With businesses increasingly relying on the Internet to connect employees around the globe, it's surprising that anyone goes to an office anymore. Why the work force has not risen up against the tyranny of greige semisoundproof half-walls, time sheets and coffee sourced from a vendor who also supplies copier paper is a mystery. Surely the day is coming when the white-collar work force will tell The Man to take this cubicle and shove it. When that telecommuting revolution rolls around, it just might be hatched inside Edgehill Café, where it will be fueled by Drew's Brews coffee and celebrated afterward in leather armchairs amid the silent efficiency of free WiFi.
Because when you can conduct business in a room as comfortable as Edgehill Café, which anchors the Edgehill Village commercial district in the reclaimed White Way laundry plant, it's hard to return to a wobbly swivel seat back at corporate HQ and seek satisfaction beside a water cooler.
On a given workday morning, Edgehill Café buzzes with enterprise. Men in suits confer with music guys in untucked shirts, earnest conversationalists employ iPhones to prove their points, and MacBooks sit back-to-back across a long zinc-topped dining table, as if waging grown-up games of Battleship. It's like a college student center, but the college students have all grown up and joined book clubs or launched start-ups.
Owner Winn Elliott took over the cafe last summer, transforming Edgehill Village's pioneering coffee shop from a caffeinated computer lab-cum-copy center into the clubby meeting place/study hall that it is today. (The entrepreneurial Elliott, publisher of Fringe magazine, has his own corporate HQ upstairs, where he runs Brite Revolution online music community.)
Walk by the grid of corner windows and you might mistake Edgehill Café for a furniture showroom. Like Nest Interiors across the street — where Gwyneth Paltrow sourced her home decor during her Nashville stay — the coffee shop wears an eclectic and endearing blend of industrial and organic decor, with hints of flea-market chic. Rough-hewn wood paneling, exposed ductwork and stained concrete floors provide a gritty backdrop for warmer elements, including white-leather dining chairs, cream canvas-covered window seats (with board games stashed below) and wing chairs and throw pillows upholstered with burlap coffee bean sacks. A constellation of lighting ranges from colorful blown glass to bare bulbs to pendant shades that recall vintage milking canisters. Tables and countertops are made of rich reclaimed woods and custom metal bases. If the coffee biz doesn't pan out, Elliott & Co. could dangle some hefty price tags from the furnishings and rechristen the place as a shelter shop.
But there's no reason to brace for such a contingency, because Edgehill fires on all cylinders of food and coffee. This winter, Elliott brought in Sean Stewart and Nathanael Mehrens of Beve Mobile Coffee to train baristas on the history and chemistry of coffee. As a result of that consultation, Edgehill invested in a $6,000 machine with which to process beans from local roaster Drew's Brews into a repertoire of lattes, espressos, mochas and iced coffees.
On top of that, Edgehill now serves a terse menu of downright good food, starting with breakfast sandwiches, bagels, oatmeal and cinnamon toast, and dotted with pastries, scones and homemade breads. Neighboring baker Juanita Lane at Dulce Desserts has been known to deliver her cookies and pear cheesecake, while Doug Havron from Gabby's Burgers & Fries swings by to deliver house-made candy bars, and Aunt April's Bakery in East Nashville provides gluten-free goodies.
A succinct list of sandwiches includes steamed and cold selections as well as paninis served on breads from local Charpier's Bakery. The smoked salmon sandwich arrived loaded with generous folds of salty fish and crisp mixed greens, on wheat bread slathered with lemon-dill cream cheese. Next time we will remember to ask for capers and cucumbers, which are available upon request. Turkey-and-pesto panini emerged crisp and golden from the press, oozing with melted Swiss cheese and riddled with crisp bacon among the folds of basil-tinged turkey. We also enjoyed meatballs and provolone on baguette with marinara for dipping.
Sandwiches and chips arrived in metal cake pans, a predictably playful repurposing of kitchen equipment in an environment accented with many whimsical design touches. In the case of the chopped salad, the cake pan overflowed with fluffy lettuce, pinwheels of sliced turkey, garbanzo beans, tomatoes, kalamata olives and cool circles of fresh mozzarella. Plated with a soft slab of sweet house-made sourdough bread, the salad was a refreshingly bountiful and light meal. All salads can be upgraded to include chicken, curried chicken salad with grapes and celery, tuna salad, salmon or a bowl of soup.
In such an inviting environment, it's easy to see how breakfast with coffee can merge into lunch with pomegranate green tea and ultimately into light supper with a glass of wine. For such occasions, Edgehill offers a handful of wines available by the glass from $7 to $10.
But while Edgehill Café offers many of the amenities of traditional office space — specifically, coffee and connectivity — there are some things about corporate life that you just can't get at a coffee shop — specifically, unlimited free office supplies. So until the cafe on the corner stocks a closet of paper clips and Sharpies free for the pillaging, you might want to hang onto your day job.
Edgehill Café opens at 7 a.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. on Saturday and serves until 9 p.m.
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