My cousin Ed and I have been daytime patrons of Steel City since it opened in 2001.
While the nighttime bursts with music and patrons lining up outside the door (especially on Thursday Open Mic nights), daytime is a quieter affair with a steady scattering of laptop users and newspaper readers, sipping coffee in ceramic mugs and absorbing (or ignoring in favor of their own work) the calmer music playing over the sound system.
Change to a long-term oasis can be fraught with anxiety. We hate the “new” wall colors of dark brick red with chartreuse accents which darken the space unnecessarily and do nothing for the “for sale” artwork which should be highlighted by the color scheme. We were anxious when the menu changed from our familiar sandwiches to focus on garden salads, French bread pizzas and macaroni and cheese combinations. How good could mac and cheese be at a coffeehouse?
On this, we were wrong. We love the mac and cheese combos at Steel City! In fact, when skies are ominous and grey, either literally or metaphorically, nothing picks us up better than walking down to Steel City, choosing our favorite mac and cheese and washing it down with a caffeinated beverage.
On a March day when the pea-soup fog stubbornly refused to lift, my cousin Ed and I walked down for our anti-depressive lunch. As always, he chose The Four Tops ($7.99), macaroni with cheddar, mozzarella, parmesan and feta cheeses. I chose my usual, I Know It Was You, Fredo ($8.79), macaroni with diced garlic chicken, parmesan cheese and fresh broccoli. All mac and cheeses are served in an open gratin dish, topped with crunchy panko bread crumbs and served with a slice of garlic bread.
Those gratin dishes hold the heat, so both mac and cheese choices were HOT! We munched on our garlic bread while we waited for our entrees to cool. Unfortunately, this time, the garlic bread was overtoasted and dry so we were grateful for our beverages.
The entrees themselves did not disappoint. If you love cheese, The Four Tops is your mac and cheese. It’s pure concentrated melted cheese goodness with just enough macaroni hold it all together and “sticky, like it’s supposed to be” said my cousin Ed. I prefer to “cut” the richness of the cheese with the crunchy broccoli florets and tender chicken morsels of I Know It Was You, Fredo. Our moods, like the fog outside, slowly began to lift.
Normally, we would choose a hot beverage to go with our meal, but this usually warm March weather made that impossible. Plus, instead of receding into a dark corner (after all, we eat this lunch when we’re depressed!) we were sitting at a table in the store window so that we’d have enough light for the food pictures. We switched to cold, but caffeinated beverages.
I chose what the menu board over the cash register and espresso machine calls a “frappucino” but the website and those who’ve been long-time patrons call a “brain freeze” which comes in mocha, vanilla or caramel. My Caramel Brain Freeze ($4.99), which is basically a caramel latte whipped in the blender until the ice becomes confetti and topped with whipped cream, had the right balance of strong brewed coffee tamed by sweet caramel and rich whipped cream.
My cousin Ed chose the Chocolate-Raspberry Milkshake ($4.49), a drink he’d never tried at Steel City before. Our server apologized for the time it took to create the beverage, but it was worth the wait. Cool, thick, creamy with equal parts rich chocolate and tart raspberry flavors, Steel City is now our milkshake spot until the ice cream shops open later in the spring.
As everything is made to order, service can be slow, but the quality is worth the wait and if you forgot your laptop for the free WiFi, there are usually some newspapers around to read while you wait. For a leisurely meal while you’re working or a carb-heavy “pick me up” on dreary days, you can’t do better than Steel City Coffeehouse during the day.
If You Go:
Location: 203 Bridge St., Phoenixville
Cost: Beverages: $1.51 to $4.95, Mac and Cheese: $6.95 to $8.50; Garden Salads: $7.95 to $8.25, French Bread Pizzas: $7.95 to $8.50, Desserts: $0.94 to $4.95
Hours: Sunday: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Monday: 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Tuesday: 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Wednesday: 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Thursday through Saturday: 8 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Payments accepted: Cash, Credit Cards
Parking: Phoenixville paid parking lot or on-street parking