Remember those cool neighborhood coffee houses from back in the day? Or maybe you just heard about such places. This was before a certain west coast company monopolized the market and homogenized the experience. Coffee houses used to be one of the great meeting places, hot beds of creativity, a place where like minded individuals came together to discuss the important topics of the day, a place where like that little bar in Boston that spawned a television show everyone knew your name. Well I am happy to report that on West Perry St. in historic West Cape May such a place still exists, and no the proprietor isn’t a leftover from a bygone era; but instead a 27 year old Kutztown University graduate and world traveler named Katie Panamarenko who saw a need for not just a coffee house but an organic coffee house. Following her gut instinct, almost four years ago at the age of 24 she opened the Higher Grounds Organic Coffee House & Vegetarian/Vegan Cafe.
I first visited Higher Grounds about a year ago and for me it was love at first sight, the place has such an incredible vibe with its cozy vintage furniture, and quiet tunes playing in the background. Fashionistas would describe it as being Boho chic, and not to get all new age on you but there is a real calming spirit that exists. Katie told me that might be because at one time the space served as not only a Christian bookstore but home to a minister with a rather large family. Whatever the reason Higher Grounds left such a lasting impression that I couldn’t wait to go back for another visit.
When I arrived on a Friday morning in February to meet with Katie she was waiting on one of her “regular” customers. Friday was supposed to be a relatively quiet day for her but you could have fooled me. There was a steady flow of folks coming in and out picking up coffee, lunch, and even something for dinner. Her customers are patient and kind; they know that most days it’s just her running the show and they are happy to strike up pleasant conversation with one another while they wait. People love Katie’s quiet demeanor and friendly banter. Higher Grounds has clearly become a part of the fabric that makes up this still thriving community.
The coffee house is open Monday through Saturday from 8:30AM to 4:30PM. Katie starts her day around 7:30, whipping up batches of her beloved delicious and oftentimes gluten-free muffins. I had the good fortune of sampling her Almond yogurt and Cranberry buckwheat muffin…just one word, YUM! Next she moves on to the soups, salads, and hummus spreads. The coffee is Fair Trade, beans are procured from an independently owned roasting house on the Main Line, and of course the teas are organic. When the coffee house first opened the menu was very simple: coffee, tea, baked goods, and a few different kinds of quiches along with a small marketplace in the front of the store for other organic goods. Soon the menu evolved into seasonal soups, salads, various sandwiches, and specials. She uses as many local ingredients as she can get her hands own including a few items she grows on the coffee house premises. Higher Grounds has given Katie the opportunity to really flex her culinary muscles and I wouldn’t be surprised if a cookbook isn’t far behind. The marketplace items have all but gone except for Higher Grounds T-Shirts, Tote Bags, some CD’s and books. And like the great coffee houses of years passed you don’t just get a good cup of Joe but also entertainment. Higher Grounds fully supports the arts in the Cape May area, hosting artists of all types but especially musical talent. Dennis Township’s own Dan Berry makes regularly scheduled appearances, as well as a monthly Drummers Circle organized by regular patron Mark Jackopec. Are you still not convinced that such a cool place exists? Well, don’t take my word for it, experience it for yourself during that next Cape May visit. Order a latte, grab a muffin and sit for a spell. Stay all day if you like and be sure to say ‘Hello’ because there is a good chance I’ll be right there with you.
Higher Grounds – 479B West Perry Street, West Cape May.