LAKELAND — These days it’s not so hard to find a decent cup of coffee in Lakeland. And we’re swamped with sandwich shops of every stripe.
But good, even creative sandwiches AND an honest-to-Pete cup of joe under the same roof? That’s a bit more challenging, which is what makes Black & Brew stand out from the pack.
This nifty downtown nook, last reviewed in January 2014, celebrates its 12th anniversary this month. And it's still going strong with a pleasing array of sandwiches, salads and soups served up with a coffee-house vibe.
Owner Chris McArthur kicked things up a notch by opening his own coffee roastery a few years ago, though his Patriot Coffee Roasters does not share the same space as his restaurant operation.
A former Marine, McArthur’s fledgling roasting enterprise puts out a good product, but it’s a bit puzzling why his love for coffee doesn’t translate to his restaurant. Black & Brew is not a haunt for coffee geeks, though you can get a decent latte. Just make sure you order two shots of espresso if you like your latte with a bite.
A medium cup of coffee will set you back $2.15, but it’s better than average joe. We were offered only two options — medium roast or dark. No mention of provenance, even though the company roastery offers up specialty beans from Colombia, Brazil, El Salvador, Costa Rica and Peru.
The focus here is on the food, though the menu does carry enough mochas and macchiatos to satisfy a thirst for something hot. There’s also a good selection of flavored teas, frappes, craft beer and wine.
It truly will be interesting to see what Black & Brew brings to its second location at the Lakeland Public Library. Lakeland city commissioners recently gave a green light to the project, and construction should begin in short order to create 1,100 square feet of space for McArthur and crew.
The downtown restaurant remains a fixture. Its warm, wood-and-brick interior is just upscale enough to make customers feel special. The food, too, is a cut above, showcasing a creative flair that’s missing in so many like-minded establishments.
I really enjoyed a breakfast sandwich featuring egg, lean bacon, pickled onion and jalapeno aioli on a soft, warm bagel, a satisfying starter at $4.85 and so much better than an Egg McMuffin for roughly the same price, the latter served to people on the run.
You’ll want to linger at Black & Brew, take advantage of free internet service, maybe nibble on a soft, sweet blueberry scone while browsing the morning news on your Ledger app. Outside, a covered patio offers dining with a view of scenic Munn Park.
Early-morning fare includes another tasty bacon-and-egg affair, gilded with brie, slivers of apple and caramelized onion, all on a pressed ciabatta, $4.75. These are not gargantuan meals, but they are priced fairly, in my estimation, especially for the quality.
For the lunch and dinner crowd, Black & Brew has plenty of heftier sandwich offerings, including a very nice riff on a banh mi, $7.75. Though quite slim on the pickled veggies and totally lacking any flavor of cilantro — a prime ingredient — the shredded pork was seriously lean and delicious.
The restaurant also has a good selection of flatbreads topped in all manner of things. My favorite was a Southern California model decked out in sliced chicken, black beans, corn, mozzarella, queso fresco and other goodies. The menu mentioned avocado though none was detected. Still, the side of jalapeno aioli added just the right zip. At $10.25, it’s enough for two to share.
Salads are fairly mundane, though everything we sampled was fresh, including an Asian model sporting chicken, bits of carrot and broccoli and slivers of almonds and chow mein noodles for crunch. The dressing was the best part, made with mandarin oranges and ginger.
Bottom line, this is a polished sandwich shop where one can count on efficient service and food that rarely disappoints, though seldom wows. Its location in the very heart of downtown Lakeland’s burgeoning restaurant and bar scene is part of Black & Brew’s appeal. It doesn't hurt that the restaurant is tucked into the ground floor of a 115-year-old building, adding to its charm.
Eric Pera can be reached at email@example.com or 863-802-7528.