A pastry chef with Michelin star cred wants you coming back for more than just the coffee.
It’s hard to fault anyone for not getting overly excited upon hearing of the notion of light snacks for an in-the-works café that Fishtown could be getting within a year’s time.
Besides promising to under deliver in name alone, there is—even with the better pastries and assorted offerings at various coffee shops across Philly—the uniformity in what’s frequently on hand as third party bakers or even niche producers are responsible for that same almond croissant or donut no matter where your Instagram says you are.
And then there’s the decent panini’s to mediocre bagels to just plain awful cookies that you eat—even after having them before—because you have coffee seeping out of your pores and you’re going to get some work done right after your third cat video in the last fifteen minutes—in other words, you’re not thinking straight and have accepted bad food in exchange for unlimited wi-fi.
“How many times have you had a brownie that isn’t so chocolatey and to cover up their mistake, they’ll put a big wad of chocolate frosting on top of it,” Melanie Diamond-Manlusoc says. “My reaction is, why didn’t you just make every single part good. It’s such a pet peeve of mine. That’s one thing Maggie, Liz, and I have talked about so much. They both work from home and are going to coffee shops all the time,” she says.
She was speaking of Liz Diamond-Manlusoc, her wife, and Maggie Lee, their friend who is the third partner in the still embryonic Flow State CoffeeBar, a café/bar they’re looking to open in anywhere from 9-months to over a year, with Fishtown being a prime target in their hunt for a location (Liz and Maggie will run front of house, while Melanie will run the kitchen). Melanie says her and Liz, who recently put their starter home in Chicago on the market, were drawn to the dynamic appeal of the Philly restaurant scene while visiting Lee. And unlike Chicago, Philly presents the opportunity, they feel, to try something a bit different and have it thrive.
“Everyday there’s something opening and closing [in Chicago]. I think if we tried opening this in Chicago, it would be hit or miss,” Melanie says. “When there are so many other choices, somebody can just go somewhere else. Or there’s been this curse where if this place has been getting really good reviews and everyone’s talking about it, give it six months or a year and it’s shut down. The saturation of just so many restaurants just ends up fucking places over. It’s crazy.”
With Maggie and Liz’s experience in mind, their concept will include a café space as well as a shared workspace (with spots available to rent). While Melanie says they’re looking to create a space people will want to hang out in— “I spent a lot of time in Europe and that’s what you do. You hang out. You park. You people watch. You talk to people. It’s just kind of a thing. That was the catalyst for the café”—that’s all well and good until we’re lounging comfortably in Flow State, enjoying the vibe enough to stick around and grab a beer long after having too much coffee.
But what of the promise surrounding the food?
Besides recounting at least twenty times where I settled for that lousy brownie, Melanie’s words resonated for another reason: she’s handled the pastry side at restaurants carrying Michelin stars.
“I was a band director for eight years and then I started making gelato for fun in my kitchen. Then it ended up that I was just looking forward to coming home from work to play,” Melanie says.
“I ran away to culinary school [in 2010 at Le Cordon Bleu]. After that, I worked in fine dining, Michelin starred restaurants in Chicago. I worked at Blackbird. Morimoto. My last gig was at Spiaggia, which is a fine dining, Italian restaurant.”
Ok. So, in addition to caring, she’s got the experience and the credentials. So what about that brownie?
“For me, if you eat one of my brownies it’s not going to [just] have the texture and kind of taste like chocolate. It’s going to have enough chocolate, cocoa powder, and balance where it tastes as it should,” Diamond-Manlusoc says.
And that’s spoken as someone who has gone to the point source of the Swiss Felchlin chocolate she favors.
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