Update 11.24.08: I am re-posting my original post with a few modifications based on a heated exchange of comments with some very devoted followers of this Heights coffee shop.
Like Austin, but not
Antidote Coffee is just another quirky coffee shop that somehow was sucked up by a UFO in Austin and deposited in the Houston Heights.
Even if you have never been, you know the place: mismatched furniture, and affable but slow wait staff who have mastered the fine art of slackerdom. They also are serious about coffee. My brother particularly recommends a coffee called "cajeta" which involves goat milk caramel. I just stick to the dark blend coffee, black.
One thing sets Antidote apart: the quality of its baked goods.
If you arrive before 9:00, Antidote has a remarkable collection of baked goods: sun-dried tomato/asiago scones, chicken pomegranate quiche, tofu quiche (no, really, it's fantastic), cranberry ginger scones, all sorts of muffins, deep chocolate brownies, and killer zucchini bread.
Antidote is a small shop without much of a kitchen. So I knew they couldn't make all these baked goods themselves.
When I asked, an employee explained that they collect pastries from different bakers around town. "We get the best of the best," she said.
Some of the pastries come from Scott Tycer's Kraftsmen Bakery -- truly the best of the best. But Antidote also buys their favorite baked goods from other bakers, particularly in the Heights. For instance, they get baked goods from some of the same folks who sell wonderful baked goods at the T'afia farmer's market on Saturdays.
The Antidote to Starbucks?
The word "antidote" means a cure for poison. And it is not hard to figure out what the owners see as poison. On Halloween, the owners pretended to be the scarriest thing imaginable. They covered up their sign with a giant Starbucks logo. The staff even put on Starbucks "costumes."
[Note: Some folks have commented that the name Antidote refers to a sister establishment that serves alcohol. Even so, the Halloween episode demonstrates that the folks at Antidote see themselves as an alternative to big corporate coffee.]
Starbucks-bashing is popular now. And I'm not sure it is fair. Before Starbucks, coffee in America was not very good. Starbucks made it stronger, more flavorful, more European -- plus much more expensive.
But Starbucks does a terrible job with baked goods. Every breakfast bread or muffin I have tried at Starbucks has been entirely too sweet -- sickly sweet. It is the sort of food that would be inedible without a big cup of intensely strong coffee to counteract it.
Antidote's pastries kick Starbucks' ass. You would think that Starbucks would learn the lesson. You would think that a corporation with that much money could simply buy baked goods that are as good as the one at Antidote.
Or perhaps, pastries this good can only be made by small artisinal bakers -- the type of bakers who make the pastries in Antidote's fabulous morning collection. And perhaps they can only be sold by small-scale, sophisticated collectors.
Antidote does not make great food. Instead, it makes an art out of collecting it.