Blacksmith

1018 Westheimer Rd
Houston, TX, 77006

Blacksmith has long been championed as the best coffee shop in Houston and among the best in the country by the likes of the New York Post and Thrillist.  The most prolific shop in the Greenway Coffee family, Blacksmith is the Major Leagues for the baristas in the company with several lower volume shops providing training and service experience.  The result is constantly professional, efficient service.

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Coffee: 8/10

Blacksmith has some really great stuff on their menu and their mainstay offerings are awesome.  Unfortunately, I’ve had mixed results with pour over coffees though.  In the past year, it seems that quality has really slipped here which loses them points in my book.  (From shop management perspective, I think it might a switch from the Curtis Gold Cup to the Modbar pour over station that caused this).

As for specialty offerings, they’ve only got two drinks that are really unique.  The Cafe Su Da is a shot of espresso over condensed milk and then chilled with ice.  This is definately my favorite drink on the menu.  It’s an American take on the Vietnamese classic.  The coffee shake is an expensive treat, but you can snag one for free if you buy a bag of beans while you’re there.  Honestly I wasn’t much of a fan of this one, but if you’re in the mood for ice cream it is a beautiful drink.

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Atmosphere: 9/10

This is where Blacksmith shines.  They’ve done an awesome job with the customer experience.  From the location to the layout to the food and tea menus, everything here is done well.  There is ample seating indoors and out; I’ve never had to fight for a spot despite the place’s popularity.  For the work/study crowd there are a decent number of outlets where you can set up shop and be productive.  Fair warning though, they have restricted internet access to many sites.  I’m having to write this review from Mercantile because I can’t access WordPress on Blacksmith’s wifi.  The list of restricted sites is pretty substantial and is enough to cause real headache.

The food at Blacksmith is what brings me back.  It’s become one of my favorite lazy morning brunch spots.  There’s a wide variety to satisfy any craving you might have.  From the typical coffee shop pastries, to doughnuts by Morningstar, to Asian-Country fusion, you won’t be disappointed.  My all time favorite item was the ramen inspired biscuits and gravy.  It was an awesome combo of salty and savory that was bursting with flavor and heavy enough to fill you up.  Unfortunately, it’s been taken off the menu but I’m launching a campaign to have it reinstated.  #bringbackthegravy.

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While we’re on the subject of food, I feel like I have to talk about the Vietnamese steak and eggs.  It’s the most expensive dish on the menu and I used this review as my justification to spend $20 on breakfast.  Honestly, I wasn’t all that impressed with this one.  It was good, just not $15 good.  The presentation killed it a bit for me (mayo and pate in a plastic cup? Random lettuce?).  I feel like there wasn’t a whole lot of bang for the buck.  I would have been much happier with a sandwich that came already assembled at the $10 price point even if that meant just one egg and less meat.  My lackluster experience here isn’t enough to detract from my overall thoughts about the place, but I would caution you away from splurging on this item in particular.

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Staff: 7/10

As I mentioned in the intro, one of Blacksmith’s strongest resources is their access to an expansive barista training ground which allows them to be picky about who they hire.  In my shop experience, many managers would hire anyone with a resume; that is not the case here. When I was a better Greenway customer, I followed many baristas as they worked their way up from Greenway Plaza to shops like Inversion or Bosta and then eventually into Blacksmith.  Having internal promotion and the retention that they do breeds a level of competency that not many Houston shops have.  Unfortunately, I have seen things slip recently.  My past couple visits have felt more rushed and left a bad taste in my mouth (mainly due to the over extracted pour overs).

These ups and downs leave me in a weird place as far as assigning a score.  There’s a lot of potential for great things here, but I’ve experienced inconsistency.  Beyond that, there doesn’t seem to be a cohesive culture to the space; there isn’t much connection between customer and barista beyond the transaction.  I think a middle of the road score is a safe review, but I expect the experiences of others will deviate from my own more here than normal.

Overall: 8.2/10

I think Blacksmith does a pretty good job overall, but I wouldn’t call it the best in town (let alone one of the best in the nation).  I think what Blacksmith does well is that it is a safe pick for any kind of group; if you’re going on a date or meeting up with friends, odds are everyone will be happy here.  If someone wants food, they’ve got great breakfast and lunch options.  If you want coffee and pastries, they do a both of these things well.  I’ve personally stopped going all that often (especially since the removal of the biscuits and gravy) because I don’t like the crowds.  That being said, I think Blacksmith will always be a good choice and I would definitely put it on my list of “Must Visit” coffee shops in Houston.

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