CLIFTON PARK — Small enough to be locally owned, big enough to cover the Capital Region with three locations, Uncommon Grounds coffee and bagel shops offer extra-good bagels and a serious approach to fresh roasted coffee.
You know Uncommon Grounds from its longtime Saratoga Springs location and perhaps for its reputation for good bagels. They opened in 1992 and followed with the Albany location in 1997. The smart new store in Clifton Park opened this spring.
Inside, it looks cozy and restful. Pale yellow paint, mellowed by wood floors and trim and faux tin ceiling, gives the impression of being snug and comfortable. We liked the colorful fresh flower arrangements on each table. There are booths, high tops and lower tables, and lots of space to queue in front of the counter.
You’ll probably notice the show-off dessert display first; they’re the brightest spot in the place. They are eye-catching, colorful, layered single-serve confections probably best shared if you’re worried about calories but can’t resist. They’re sourced, as are the soups, from companies with the quality and integrity to match the values of Uncommon Grounds, I was told.
Chalkboards behind the counter list drinks and food; look on the counter for the list of the day’s soups. Smart-looking drinks, including some with suspiciously healthy-sounding names, are displayed in an open cooler. Baristas decant coffee intently, like alchemists with beards and hip clothes.
At lunchtime, most of the tables were full and the place was buzzing. Virginia and I brushed off some crumbs and left our jackets at a choice window-side table and headed to the counter.
We loitered, examining the menu and ogling desserts when we realized that there was a line and we weren’t in it. A short wait gave us time to make our choices, and the person at the counter was friendly and super-helpful.
There are more than a dozen kinds of fresh bagels to eat as they are or as part of a delicious sandwich. You can get salads, breakfast sandwiches and soups, and they offer many ways to enjoy coffee. There’s chai tea and regular and white hot chocolate, smoothies, iced coffee and tea. I brought the drinks to the table and Virginia waited near the counter for the rest.
It wasn’t too long before our really handsome-looking food was ready. Virginia had a steaming mug of Albondigas soup ($4.99), a traditional Mexican soup made with meatballs, rice, fresh vegetables and plenty of seasoning. It had a spicy kick that made her glad to have water on hand, and the miniature meatballs were soft and tasty.
The bagels are unique, with authentic crust, just-right doughy interior and a generous hand with the toppings. That said, they are light enough and the crust tender enough that they make excellent vehicles for filling. Also, they don’t have a big, inconvenient hole in the middle, a plus for sandwiches. They taste great, too.
Virginia enjoyed the Lox of Love ($9.75) sandwich, with lots of smoked salmon on a healthy honey-wheat bagel. She said the lox was so tasty with the cream cheese on both sides of the bagel, capers and thinly sliced red onion. It was a big sandwich, but their bagels are easy to eat and she finished it, without feeling stuffed.
My bacon, egg and cheese sandwich ($5.10) was awesomely good, and it took some effort to save half for later. On a hard-to-find salt bagel, it was also a big sandwich but went down easy. They only cook the eggs one way, and forgot to toast my bagel, but the soft, thinly sliced smoked bacon was piled on and the slice of sharp white cheddar cheese was thick and broad and melty. Swoon-worthy.
I enjoyed their fresh lemonade ($3), a seasonal treat that tasted of tangy fresh lemon, which reminded me how good the homemade stuff is.
All this time a lovely, perfect small layered mango guava cheesecake dessert ($5.50) sat on the table between us, with forks at the ready. It was worth the wait, with sweet mango cream topping and slivered almonds over two layers of cheesecake. Only the crumbs at the bottom disappointed; they had no flavor, but the dessert overall gets an A for taste and appearance.
The tab for our meal with water, a lemonade and tax, came to $31.93, payable at the register plus a few bucks in the tip jar. On the way out we passed a coffee drinker doing impossible-looking physics homework, a family of five enjoying bagel sandwiches and a person typing away on a laptop, no coffee or food in sight. Uncommon Grounds is a place to gather and linger, with good food and coffee that will keep you coming back.
Uncommon Grounds Coffee & Bagels
WHERE: 9 Clifton Country Road, Clifton Park, 280-2404, uncommongrounds.com
WHEN: 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday to Friday, 6:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
HOW MUCH: $31.93 for food and two drinks
MORE INFO: Credit cards MasterCard, Visa, American Express, Discover. Lots of parking. ADA compliant.