802 Brookline Blvd., Brookline
Cannon Coffee's opening may have coincided with one of the worst snowstorms in Pittsburgh history, but co-owners Ben Haake and Nate Mallory say the timing couldn't have been better.
"We wanted to be a neighborhood coffee shop and after the snow, no one could go anywhere, so they came here," says Haake. "What's better than a hot cup of coffee?"
As a non-coffee drinker and self-proclaimed iced-tea fanatic, I can now answer that question: Cannon's grilled-zucchini panini. The zucchini, tomato, spinach and onions were tender but still had a fresh summer crunch that was enveloped in gooey Muenster cheese and a sweet basil aioli, the shop's "special sauce." The sandwich would have been fantastic with just the warm bread and aioli alone; the veggies and cheese were an awesome bonus.
Cannon's sandwich menu is small but constantly changing, and offers well-executed favorites like grilled cheese and tomato. Pastries such as pound cake, brownies, biscotti and vegan-friendly muffins are from Castle Shannon-based Annamarie's Specialties; the panini bread is from Mediterra Bakehouse, in Crafton. "Our thing is all local and natural, as much we can," Mallory says.
Haake, 27, and Mallory, 29, met while working at Station Square's Grand Concourse restaurant. They have employed their culinary industry know-how in the shop.
Coffee-drinkers should check out the "Cannon Ball," made with espresso, flavored syrup, cream and sparkling water. The beans come from Commonplace Coffeehouse & Roasters, based in Indiana, Pa., which recently opened a Squirrel Hill shop.
Cannon Coffee does more than cater to caffeine junkies. "We wanted it to be a place where people could come together with ideas and be expressive," Haake says. Its walls and shelves hold colorful artwork and crafts from local artists (and Haake's mom); there's a piano and guitar for weekly open-mic nights; and an ample back porch with a large grill for private parties. The porch's tin roof, lantern lights, potted ferns, a charming lobster statue and piped-in tunes make it a cozy getaway with a neighborhood view. I could have sat out there for hours with the panini and iced tea, enjoying the breeze and the view of Brookline's streets.
And in a closing nod to all things local, the shop's named after the cannon monument at Brookline Boulevard and Chelton Avenue. "It's the hang-out and point of reference here," Mallory says. "That's what we want to be."