The Place: Smooth Brew
The Location: 1447 E. McDowell Road
The Vibe: Smooth Brew Coffee is easy to fly by on your morning commute. The new-ish coffee shack, located on the south side of McDowell Road just west of 16th Street, opened in early June and is set back from the street. It's one of the latest coffee houses to join an increasingly crowded Central Phoenix coffee scene, though Smooth Brew's drive-thru window differentiates the shop.
The Specialty: If you are into toddies, then order Smooth Brew's. This shop does cold-brew coffee right, by letting the coffee chill overnight. The result elevates the coffee flavor without creating any stale or bitter notes. The shop also serves a signature drink called a Panda, a black-and-white mocha made with sweetened condensed milk instead of white chocolate.
Smooth Brew's house espresso is an interesting blend of one-third Costa Rica light coffee, one-third Kenyan, and one-third Sumatra beans. The house coffee is two parts Costa Rican dark beans, one part Costa Rican light beans, and one part Mexican organic. The shop also offers fresh juice and a long list of smoothies in flavors including raspberry, strawberry, piña colada, mango, and pomegranate. There's also a full menu of food items ranging from ham and Swiss cheese sandwiches to brownies, bagels, and bialys.
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Try This: The first time we stopped by Smooth Brew, it was happy hour, which meant blended drinks were $1 off. (Happy hour deals also include half-off pastries after 3 p.m.) To take advantage of the deal, we tried a salted caramel truffle coffee shake, which cost $3.25 with discount. The drink was not too sweet and hardly salty at all but had a good dose of cold coffee.
Skip This: We tried a hot Americano ($2.25), and it was fine — but be warned: Smooth Brew serves hot to-go drinks in a seemingly impenetrable container. The barista explained that the shop uses a special lock-lid top. It’s good in theory, but it's torture to try to pry it off if you want to add sugar to your drink. We tried and ended up spilling our drink all over the counter; we then had to get an entirely new cup from the barista because the lid couldn't be put on again.
You Should Know: Before you make plans for your next coffee date or afternoon business meeting, however, you should know that the décor at Smooth Brew leaves something to be desired. The interior has a late-1990s, mismatched thrift store furniture vibe to it. And there isn’t anything hip, chic, or interesting about the interior or the exterior.
So while Smooth Brew does the basics fairly well, in an area of town that is all ready near coffee-saturation, this may not be your first choice on the drive to work.