour overs are also available — iced or hot — for just under $6. Republik also has pour overs and all the espresso drinks one would expect. Their signature seems to be charcoal infused options — the black vanilla latte ($6.50) and the black pearl Freddo ($7). Both share the same recipe — a mix of vanilla bean cream and espresso in a mixture that highlights what makes coffee and dairy such a perfect pairing.
In the Venn diagram of cafe factors, perhaps equally as big as food and coffee, are the vibe and atmosphere. Pillow Talk is a straightforward, efficient take on a working cafe. Most of their square tables are large enough for two laptops if not three. Nearly every table has two wall outlets and USB ports above the table for charging, removing the need to reach down to baseboards to plug in.
Pillow Talk is somewhat smaller than Republik but their tables seem to be larger, so if you need to spread out, Pillow Talk is the place. Republik’s round tables may not have the ideal surface area and they do not have as many outlets spread throughout the place, but they do make up for those in pure class. The entire place is elegant. Decked out like a Paris Cafe in a romantic film, it is distractingly pretty inside and the jazz standards playing throughout just heighten the vibe. So if you have time to be distracted or need a distraction, Republik is the place. If you need efficiency and a cool, modern atmosphere and a power supply for all of your devices — Pillow Talk it is.
Pillow Talk Coffee. Sandwich, Pastry
526 S. Lake Ave., Pasadena
Major Credit Cards Accepted/No Alcohol
Republik Coffee Lounge
854 E. Green St., Pasadena
Major Credit Cards Accepted/No Alcohol