Urban Grind has been in residence on Park Boulevard, just south of University Avenue, for going on 10 years. From what I could gather from patrons past and present, the local hangout started out strong and was a favorite of many, but then hit a rough patch during the last few years—and that's putting it mildly. Complaints about horrible service and bad coffee and food abound.
Urban Grind is going through another transition, but this should give you hope. I tried talking to the current owner about past rumors but was unsuccessful. Though there are still bumps and kinks to work out, it appears to me that the new team is busting its hump to turn Urban Grind back into an open gathering place with quality products and friendly employees.
I paid Urban Grind numerous visits during the past few weeks, and this is what I've discovered: The food is nothing gourmet (at least, not yet), but this is a coffeehouse, so your expectations shouldn't be through the roof. That said, after hearing so many horror stories, I was anxious to see how the place would turn out a panini or a plate of pancakes.
I tried lunch a few times, and though my socks remain un-knocked-off, everything was tasty, fresh and served promptly. A cup of chicken tortilla soup and a grilled cheese was decent; I would have liked more gooey cheese and toastier bread, but it served its purpose.
Hot cheesy panini are always a welcome lunch option, and U.G. has a modest but decent offering of pressed sandwiches. Check out the Urbanite, filled with sun-dried tomatoes, artichoke hearts and lots of gooey mozzarella, all smooshed together on soft focaccia bread—an improvement over the basic grilled cheese.
I could eat pancakes every day if given the chance, so I was excited to try a plate of the Artery Cloggers one morning for an early brunch. These pancakes have slivers of bacon cooked right into the batter. The morning I visited, who knows what was going on behind the scenes, but my breakfast took nearly 30 minutes to get to my table. However, I have to give points to the staff for bending over backwards to make it right. Though I kept my eye on the clock, I never actually complained; they went out of their way on their own to apologize, check on me and even give me a free dessert (a decadent chocolate and caramel confection).
I've been on a hot-creamy-tea kick lately and have fallen in love with the café's London Fog: a steaming cup of Earl Grey with vanilla and honey. It's got the creamy sweetness of chai, with a smoother, less spicy taste. But if spice is what you're looking for, their Chai is delicious, as well. The nice man behind the counter let me smell the jar filled with all the spices—an autumnal delight and proof that they're not using any sort of mix or syrup.
So, while the kinks are still getting worked out, I have hope for Urban Grind. It's not easy getting any small business off the ground, particular one that has some disillusioned former customers to win back. As a Downtown employee, I'm happy to have this spot on my list of quick lunch places and will be eagerly watching it grow and evolve.