It's already Christmas, err, the holidays, at Caribou Coffee. Everything is candy canes and reindeer. Caribou are pretty much the same animal as reindeer, I understand, so it's only natural that the place goes ga-ga for Rangifer tarandus.
After utilizing all of my Madison driving skills intricately dodging game-day Badger traffic to cross the isthmus Saturday morning, I arrived at the Caribou Coffee in Fitchburg. The place was packed with coffee sippers, newspaper readers, chatting couples and kids drawing with crayons. The vibe was undeniably friendly -- cozy and upbeat.
I ordered a dark roast cup of the day and two breakfast rolls -- a cinnamon bun (here called the cinnamon roll popover, $2.50) and a candy cane muffin ($2).
I might say right off the bat that I have never had coffee as good as the cup of the day I used to get at the late, great, semi-legendary Coffee Connection in Harvard Square. I haven't been back in years, but I understand it's now a Starbucks.
Starbucks is a welcome enough sight when you are in the boonies or in an airport -- the kind of spot where, in times past, the java options were bleak. It's not a particularly good substitute for those fly-me-to-the-moon CODs. This is all to say that I like a strong flavorful cup of joe, and Caribou's dark roast was on the mild side. It was all right: better than Einstein Bros.; similar to Starbucks; not as good as Victor Allen or Steep and Brew.
The cinnamon popover was certainly different from the normal cinnamon roll, which usually is made with a dense yeast dough. This was much lighter, and not terribly sweet, which is a good corrective for often overly sweet American breakfast goodies, but it was a little dry and bland. It tasted better after it had been microwaved for a few seconds. Still, I'd skip it for a muffin.
The candy cane muffin was sweet enough and then some, more like cake than a muffin. Made with chunks of candy cane melted down, the chewy peppermint was a little off-putting at first, but I acquired the taste for it after a couple of bites. Caribou also serves a variety of other muffins, scones, sweet breads, with low-fat choices, too.
The only sandwich on the rack was a pre-made smoked turkey model which seemed like an afterthought. Chicken and chicken salad are also on the sandwich menu, but sandwiches are not Caribou's forte.
The sweet drinks are -- with a Caramel High Rise, Turtle Mocha, White Hot Cocoa and the "Mint Condition" (with mint, espresso, cocoa, and whipped cream) not really intended, I'm guessing, to sub for your wake-me-up cup. Yikes -- you can mix in Oreos, Snickers bits or espresso beans into any drink, too. Just like at the ice cream stand.