Blue Frog Coffee House
Pyramid Mall, next to Best Buy, Ithaca NY
Although new to the Ithaca area, Blue Frog Coffee House has already established itself in Cortland as a cafe serving local coffees and pastries, sandwiches, paninis, and even quesadillas. We had heard about this cafe from our friendly neighbor, Angelique, who requested that we write a review on it.
For drinks, Tricia ordered the house-made peach iced tea. Siddharth had an iced coffee, a dark Ethiopian "Sumatra roast" by Gimme coffee. For an entree, we shared a chicken pesto panini with tomatoes and mozzarella cheese with a side salad and homemade balsamic vinaigrette. While we waited for our hot sandwich we ordered a non-vegan strawberry and rhubarb danish.
|Strawberry Rhubarb Cheese Danish|
|Iced Coffee and Peach Iced Tea|
|Chicken and Pesto Panini|
Here is our full review:
I'll start with the good: the chicken panini was quite tasty. Good bread, good cheese, fresh tomatoes. As I told Tricia while we were there, this sandwich could have fit seamlessly on to the menu of high quality sandwich places such as CTB/Ithaca Bakery. Unfortunately, from there things went downhill. The accompanying side salad was a haphazard pile of chopped greens filled with ribs and basic vinagrette. The strawberry and rhubarb danish was flawed in many ways. Firstly, it wasn't really a danish, it was more of a filled pastry. The filling was sour, lacking the right amount of sugar, while the crust, in addition to not being a danish, was dry and tasteless. This was a major disappointment, and on its own, it would have scored a 2/10 on taste for me. This wasn't totally Blue Frog's fault, as the pastry selection was from Edgewood Bakery. The coffee was alright; for a so-called dark roast, it was very light in body. Tricia's iced tea was so loaded with artificial flavor that I couldn't drink more than a sip.
We had high hopes for the strawberry and rhubarb danish. To our surprise, it was the biggest disappointment that we ordered. From the looks of the strawberry filling, the danish looked at least a day old and it was very sour and the dough itself had no sugar! The baker had overworked the dough that it wasn't flaky or buttery in taste. And the rhubarb was overcooked and soggy. Good thing we didn't order the vegan version of this danish! We'll let Blue Frog off the hook because they said that all their baked goods are from local bakery shops. The peach iced tea, on the other hand, was overly sweet and strong in artificial peach flavor. Snapple is a much better choice! I liked our panini though with tender chicken breast meat and a well-balanced pesto. I would skip the salad that comes with the sandwich. The chef decided to serve us the rib and stem of an iceberg lettuce head. Yuck!
|Can you spot the stem?|
The selection at Blue Frog was as average as one could expect. Nothing that you would expect to find at a basic coffee shop was missing. Conversely, they did not have a wide array of pastries or anything. They DID have the a choice of vegan or non-vegan in most of the few sweets they did offer, but this frankly does not interest me at all (it might interest YOU though!). The fact that the espresso machine was down killed about 60% of their drink menu.
The menu selection wasn't anything special for a cafe. There were a couple of sandwich choices, breakfast items and a small array of baked goods in their window, but nothing enticing or interesting compared to what you would find at the Ithaca Bakery. We did see one party eating quesadillas which we did not see on their menu, so perhaps there is a secret menu like In and Out? As for beverages, the cafe served several roasts from the Gimme Coffee brand but unfortunately their espresso machine was broken when we got there so we couldn't try any of their special espresso drinks. For non-coffee drinkers, there are Italian and French sodas which are probably worth a try, just be careful on the artificial flavor overdoses!
In-mall coffee shops are bound to lack the ambiance of a more dedicate coffeehouse location, but Blue Frog failed to even be as pleasant a place to sit and snack/drink than the Seattle's Best that it replaced. At least when it was part of Borders, this place was quiet enough to lose yourself in a magazine. Blue Frog was packed with screaming children, and the moderate traffic prevented the staff of two from having time to clean the tables or empty the trashcans, which were literally overflowing. The space has potential, but I think that the location makes it difficult to generate a nice coffeehouse feel.
So Blue Frog took over the Borders cafe after it closed so most of the furniture there was from Borders. From where I stood, it looked exactly the same as the Borders cafe except bare walls and unflattering fluorescent lights. I hope they will consider dimming the lights to create a more intimate setting for the cafe. And for a cafe that served food on paper plates, you would think the cafe would have garbage bins that would allow you throw away your waste, but all the garbage bins only had holes large enough for cups. What's with that?
The staff was friendly and pleasant, but also they were unable to handle our orders very well. Once food/drinks were prepared, they had a hard time remembering who to give them to, and they were very slow overall. A coffeehouse needs people that are good at taking orders, given that everyone likes their drink prepared a little differently (extra espresso, 2% milk + 2 sugars, etc.), and the poor baristas at the Blue Frog in Ithaca couldn't handle that. Luckily for them, their espresso machine was out of order, so they were limited to orders of brewed coffee only,
The cafe is right next door to a flax store in the mall, generating a lot of traffic on a Friday afternoon. I guess shopping for flax can really get people hungry and tired? I was surprised to see only 3 people working at the cafe, 1 at the register, 1 barista and 1 cook that made the sandwiches. When we first arrived, only 3 tables were occupied with parties of 2 or more. With that, we were able to quickly order at the counter with a very friendly cashier. Once we sat down to wait for our food, the people started piling in. Expect the cafe to get loud with groups of people scattered around the cafe. Because the cafe was understaffed, our sandwich wasn't hot when it arrived. The cashier was apologetic, you can tell he was quite stressed for being understaffed and perhaps new at the job? Our barista also looked quite frazzled when a patron was trying to order a drink a particular way. She didn't seem experienced at all when the high traffic.
Good sandwich, poor pastries, average coffee, average prices. The dealbreaker for me is the severely lacking atmosphere at Blue Frog. Part of paying $2 for a cup of coffee (that you could brew at home for a fraction of the cost) is having a good barista make the cup for you and getting to sit in a nice environment. That wasn't present at Blue Frog, and thus the 6/10.
I was quite disappointed with the quality of food that I got, so I felt cheated on what I paid for. It wasn't a great experience and afterwards, I didn't feel so great (whether it's food poisoning or just the fact that I felt cheated on paying for a bad meal). The prices aren't extravagant, but you would think that a typical coffee pastry at $3 would taste good at least, right? And how hard is it to make an iced tea?
Sadly, Blue Frog was a major disappointment for us, and we wouldn't recommend it to our friends, and we wouldn't go back.